After reverting to Islam and joining Islamic communities in my early twenties it has always been interesting to see the moon wars at the beginning and end of the month of Ramadan. For me, I have never had an issue with maraja’ having different views, which in this case leads to different start and end dates for the month of Ramadan.
Before looking at the start of Ramadan 2021, we will examine the causes the differences? There are three main issues that seem to create differences in the verdicts of maraja’: a) does the moon need to be sighted by the naked eye or can optical aid be used? b) Can one rely on calculations to determine whether the moon will be sighted? c) If the moon is sighted in one location, does it count for other locations?
Does the moon need to be sighted by the naked eye or can optical aid be used?
There are a number of traditions from our Imams (a) that clearly command to start fasting in the Month of Ramadan after sighting the crescent moon and to stop fasting when the crescent moon of Shawwal is sighted. Refer to Al-Kafi by Shaykh Kulayni (v.4, p.76). The differences in verdicts about whether one must sight the moon with the naked eye or whether one can use optical aid to sight the moon stem from the marja’s interpretation of what constitutes being “sighted.”
Ayatollah Khamenei holds (Question 6) that using optical aid constitutes sighting the moon, whereas Ayatollah Sistani holds that one must sight the moon with the naked eye to constitute sighting of the moon.
Can one rely on calculations to determine whether the moon will be sighted?
There are methods of scientific calculation, such as the Yallop Method, which predict when the moon can be sighted. Websites such as moonsighting.org utilise scientific predictions to provide us with useful information. But, can this information be used to determine the beginning of the month of Ramadan?
The majority of ulema state that one cannot use scientific prediction alone to determine the beginning of the month, rather the moon must be sighted. The reason for this is that, according to the US Naval Observatory, “the time that the moon first becomes visible after the new moon depends on many factors and cannot be predicted with certainty.” However, according to Ayatollah Sistani, if scientific prediction leads to one reaching the level of certainty he can act upon it. (Islamic Laws, ruling 1701)
If the moon is sighted in one location, does it count for other locations?
Some ulema, including Ayatollah Khoei, state that if the moon is sighted in one location it would count for all other locations sharing the night. For example, if the moon is sighted in Sydney it would count for London because sunset in Sydney occurs slightly before dawn in London. (Ayatollah Khoei: Islamic Laws, ruling #1744)
That being said, the majority of maraja’, including Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani, hold that each location is distinct from other locations, unless they share a horizon. This means that if the moon is sighted in one location, there would be a significant probability it would have also been sighted in the other location had it not been for adverse weather conditions, or other similar reasons. (Ayatollah Sistani: Islamic Laws, ruling #1704; Ayatollah Khamenei: Question 5)
Ayatollah Sistani states: “If the new moon is sighted in the East, it also applies to the West, as long as the latitude of the two locations are not greatly further away from one another. If the new moon is sighted in the West, it does not apply to the East, unless it is proven – even by the moon staying on the first [Western] horizon for the length of time that is longer than the difference between the sunset of the two locations. [For example, if the sunset in the Eastern city was half an hour before the Western city where the moon was sighted, and the moon stays on the horizon longer than half an hour – the Eastern city can follow the moon sighted in the Western city.]” (A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West, ruling #115) For more info, refer to: The Never-ending Moonsighting Debate
Ulema who state sighting the moon locally (depending on their verdict regarding optical aid) is valid for all places that share the same horizon: Imam Khomeini, Ayatollah Khamenei, Ayatollah Sistani, Ayatollah Behjat, Ayatollah Makarem, Ayatollah Zanjani, Ayatollah Subhani, Ayatollah Lankerani, Ayatollah Kabuli, Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Sadr, Ayatollah Mudarrasi.
Ulema who state sighting the new moon in a city is valid for all other places that share the same night: Ayatollah Khu’i, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Sadr, Ayatollah Araki, Ayatollah Ruhani, Ayatollah Fayyad, Ayatollah Wahid, and Ayatollah Bahsir Najafi.
Now, when will it be possible to see the moon in Australia?
Andrew Jacob writes in an article published online by the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences: The simplest useful criterion [to determine the birth of the moon] is the lagtime, or difference, between sunset and moonset. If that time is greater than 47 minutes the crescent moon should be visible to the unaided eye after sunset and before the setting of the Moon.
The new moon in April 2021will occur at 12:31pm (just after midday) on Monday, April 12. On April 12 the Sun will set at 5:36pm and the Moon will set at 5:53pm. The lagtime is only 17 minutes so the crescent moon will not be visible to the unaided eye at Sydney’s latitude. Further, the crescent moon will not be visible from any location in Australia on April 12.
On Tuesday April 13 the Sun sets at 5:35pm and the Moon sets at 6:21pm. The lagtime is now 46 minutes so once again the crescent moon will probably not be visible to the unaided eye at Sydney’s latitude. The Yallop method provides a more detailed picture for Australia: If you are north of a line joining (approximately) Perth to Fraser Island (on the Queensland coast) the crescent Moon should be easily visible to the unaided eye. For the remainder of the mainland the crescent Moon may be visible to the unaided eye under perfect atmospheric conditions, i.e. no cloud, no dust and a very clear western horizon – fortunately, this time of the year is Autumn and the atmospheric conditions are often nearly perfect. For Tasmania the crescent Moon may be visible to the unaided eye but only after first being found with binoculars or a telescope.
Finally, on Wednesday April 14 the Sun sets at 5:34pm and the Moon sets at 6:50pm. The lagtime is now 76 minutes and the crescent moon should be visible (at Sydney’s latitude) to the unaided eye if the western sky is clear of cloud. The crescent moon should be visible to the unaided eye from all locations in Australia.
In summary, the crescent Moon will not be visible on April 12. It may be visible on April 13 depending on your location and the atmospheric conditions, and from Tasmania it may be visible after being found with binoculars or a telescope. On April 14 the crescent moon should be easily visible from all parts of Australia.
Now, considering the jurisprudential information provided above with this astronomical information, the following can be concluded: Tuesday will not be the beginning of the month of Ramadan. Wednesday might be, depending on whether the moon is sighted on Tuesday night with optical aid (Ayatollah Khamenei) or without optical aid (Ayatollah Sistani). If the moon is not sighted on Tuesday night, then it will easily be seen on Wednesday night, making Thursday the first day of the month of Ramadan.
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