Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Happy New Hijra Year, 1432
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 8, 2010
December 7th marks the first of Moharram, the beginning of the
new Hijra year 1432, according to the Islamic calendar announced by the
Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and endorsed by the Islamic Society
of North America (ISNA).
In a bid to end the controversy over the
beginning of the month of Ramadan and Eid celebrations, the Fiqh Council
of North America, in August, 2006, announced an Islamic calendar based on
astronomical calculation abandoning the traditional method of actual
sighting of crescent.
The Fiqah Council of North America argues that the new moon is just a
sign of timings. "Criterions of visibility are not agreed upon even by the
Muslim astronomers and scholars." A research paper issued by ISNA to
support its Hijra calendar argues that GMT is an arbitrary convention
accepted by the international community to facilitate the timings and
dates and that it has no Islamic implications what so ever.
On the other hand, Mecca, being the sanctuary of all the Muslims,
enjoys a lot more significance than the GMT, therefore, Muslims should
take Mecca as the Islamic convention to determine Muslim months, it said
adding that the new month will start when the new Moon is born before
Sunset in Mecca and stays in the horizon after the Sunset even if for a
small amount of time.
The whole Muslim world would have the beginning of the new Month within
24 hours from the birth of the new Moon in Mecca" said the paper written
by Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, a renowned American Muslim scholar.
This criteria was first suggested in 2004 by Jamal Eddine Abderrazik in
his book titled “The Unified Islamic Lunar Calendar” in which he proposed
a unified calendar on the basis of the following rule: The new month
begins everywhere the next day if conjunction occurs between 00:00 UT and
12:00 UT; the new month is postponed by 24 hours if conjunction occurs
between 12:00 UT and 24:00 UT.
Realizing that the FCNA criteria
for sighting the new moon may not be accept by many Muslims, it called for
understanding and harmony. It says: “The Fiqh Council is encouraging all
Muslims throughout North America to consider using the new methodology for
the sake of unity and to avoid the confusion and disputes that have
occurred in the past. However, the Fiqh Council does not
intend to force its decision on anyone or any Muslim community. You should
follow the decision of your Imam and your Masjid. Moreover, you
should do so with great respect and avoiding unnecessary disputes and
Interestingly, Islamic Circle of North America
(ICNA), a major Muslim organization, in its Eid Al Adha message this year
advised the Muslim community to celebrate the Eid holidays with their
local masajid, communities and Islamic centers. The ICNA said the
organization would like to see more harmony and unity among the Muslim
community at the local level.
According to Dr. Louay Safi, the Fiqh Council of North America’s
decision to formally adopt astronomical calculation represents a major
step forward in overcoming historical inertia. Although the decision of
the FCNA has not so far brought about a consensus among North American
Muslims, it has set the foundation for the development of a position that
can potentially bring a new consensus in deciding the beginning of Ramadan
and the two Eids for the world-wide Muslim community.
In its decision, the Fiqh Council said that Muslims living in North
America and Europe face more problems due to starting Ramadan at different
timings and celebrating Eids on different days. The issue of Moon sighting
is causing problem of discord among Muslims and is a bone of contention
all over the Muslim world. Hence the Council, in a bid to save the Ummah
this enormous wrangling and bickering over the sighting of the new moon,
decided to abandon the traditional method and announced a Hijra calendar
on the basis of astronomical calculations.
Khalid Shaukat, the founder of Moonsighting Committee Worldwide (MCW),
says that in modern age of communication, we all need to plan, schedule,
and announce various religious occasions. “We need to plan meetings,
conventions, and other social events sometimes years in advance. We need
an Islamic calendar so that we can give the Islamic dates to the planners
of future activities.”
Not surprisingly, Islamic centers and mosques throughout North America
have ignored ISNA’s calendar and following their own moon sighting
committees to determine beginning of a new Islamic month. That is why this
year again we witness Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Fitr celebrations on two
At present, the Muslims don't agree or follow one criterion for fixing
their Islamic calendars. Various Muslim countries and Muslim organizations
use different criteria for fixing their first date of an Islamic month.
Global Islamic Calendar
Every now and then, the Muslim astronomical experts suggest a global
Hijri Calendar. In November 2006 1st Global Islamic Calendar conference
was held in Morocco. It was attended by representatives from various
Islamic countries. The second Global Islamic Calendar conference was held
in May, 2010. At these conferences Khalid Shaukat suggested that to
determine a global Islamic lunar calendar, the most logical conventional
point of reference is the International Date Line (IDL).
If the moon is born between 0:00 - 12:00 UT the Islamic month begins at
sunset of the day everywhere in the world. If the moon is born between
12:00 - 23:59 UT the Islamic month begins at sunset of the next day
everywhere in the world.
Khalid Shaukat explained that International Dateline is practically
used as a reference point for beginning of every day, which has been
accepted by All Muslims e.g., to pray Friday prayers all over the world on
a day that starts with IDL and ends with IDL. Hence this criteria would
synchronize the day convention used by the whole world to the Islamic day,
such that every Gregorian dates has one corresponding Islamic date.
Probably this is the second time in 1400 years of Islamic history that an
attempt is being made to abandon actual moon sighting for the beginning of
the new Islamic months. In the 10th century AD a calendar based on
astronomical calculations was instituted by the sixth Fatimid caliph Abu
Ali Al-Mansur Al-Hakim (985–1021). It is therefore sometimes referred to
as the Fatimid or Misr (Egyptian) calendar. The calendar was rejected by
the scholars of the time as an unacceptable innovation. According to some
historical accounts of the Fatimids in Libya, the Qadi of Barqa was put to
death in 953 for observing the fast of Ramadan by sighting the new moon
instead of following the astronomical calculations.
It is believed
that the Fatimid practice in using astronomical conjunction as the
starting point for Ramadan was not due to the complexity of calculating
physical sighting but rather to their belief that their doctrines were
scientific. Other than the Fatimid practice, there is no evidence that
Muslims have ever advocated calculation in lieu of sighting until the 21st
Probably, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Islamic
calendar is not followed by the 1.3 billion or so Muslims for their day to
day routine. They follow the Gregorian calendar in mundane affairs while
Islamic calendar is used in religious matters such as the beginning of the
month of Ramadan and Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha.
Islamic calendar is
the only lunar calendar
The Islamic or Hijra calendar of 12 lunar
months is determined by observation of the new moon with no effort by
intercalation (addition) or other means to synchronize the lunar year with
the solar year.
A lunar month may vary from 29.26 to 29.80 days.
The average Lunar month is 29.530588 days or slightly more than 29.5 days.
Twelve average Lunar months are equal to 354.3670 days while the solar
year is 365.2422 days. Therefore, the Islamic calendar gains ground in
relation to the Solar Calendar at the rate of about 11 days a year or
about one-year in every 33 years.
Since no effort is made to link
the Islamic calendar with solar year the Islamic months do not correspond
with particular season. A lunar month is not less than 29 days or more
than 30 days. But in solar calendar the days of months vary from 28 to
Like Muslims, Jews followed a calendar based upon naked-eye
observation of new moons for more than a thousand years. However,
persecution of the Jews under the Roman Emperor Constantius (337-361 AD)
in the name of Christianity prevented communication among the Jews about
the observed calendar, and forced them to switch to an entirely computed
calendar. This forced Rabbi Hillel II to promulgate the fixed computed
calendar in 358 AD. Its computations were designed to simulate the
practical constraints of the observed calendar (including postponements
and intercalations) as closely as possible. The Jews never returned to
their original tradition of following a purely lunar calendar determined
by eyewitnesses; instead, they continue to determine the new moon
Two other major world calendars which used lunar
dates for religious and cultural festivals are Chinese and Hindu calendars
but both are now lunisolar like the Jewish calendar, i.e. synchronized
with the solar calendar.
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar
calendar based on calculations of the positions of the Sun and Moon.
Months of 29 or 30 days begin on days of astronomical New Moons, with an
intercalary month being added every two or three years. Although the
Gregorian calendar is used in the Peoples' Republic of China for
administrative purposes, the traditional Chinese calendar is used for
setting traditional festivals and for timing agricultural activities in
the countryside. The Chinese calendar is also used by Chinese communities
around the world.
As a result of a calendar reform in A.D. 1957,
the National Calendar of India is a formalized lunisolar calendar in which
leap years coincide with those of the Gregorian calendar. In addition to
establishing a civil calendar, the Calendar Reform Committee set
guidelines for religious calendars, which require calculations of the
motions of the Sun and Moon. Tabulations of the religious holidays are
prepared by the India Meteorological Department and published annually in
The Indian Astronomical Ephemeris. Despite the attempt to establish a
unified calendar for all of India, many local variations exist. The
Gregorian calendar continues in use for administrative purposes, and
holidays are still determined according to regional, religious, and ethnic
Most religious holidays occur on specified lunar dates
but a few occur on specified solar dates.
The Gregorian calendar
regulates the ceremonial cycle of the Roman Catholic and Protestant
churches. The ecclesiastical calendars of Christian churches are based on
cycles of movable and immovable feasts. Christmas is the principal
immovable feast, with its date set at December 25. Easter is the principal
movable feast, and dates of most other movable feasts are determined with
respect to Easter.
Interestingly, the 56-member states
Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 1997 passed a resolution on a
unified Hijra calendar for the beginning of lunar month and the
unification of Islamic holidays. However, no Islamic country dared to
ignore the tradition of announcing the beginning of the Islamic months
through moon sighting committees. Even Saudi Arabia which relies on
astronomical calculations for its official lunar calendar relies on the
decision of moon sighting committee for religious events.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online
magazine American Muslim Perspective: