*** Ramadan 1431 will begin on Wednesday the 11th or Thursday the 12th of August 2010, God-willing. Refer to your local competent authority for the actual decision. ***
Please refer to the “next new moon” details at HMNAO’s UK Moonwatch website, http://www.crescentmoonwatch.org.
Astronomical new moon occurs just after conjunction on Tuesday 10th August at around 3am Universal Time or GMT, God-willing. Therefore, conjunction-based methods, as recommended by the great 14th/20th-century Hadith scholar Ahmad Shakir using a maqasid-based argument that some contemporary authorities do not appreciate, would give a Ramadan start date of 10th or 11th August.
The visibility map shows that naked-eye sighting of the hilal (new crescent moon) will be easy across South America on the evening of 10th August, and for almost the whole world on 11th August.
Using a “local sighting” criterion, Ramadan would begin on 11th August in South America and on 12th August around most of the rest of the world. Note that “local sighting” for the UK might even give a start date of 13th August.
“Local sighting” is problematic, since applying it strictly to the UK would have resulted in a 31-day Ramadan last year (1430/2009), were it not for the 30-day cutoff point.
Using the “sharing the night” principle of Hanafi jurisprudence, the South American sighting would also apply to North America, Europe & Africa at least, giving the start of Ramadan as 11th August. This includes the UK.
Using the “sighting from the east” principle of Shafi’i jurisprudence combined with instant telecommunication (for, as Ibn Taymiyyah said, information transmission is crucial in this matter) gives us the Universal Hejra Calendar. This uses the Atlantic Ocean as a lunar dateline, roughly speaking, and would give the following Ramadan start dates:
North & South Americas: 11th August
Rest of the world: 12th August
The visibility map suggests that the hilal will be visible via telescopes from parts of Southern Africa on 10th August. A UHC-type approach would then extend the 11th August start date to Africa, Europe & the Middle East at least.
Note that the hilal is NOT visible from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, etc. until 11th August. However, judging by past experience, claims of sighting are likely from these countries on 10th August, even though such sighting is unquestionably, physically impossible.
Muslim communities in minority contexts are likely to differ about the Ramadan start date. Such diversity is inevitable in the absence of political unity that would facilitate unified decision-making. We should celebrate the fact that we agree on 27-28 days of Ramadan, i.e. over 90% of the month, and concentrate on the holistic benefits of this blessed month rather than arguing too much about its dates.
Finally, a word about the validity of astronomical calculations in such decisions. This has been endorsed by numerous contemporary jurists, especially those grounded in the maqasid al-shari’ah (higher objectives of law). Unfortunately, this is opposed by those who stick rigidly to literalist approaches to individual texts, whether from madhhabist or anti-madhhabist perspectives.
As Imam Subki said, those who know that the crescent is visible via astronomical calculations may begin their months on that basis. Such knowledge used to be limited to an elite, but is now widely-available in our information age.
Ibn Taymiyyah said that the matter hinges upon the information one has about crescent visibility. He further said that it was not humanly possible to predict crescent visibility accurately. This statement was correct in his time, seven centuries ago, but the exponential development of science since then means that it is simply not true any more.
Some argue that the jurists allowed calculations for prayer times, but not for lunar dates, based on the hadiths of seeing the moon and “we are an unlettered nation.” Numerous imams have pointed out that the Muslims are no longer unlettered. A literalist approach to “seeing the moon” is inconsistently not applied by some authorities to “seeing the dawn” specified for the beginning of fasting in the Qur’an, for “the dawn becoming clear” (tabayyun) is originally a visual condition. Furthermore, Imam Subki explicitly stated that the jurists distinguished between calculations for prayer times and lunar dates precisely because the latter were too difficult to calculate accurately. Science has now removed that obstacle.
May Allah shower all of humanity with the overwhelming, inner and outer blessings of Ramadan.
Usama Hasan (UK)
Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society & Khatib, Al-Tawhid Mosque (though writing here in his personal capacity)
20th (?) Sha’ban, 1431
1st August, 2010