Published On:17 July 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Europe's Muslims edge towards synchronizing Ramadan

By Tom Heneghan

Paris: When the Muslim holy month of Ramadan arrives next week, fasting will definitely begin on Friday in Germany, probably the same day in neighboring France and maybe on Saturday across the Channel in Britain.

Even in the same country, some Muslims might begin and end the fast before or after others because they follow different rules or disagree on whether they have spotted the new crescent moon, the official start of the month in Islam's lunar calendar.

This especially causes problems where Muslim minorities live in societies with many holidays based on the Christian calendar that cannot easily accommodate holy days or months whose exact date is determined at short notice.

Frustrated by this confusion, Muslim leaders across Europe are increasingly turning to modern astronomy to help solve the problem. But theological differences, ethnic divisions and the sheer weight of tradition are still holding up progress.

"In the modern world, especially in the West, people can't decide on the fly to start or end the holy month at 10 p.m. the night before," said Nidhal Guessoum, an Algerian-born astrophysicist who has long argued for a scientific solution.

The problem is Ramadan traditionally starts the morning after the naked-eye sighting of the new crescent moon, a method that worked fine in centuries past when international travel was rare and communication between regions was poor.

If the sky was cloudy on the expected sighting night or the crescent could not be seen in that region, Muslim leaders could wait a day or two before declaring the dawn-to-dusk fast in their countries. Islamic cultures were used to the uncertainty.

Sightings Differ around the World

The Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan must be confirmed by the sighting of the next crescent moon, meaning Muslims only know for sure the evening before that they will celebrate their biggest holiday of the year the next day.

But Muslims now live around the world and modern media, simply by reporting where Ramadan has started and where not, have shown their traditional calendar rules are out of date.

Astrophysicists like Guessoum, a physics professor at the American University of Sharjah, can now calculate exactly when the new crescent moon will appear in the sky around the world.

That removes the problems the traditional sighting method has with clouds, pollution, ambient light in cities and false sightings of the hard-to-discern sliver in the sky.

This month, it will first be visible in South America on July 19, then in most areas except northern Europe and Canada on the 20th and finally almost everywhere on the 21st.

Because of this delay, Guessoum would split the world into East, where most Muslim countries are, and West, essentially the Americas. If the crescent could be sighted anywhere in a region, Ramadan would begin in that whole area the next morning.

Other Muslim scientists propose that as soon as astronomical calculations show the crescent could be seen anywhere in the world, Ramadan would begin everywhere the next day.

Turkey's secular state introduced this method decades ago and Muslims in the old Ottoman lands in the Balkans and in Germany, where most Muslims are of Turkish origin, follow this. Ankara has already declared July 20th the start of Ramandan.

France, which has Europe's largest Muslim minority with mostly Arab roots, usually copies what Saudi Arabia decides.

Muslim Brotherhood Link

In Britain, where most Muslims are of Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi origin, many communities stick to the visual sighting method, which can result in conflicting dates for starting and finishing Ramadan even within the country.

"It's a bit confusing," said Usama Hasan, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation in London. "If they can't see the moon in Britain, they'll follow what's happening 'back home.' There's a lot of ignorance of the science."

This year, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe and the European Council on Fatwa and Research stepped up the campaign to use only astronomical calculations - essentially the Turkish model - to determine the start of Ramadan and Eid.

The Council declared last week that scientific calculations are fully acceptable according to Islamic law and announced on Monday that Ramadan would start this year on July 20th.
Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), said French Muslim organisations would most probably agree on this method later this year and apply it from 2013.

There are suggestions in France that some Christian holidays be replaced by Muslim and Jewish days, in respect for those minorities, but Paris needs fixed dates well ahead of time.
"Most Muslims want a calendar based on these calculations so they can organize things in advance," Moussaoui said.

But not everybody may agree. The two European groups backing this harmonization are mostly ethnic Arab and linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Muslims of other backgrounds, especially from the Subcontinent, might be reluctant to follow them.

"I don't expect Britain to follow for a number of years," Guessoum said.

(Courtesy: Chicago Tribune)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 17, 2012. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on July 17, 2012. Filed under , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

2 comments for "Europe's Muslims edge towards synchronizing Ramadan"

  1. Moon Sighting Problems in India: The system of Hilal Committees, the work of Muftis and Imams of Grand or village Masjids, all sound on paper, scientifically well organised and superbly efficient, but unfortunately the ground realities are different. There is total chaos and confusion every year, in every part of India about the commencing and ending of fasting.

    Let me narrate what happened in the year 2000. I was in my native village ( Ilayangudi) 500 Km from Chennai during Ramadan. We had completed the 29th day of fasting and our Tarawih prayers and it was ten at night. In Tamil Nadu, then, there were seven private cable TV networks and three Government channels and not a single station reported any announcement made by any of the Hilal committees, offices of the State Kadzi or Mufti.

    Now to continue my frustrating story, at 10.30 p.m. that night I made a telephone call to the Chennai office of a leading Muslim monthly Samarasam and I was told that the Chennai Kadzi had not made any official announcement so far. It was 11.00 p.m. Then I made another call to a Grand Masjid at Angappa Naik Street, Chennai and received the same "Not sure" message.

    Now my question is: Who is responsible for this chaos, confusion and uncertainty? Who is responsible for this incommunicado? What is the point of having Govt appointed Kadzis, the so-called Hilal Committees at the State and the Central levels and the umpteen Muslim organizations( NGOs) and Muslim based political parties if there is no constant communication between the leadership deciding these vital dates and the millions of their followers?

    Elders say that, the situation was exactly the same in the year 1953 and I see absolutely no change after 50 years of massive advancement in information technology and scientific inventions.

    There is no change in our leaders' attitude towards their efforts in trying to reduce the hardships of 180 million people. There is something seriously lacking in us. It is such a shame that we celebrate the Eid one day in one town and another day in a different town even within the same District.

    It is a simple scientific fact that the crescent is sighted after about 30-60 hours of Amavas.

    Hence it is easy for Hilal committees, Muftis, Imams and Muslim organizations to monitor the situation and keep informing every 10 minutes after the Magrib prayers at the end of 29th day of fasting and keep up the communication flowing through private cable networks until the decision is made on the sighting of the moon.

  2. I appeal to knowledgeable Muslim Brothers to take up the above matter with leaders at all levels influential Muslim individuals, Muslim political parties, organizations, associations, mass media, minority cells of political parties and even at the Prime Minister's Level.

    For decades, the Muslims of India never had a well managed and well organised centralized authority in deciding the start of the Fasting month (Ramadan) and deciding the last day of the fasting and the actual celebration of Idd’l Fitr. Hence I appeal to you to explore the possibility of instituting a good system, to start with for the whole India

    A National Committee should be appointed (by an ad hoc committee of Muslim Organisations or other suggestions??) The Committee should make arrangements with the help of the Survey Dept (or a group of Muslims scientists) to sight the new moon at several vantage- points through out the State. For this purpose, the Central Committee should have sub-committees at other cities in the States. In Tamil Nadu for instance, the Wakaf Board can undertake this job by forming a Committee.

    The work of sighting the moon should be well coordinated and monitored and all Television stations should start giving the messages at the bottom of the screen indicating, for instance:


    Flashing of this message can commence, say from 8.00 p.m. the day succeeding Amavasai because the new moon is usually sighted about 30 hours after the point of time of Amavasai.

    Supposing that the new moon is not sighted anywhere in India by the Central Committee or the sub-Committees, then TV Stations can immediately flash this on their screens and the same way if the new moon has been sighted.

    In Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and in very many Muslim countries the above system has been beautifully followed. We can do this in India, in spite of our minority status ( In terms of numbers we are huge)

    The most unfortunate thing is that in spite of our financial potential, Muslims have not established a Private TV network. Still the Muslim businesses such as LKS Jewellers and others can make use of the existing TV services as they generate huge advt. incomes.

    The present situation is extremely confusing as Muslims through out the country wait in great suspense whether they should commence the fast on a particular day and celebrate the Iddl Fitr on a particular day. In every village the Masjid administration tries to sight the moon or expect telephone calls from cities

    It is common that Iddl Fitr is celebrated one day in one district and another day in another district. This is a very ludicrous situation in the age of advanced information technology, Internet facilities and scientific progress

    I am very positive we can achieve this if many of us take interest in the matter and start discussing, exchanging ideas and start knocking at the right doors with petitions and appeals. It is such a big shame that even Muslim Bodies like Muslim league, Muslim Mashuwarat, Jamate Islami Hind, Jamiate Ulamae Hind and Personal Law Board, have all failed to achieve this at Govt. level for the past 5 decades in spite of their political clouts with the ruling parties.

    We can do this with or without the co-operation of the Govt.,. What we need is a small group of religiously spirited experts and a bit of funds to make TV stations agree to make continuous announcements

    I do understand that some odd groups in our Ummah may not accept the findings of such a Central Committee that I have proposed. This is immaterial because it is up to the groups concerned to fall in line or not as there is no compulsion. But I am positive 90% of the rural Muslims will accept the decision and welcome a measure of this nature
    P.A.Mohamed Ameen.

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