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Issue 231, Friday 25 July 2008 - 23 Rajab 1423
Seminar on moon sighting held in Croydon
By Qamar Uddin
Over 300 people attended an educational seminar on the practical observation of the crescent moon (Hilal) at the Croydon Mosque and Islamic Centre on June 4. The seminar was followed by a practical observation session.
Imam of Tooting Islamic Centre, London Shaykh Sulayman Gani, made the first presentation on the importance of sighting the Hilal each month as stated in the Qur’an and practised by Prophet Muhammad (p). With the aid of computer graphics, Gani explained when and where the Hilal would be visible on the world map after the birth of the moon (conjunction) had taken place, and not before. He emphasised the high calculation accuracy of the rising, setting and conjunction times of the moon. He also presented verified astronomical data from the International Observatories about the predicted crescent visibility and demonstrated how they were consistent with what was stated in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. He concluded his presentation by showing the predicted crescent visibility map for June 4, 2008, when the Hilal was expected to be easily visible on UK horizon (and would remain there over 96 minutes).
It should also be pointed out that from the first sighting location of the Hilal, the whole world (near the equator) should be able to sight it within 24 hours. These 24 hours may overlap over 1 solar date or 2 solar dates, depending on the position of the first sighting location with respect to the International Date Line (IDL). That means, the start of all the Islamic months around the whole world should be within 2 days, if not 1 day. The fact that it has been happening over 3 to 4 days every year (especially for Ramadan and ‘Ids), means 1 or 2 days were clearly wrong.
Shaykh Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti, a fellow at Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, made the second presentation on the Islamic Jurisprudence of moonsighting according to all major schools of thought. He explained that in Islamic Law, there are two stages of establishing the lunar months. Stage one is that people go out to attempt sighting the Hilal when it is (scientifically) possible for it to be sighted. Stage two is when the authority or the Judge in the country, having considered the sighting (or non-sighting) reports would announce the beginning of the lunar months. Therefore, it is a must for any Muslim community to establish such an authority. The ruling in Islamic Law to establish the calendar is a communal obligation, just like establishing the five times of prayer and the direction of Makkah. That is, until such a calendar is established, every Muslim in the UK is responsible, just like the funeral prayers. It should also be understood that just like the prayer times of other countries are not the same (such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco or Malaysia), similarly, the Islamic calendar for all the countries does not have to be the same. It is acceptable in Islamic Law for different countries to have different calendars, just like they have different prayer times, and still be united.
It is not imperative in Islamic Law for the Muslims of the UK to follow any other country to establish the calendar, said Shaykh Al-Akiti. He said it is essential for UK Muslims to organise their own local moon-sighting groups. Even if it was possible for the crescent moon to be sighted only two or three times a year, it will be enough to establish the calendar (based on the rule of completing 30 days if it was cloudy).
However, it is permissible to use moon-sighting reports from other countries east of the UK, if it was physically possible for it to be sighted there. He emphasised that it is permissible in Islamic Law to use astronomical data to reject false moon-sighting announcements, but not to use it to replace the physical sighting of the crescent moon by the human eye.
After the sunset prayers, over 20 people went onto the roof of Croydon Mosque to practically observe the crescent moon. It was not until about half an hour after sunset that the 24 hours old crescent was sighted with great difficulty due to its thinness against a background of clouds.
A free video and CD of the event, including further advice on the science of moon sighting and relevant supplications (du’a) can by obtained by contacting Qamar Uddin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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