Islamic Calendar

Fiqh Council of North America has decided to use astronomical calculations for the Islamic lunar calendar. I like the idea, but it is very controversial in the community. Let’s take a look at the blogosphere’s reaction. Ramazan Mubarak!

Finally, the Fiqh Council of North America has made the decision to create an Islamic lunar calendar using astronomical calculations instead of relying on sighting the moon every month.

A special conference on Hilal Sighting was organized by the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) on 10 June 2006, in Virginia, attended by a number of jurists, Imams, astronomers and other concerned Muslims. [… T]he following is concluded:

  1. It is decided to use astronomical calculation to determine the beginning of the Islamic lunar months with the consideration of the sightability of the crescent anywhere on the globe.
  2. To determine a lunar Islamic calendar, a conventional point of reference must be used. The International Date Line (IDL) or the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) may be used.
  3. The new Islamic Lunar month begins at sunset of the day when the conjunction occurs before 12:00 GMT.

A number of people say that it is against the practice of Prophet Muhammad to use astronomical calculations and hence should not be done. However, we use such calculations for lots of things nowadays as this explanation says.

These astronomical calculations are already being used in acts of Islamic worship such as directions of Qiblah, five daily prayers, Imsak and Iftar timings, the acts of worship which are more significant and frequent than sighting the crescent. The Qura’nic verses and the Prophetic commandments clearly indicate some means to accomplish the aspired objectives. For instance, The Qur’an connects the Imsak timings with the white and black thread at the dawn time. Presently we go by our watches based upon the astronomical calculations. The Hadith connects the Iftar timings with seeing the night coming from the East. Currently we break fast without sighting the night coming from the East but by our watches. The Qur’an and Ahadith connect the five daily prayers timings with the shadow and movement of the Sun. According to the Ahadith Angel Jibreel himself taught the Prophet (PBUH) timings of these prayers and connected them with the shadow of the Sun. The entire Ummah somehow goes by the astronomical timings of the watches and not with the letter of the Qur’an and Hadith texts. There is a consensus among the Muslim jurists that these means are permitted to determine the Salah, Imsak and Iftar timings and nobody makes fuss about them being against the Sunnah or against the crystal clear texts of the Qur’an.

Here is some information from the Fiqh Council of North America and here is the calendar for the next 5 years.

This is not the first instance of Muslims not using moonsighting. There is a Fatimid calendar used by Nizari Ismailis and Dawoodi Bohras.

The Tabular Islamic Calendar (also called the Fatimid Calendar) is a rule-based variation of the Islamic calendar. It has the same year numbers and months, but the months are determined by arithmetic rules rather than by observation or astronomical calculations. […]

Each year has 12 months. The odd numbered months have 30 days and the even numbered months have 29 days, except in a leap year when the 12th and final month has 30 days. There are 11 leap years in a 30 year cycle.

In addition to all the confusion and waiting till late night that the moonsighting approach entailed, there were also scheduling and economic issues.

Kareem Irfan, of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, where an estimated 400,000 Muslims live, said the uncertainty of the old system has been costly.

Organizers of the massive community worship services that mark the holiday had to reserve convention halls for two different days, losing money on the double deposit, he said. Muslims who needed a day off from work or had to make plans for pulling their children out of school could not say when the celebration would be.

So how have we, in North America, been deciding on Ramazan and Eid until now? The Moon Sighting Debate Blog explains.

Camp #1: This is the camp of the majority of the traditionalists. They firmly follow the local moon sighting position.

Camp #2: This is the Saudi moon sighting camp. Although, they tend to portray themselves as followers of the global sighting position, in reality they only determine their Islamic dates according to the moon sighting announcements made all the way in Saudi Arabia.

Camp #3: True followers of the traditional global sighting position. I have personally come across only one major scholar from Syria who says he follows this position.

Camp #4: This is the brand new camp. [… T]his camp has declared a five year pre-determined Islamic calendar based solely on astronomical calculations.

Most of the mosques in Atlanta fall in camp #2, but it is still common to have two Eids in almost every major city in the United States.

While I think a calendar based on astronomical calculations is a good idea, it is definitely no panacea for the multiple Eids problem since a lot of people are sticking to their guns and plan to observe Eid using the method they like. In fact, in recent days, a number of new organizations based around moonsighting have sprouted.

Here are some reactions from the Muslim blogosphere, without comment, on this issue.

Wa Salaam: I’m still not sure exactly where I stand on this issue.

Eteraz: Muslim sure do fight over the moon a lot. This is because the Muslim calendar is lunar and so to know when Ramadan starts (or ends) you have to have a moon-sighting. The problem is that because the Earth spins on an axis (stupid axis!), the moon does not appear at the same time in different places. In fact, because the axis spins on a slow 24 hour cycle (stupid axis!) it means that the same moon can appear in one place a whole day after it appears in another place (stupid moon!). This, in the American context, gives rise to the most idiotic ‘debate’ to strike Islamic Law since Khomeini’s madrassa hypothetical.

جہانزیب: میں آسٹرانومی کی بنیاد پر بنائے گئے کیلنڈر کے حق میں ہوں اور امریکہ میں خصوصاً اور باقی اسلامی دُنیا میں عموماً ایسے لوگ پہلے سے موجود ہیں جو آسٹرانومی کی بنیاد پر کیلنڈر کا اجراء چاہتے ہیں۔ نہیں تو حالات وہی رہیں گے جو نیویارک میں ہیں لوگ پاکستان، سعودی عرب فون کر کے پوچھتے رہیں گے کہ رمضان کب ہے اور اُس حساب سے اپنی عیدین مناتے رہیں گے۔ ہمارے گھر کے قریب ایک مسجد ہے جہاں دو عیدیں پڑھائی جاتی ہیں وہاں ڈیوٹی پر موجود ایک پولیس اہلکار کا سوال تھا کہ ایک ہی علاقے میں رہنے والے مسلمان ایک ہی عید پر متفق نہیں ہو سکتے؟

میرا پاکستان: رمضان کی آمد آمد ہے اور ایک بار پھر مسلمان اس تفرقے کا شکار ہوجائیں گے کہ رمضان کب شروع کریں اور عید کب کریں۔ عرصہ ہوا دنیا کو اتنی ترقی کۓ ہوۓ کہ چاند کے گھٹنے بڑھنے کا اندازہ پہلے سے ہی لگایا جانے لگا مگر مسلمان ہیں کہ اس ٹیکنالوجی سے انکاری ہیں اور وہ اپنی آنکھوں سے ہی چاند دیکھ کر رمضان شروع کرنے پر بضد ہیں۔

David Kearns: Based on what I’d read, and the assertions of groups like ISNA, I’ve been saying for years that if you don’t sight the moon, it just doesn’t count. Apparently that’s not the case any more. In reality I’ve just followed the guidance of ISNA, and I guess if they’ve taken a new stance, then I’m all for it. This certainly helps for scheduling things. Maybe some day I’ll be less busy and can investigate the jurisprudence behind this.

Ginny’s Thoughts and Things: I’m all for creating an “American Muslim identity” and all of that, but let’s not throw away the Qur’an, along with the Sunnah of our noble prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him), in the process of “trying to fit in”. We can use science, yes, we can carve out our own niche, we can do all of that, but we can do it and still “follow the rules”, as it were. I mean, while we are at it, if we’re going to be “like everyone else” and dispense with calculations, then let’s stop wearing hijab, let’s just stop eating hilal meat, etc. Basically, in my “sarcasm” I think this is getting dangerously close to the “slipperly slope”

Lota Enterprises: This is literally something that has been unknown to the ummah of Muhammad(saw) for literally over 1,420 years. It has never been done before, and especially not on this scale. Its August, and they have already announced Eid. They’ve zapped all of the fun, excitement, and most of all the SUNNAH of anticipating Ramadan and Eid!!

The Moon Sighting Debate Blog, which actually presents only the side against the astronomical calendar, has reactions against the Fiqh Council decision here and here.

And I forgot. Ramazan Mubarak! It starts tomorrow.

UPDATE: Also, Happy Rosh Hashanah!

Author: Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer

10 thoughts on “Islamic Calendar”

  1. I spent an hour last night online trying to find out whether or not we start fasting today or tomorrow. I think it’s fun to actually “sight” the moon and have yet to do that. It’s something i want to make a tradition with LD.

    PS. See my blog. :-))))))

  2. And I forgot. Ramazan Mubarak! It starts tomorrow.

    or does it? 😉

    as you already likely knew, I am Dawoodi BOhra myself and we have always indeed used the Fatimid calendar. In fact I have added a nifty little salaat timings tool on the sidebar of my blog based on that calendar, which you can customize for your location. I am very glad to see the rules-approach be adopted by other groups, not because I think there neccesarily needs to be unity, but simply because it makes things easier. As you note, there may still be two Eid – even between two rule-based approaches! but at least the subjectivity is removed.

    mubarak toyou also. Dua ma yaad!

  3. Last evening the Cresent Sighting Committee of Pakistan decided that moon was not sighted anywhere in Pakistan so first fast (first of Ramadhan) will be on September 25 but many people in NWFP are fasting today on September 24. The question is not that Muslims do not follow the modern science (which is not modern so far as astronomy is concerned) but behaviour of Muslims for the last few centuries did not confirm to Qur’aan and Sunna. They act according to their choices.

    However, difference of a day sometimes may occur in sighting of new cresent and mathematical calculation because sometimes the duration of new cresent remaining above horizon is so small that it goes down before being observed. For the last several years, I have been regularly visiting a website giving Moon positions for Islamabad. Twice the caption said “the cresent will be so thin and time it will remain above horizon will be so short that it can not be observed.

    So far as the tradition of Sunna is concerned, Muslims have to follow it because otherwise the same will happen to Qur’aan and Islam as it happened to Torah, Judaism, Bible and Christianity. Every now and then, standing on the pillar of Science and modernity, people will change all the Hadith first and having done away with that they will change Qur’aan. In fact already some people calling themsekves real Muslims are doing it.

    So far as Fatmid Calender is concerned, it is niether astronomical nor Islamic.

    My grand father had told me when I was in High School that there used to be a lunar calendar prepared by Muslim Scholars for 30+ years which used to be revised after nearly the same period and it was very rare that new cresent did not appear according to that calendar. It was applicable to Middle East. Preparation of this calendar stopped because, forgetting the command of God, Muslims stopped learling and became lethargic.

  4. wayfarer: Yeah, actually seeing the new moon is fun when one is a kid, though it lost its lustre after a few times for me as sometimes it is not easy.

    Aziz: Thanks. I also like a rule-based approach.

    Al-Muhajabah: Thanks.

  5. My Brother Ajmal has said that :

    So far as Fatmid Calender is concerned, it is niether astronomical nor Islamic.

    (CAN Ajmal PROVE the above statement) even he has not a single evidence for his defence to prove his own word he is relying on the misconceptions of his grand father

    i am using fatmid calender since 22 years i have never seen any problem in the calender like my brother ajmal has described.

    ajmal also said that :

    forgetting the command of God, Muslims stopped learling and became lethargic.

    i ask him why you open your fast before sunset?? when allah says in the quran that:

    [2:187] ……….. You may eat and drink until the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn. Then, you shall fast until sunset.

    according to ajmal “forgetting the command of God, Muslims stopped learling and became lethargic.”

    This is your Double Standard.

    It is very easy to mock anyone. But the thing is we have to unite the muslim.
    Unity in muslims is more important then making two or three Eids in the muslims worlds.

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