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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 discussion.”
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 different days.

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 century. 

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 31. 

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 calculation. 

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 traditions. 

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: email:




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