As most readers know, there is some uncertainty each year about the start of Ramadan, because the Muslim religious calendar, the Hijri Calendar, is a lunar one, and the first day of the month of Ramadan depends on the evening sighting of the sliver-shaped crescent of the new moon of the 9th lunar month. Fasting begins in the daylight hours of the same day of the Hijri Calendar, or the next day in the Gregorian Calendar.
Some Muslim scholars and societies hold that all should follow the timings set in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom of the Two Holy Mosques, and of Makkah and Madinah where Islam began. Others, particularly MENA Muslim majority countries, follow the moon sightings in their own location. Shia and Sunni communities may follow different calculations or follow the lead of different countries where their faith group predominates. Watching for and sighting the moon in itself can be a time of festivity and celebration, and is the time of the first niyyat (making intention) to fast.
Other Muslims and Muslim societies, especially those in non-majority countries, fix the date based on astronomical calculations for the lunar calendar in their locations. The Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Caucasus Muslims Office (CMO), European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR), and International Fiqh Council (IFC) have all set August 1 as the first day of fasting, based on the astronomically predicted sighting of the new moon in the evening/night of July 31.
The article below, from Arab News, on predicted dates in Gulf Countries, suggests that these calculations are reasonably accurate for most countries, with August 1 the most likely first day of fasting in the Gulf, according to the Gregorian Calendar.
Moon-sighting unlikely today
By MD HUMAIDAN | ARAB NEWS
Published: Jul 29, 2011 23:07 Updated: Jul 29, 2011 23:07
JEDDAH: Observatories in a number of Islamic countries were unanimous in their claims that the crescent indicating the beginning of Ramadan will not be sighted on Saturday night, meaning the first day of Ramadan will most likely be Monday.
This time of year all Muslims everywhere will be busy looking at the skies to the crescent which signals the beginning of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Deputy chairman of the astronomical society in Saudi Arabia Sharaf Al-Sufyani said the society would organize a moon-sighting function under the Supreme Court, which asked all residents to look for the crescent Saturday evening. The court is the specialized organ that will decide when fasting should start.
He said the sighting will be done in Al-Hada, Taif, and he welcomed all those who have telescopes or binoculars to attend.
Al-Sufyani said it would be extremely difficult to sight the moon on Saturday evening.
The Bahrain Astronomical Society expressed the same view. It said in a statement that moon-watchers would not be able to see the crescent. The society said the crescent would clearly be seen on Sunday evening and therefore Ramadan would start on Monday when it would stay for about half an hour after sunset.
The European Council for Ifta and Research in Dublin said Monday would be the first day of Ramadan. It said the crescent would be clearly sighted Sunday evening in large areas in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and North America.
The Calendar Home in Qatar expressed the same view.
Every Ramadan is a time for focus on faith, prayer, charity, and fasting as a purification of one's spirit, mind, and body. This Ramadan falls at a time of year when the days are long, and the temperatures hot, making the physical challenges, and health risks greater. This year there are extra warnings about rest during the hottest hours of the day, as well as the usual shortened day in Muslim majority countries. Those living in non-Muslim countries are encouraged to set their daily schedule to be able to do the most demanding tasks (physically or mentally) in the morning when they have the most energy, and to take a nap in the afternoon if possible.
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