Determining the beginning of Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr caused controversy among the Muslim countries for many years so far. This year, the Eid will be celebrated on Friday 21st of April. The reason for the controversy has been the method to determine the beginning of lunar months. Many countries require observation of the crescent of the new moon to start a new month, basing on a narration by Muhammad (a.s.). They, however, fail to notice another important and relevant narration. Let’s see if observation of the crescent is really the requirement according to the Qur’an?
The Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Turkey conducts correct regulations in the way that the Qur’an describes. While the Qur’an commands making observations about the times of prayer, It leaves the calculations about Lunar Calendar to a group of knowledgeable people, that is, scientists. The Almighty Allah commands:
The sun and the moon (move) according to a (particular) reckoning. (Rahman 55:5)
It is He Who made the Sun be a source of light and the Moon be a reflector of light, and He who measured out stages for it (the sunlight); that you might know the count of years and the calculation. Nowise did Allah create this but pointing out the truth and righteousness. Does He explain His Signs in detail for a group of people who know. (Jonah 10:5)
Since there were no scientists to do the calculations during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h), he explained the months to his people as the following, being the only way out:
“We are an illiterate community; we do not know how to calculate or write. We know that a month takes either 29 or 30 days”
“Start fasting on seeing it (the new moon of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing it (the new moon of Shawwal). If it is cloudy for you, then calculate (and complete) the current month as thirty.”
The first narration emphasizes the lack of knowledgeable people who could make the calculations in that community. Had there been, they would determine the beginning of the month according to the calculation. Nowadays, there are enough of scientists to be able to compute the motion and reckoning of the moon and the sun. The accurate principles about lunar months were established at the International Crescent Conference held in 1978 led by The Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Turkey. Since then, the calendars based on the apparition of crescent have been prepared by the cooperative studies of astronomers and Islamic scholars.
Observing the crescent in order to know the count of the months or years is not ordered in any of the verses. Just the opposite, “determining via calculations made by a group of people who know”, is desired. In the ages when such groups were not available, Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) used the only possible solution by relying on the naked eye observations. Carrying out this method in our century is neither understandable nor acceptable.
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz Bayındır
İ.Ü. Faculty of Divinity Professor
President of Süleymaniye Foundation – Center of Research on Religion and Nature