MOONSIGHTING AND EID AL-FITR INFORMATION
UPDATED JUNE 4, 2019
Those who break their fast according to the Common Night criteria may do so today, as it is the first day of Shawwal. A verified sighting of the crescent moon was made in Brisbane, Australia before Fajr, Washington, D.C. time (see www.moonsighting.com and www.moonsightingaustralia.info). Because this area and Washington, D.C., share the night, this sighting marks the beginning of Shawwal today.
However, as explained here, NWMI will hold Eid Salat and Celebrations on Wednesday, June 5 at the Rollins Congressional Club in Rockville.
Eid Mubarak and we look forward to celebrating with you!
MOONSIGHTING 2019: NWMI’s Approach to Determining the Start of a Lunar Month
THE QUR’ANIC BASIS FOR THE START OF THE MONTH IN THE ISLAMIC CALENDAR
Determination of the start of a lunar month is based on two ayahs in the Quran:
…فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ…
…so whoever from you witnesses the month, so he shall fast it… (2:185)
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ
They ask you about the crescent moons; say ‘They are demarcations of time for the people and the Hajj…' (2:189)
In 2:185, interpretations of “shahida” range from the literal understanding of seeing with one’s physical eyes to broader understandings of knowing through inference or other forms of ascertainment. Ayah 2:189 provides the lunar basis for the Islamic calendar.
DECISION POINTS IN ASCERTAINING THE NEW LUNAR MONTH
Based on the Quranic verses, there are several methods to ascertain the beginning of a lunar month. These methods are generally distinguished by two decision points:
The first decision point is how the crescent moon is “witnessed.” The moon may be sighted physically, or if 30 days have passed since the beginning of the lunar month without a sighting, the next day must be the start of the new month because lunar months are always 29 or 30 days. In addition, the presence of the new moon may be calculated according to various parameters (knowledge without sighting).
If the moon must be sighted physically, then the second decision point is whether one can see the moon him/herself. If not, then one may accept the sighting of another trustworthy competent person. However, the third decision point is how far away another person may be to accept his/her sighting of the moon. There are two main opinions on this matter. The more local criterion is known as the Common Horizon (or Multiplicity of Horizons) criterion, defined as follows:
“If the first day of a month is proved in a city, it is also proved in other cities if they are united in their horizon. And the meaning of having a common horizon in this matter is that if new moon was sighted in a city, there would be a distinct possibility of sighting it in the other cities, if there were no impediments, like, the clouds etc.”
In other words, if it is astronomically possible to see the moon in locations A and B, but the sighting is obscured in location A, the Common Horizon criterion says individuals living in location A can accept the sighting of location B. The Common Horizon criterion stipulates that the moon should appear similarly in both locations with respect to its altitude above the horizon and degree of illumination; hence, the horizons of the two locations are similar.
The broader criterion is known as the Common Night (or Unity of Horizons) criterion, which is defined as follows:
“If the first date of a month is proved in a city it is also proved in other city whether they are near or far and whether or not they have a common horizon, provided they have a common night, even though when it is the first part of the night in one of them it is the last part of the night in the other.”
According to the Common Night criterion, a sighting in location B can be accepted by individuals living in location A as long as both A and B are under the darkness of night at the same time. It is not necessary for the moon to be sightable in location A, and even if it were possible to see the moon in location A, it would not need to appear similar to that in location B with regard to altitude and illumination.
SIGHTING OF THE MOON
Calculations of the movements of the Sun, Earth, and Moon in relation to each other, and refinements of those calculations through scientific observation, have led to algorithms that can predict the likelihood of seeing the crescent moon for any given date and location. The ability to see the moon is dependent on a variety of factors, such as the amount of time that has elapsed since the new moon, the amount of sunlight in the sky, and the elevation of the moon above the horizon. The following figures show areas of the Earth where the crescent moon marking the beginning of Ramadan 2019 may be sighted (click to enlarge):
According to the first figure, the moon first becomes visible by naked eye sighting on the evening of May 5, 2019 in the eastern Atlantic. As more time passes, it becomes visible over progressively greater areas. On May 6, 2019, the moon is expected to have widespread visibility across the globe.
Predictions for sighting of the crescent moon marking the beginning of Shawwal 2019 (that is, Eid-al-Fitr), are displayed in the following figures (click to enlarge):
The first figure indicates that the moon may be visible under ideal conditions in the very Western Pacific on the evening of June 3, 2019. It is more easily seen on the evening of June 4, 2019 (local date), with progressively greater visibility as one moves westward. The moon is expected to be easily visible across the Americas on June 4.
CALCULATION OF THE NEW MOON
Calculation systems are based on various astronomical parameters, such as altitude above the horizon, minimum angle of separation with the Sun, or simply that the Moon is born. The most commonly used calculation system in North America is that used by the Fiqh Council of North America, which has determined that the first day of Ramadan is May 6, 2019, and the first day of Shawwal (Eid al-Fitr) is June 4, 2019.
APPLYING THE COMMON HORIZON CRITERION
The Common Horizon criterion requires the moon to be sightable with similar appearance in two locations if one location is to accept the sighting of the other. This requires that the locations have geographic proximity. The moon is expected to be visible in the southern portion of North America on the evening of May 5, 2019, but it may not be easily visible in more northern parts. However, it is expected to be easily visible on May 6. As such, the first day of Ramadan by criterion may fall on May 6 or May 7 depending on one’s geographic location and moon sighting. There is more certainty regarding the first day of Shawwal. As there is widespread visibility on the evening of June 4, Eid-al-Fitr by Common Horizon criterion is expected on June 5.
APPLYING THE COMMON NIGHT CRITERION
The Common Night criterion says that two locations that are both covered by the darkness of night at the same time can accept each other's sightings of the moon, regardless of whether or not the moon can be sighted in one of those locations. As such, the beginning of Ramadan by Common Night criterion is expected to be on May 6, because Washington, D.C. shares the night with the areas of the Americas where the moon is expected to be easily visible on the evening of May 5.
As for Eid al-Fitr, the figure above (click to enlarge) indicates the areas of Earth under the darkness of night when Washington, D.C. is about to enter Fajr (dawn) on June 4, 2019. The first sightings of the crescent moon are expected in the eastern Pacific islands under ideal conditions. These areas share the night with Washington, D.C. However, easier visibility is expected in more westward areas that do not share the night with Washington, D.C. As such, it is remotely possible that Eid al-Fitr for Washington, D.C. could be on June 4, according to the Common Night Criteria. However, if that were the case, confirmed moon sighting reports would likely arrive close to or even after Fajr on June 4 (Washington, DC time). If so, individuals who use the Common Night criteria could break their fast on June 4; however, for practical reasons, NWMI would still celebrate Eid on June 5.
NWMI’S SYSTEM FOR DETERMINING THE START OF A LUNAR MONTH AND RATIONALE
After having deliberated at length over the merits of each system for determining the start of lunar months, NWMI decided to adopt the Common Night criterion because (1) there is consensus within NWMI that the crescent moon should be physically sighted, and (2) the Common Night criterion most closely reflects NWMI's vision of a diverse Ummah, allowing us to be informed by verified sightings from fellow Muslims across continents. NWMI consults sightings from around the globe as reported on such websites as www.moonsighting.com, www.moonsighting.info, and www.crescentwatch.org.
Adoption of the Common Night criterion does not mean that NWMI follows the rulings of a single jurist (marja'). NWMI is comprised of a variety of Muslims with varying preferences in matters of jurisprudence (fiqh). NWMI respects each individual's personal choices in these matters and regards such differences as a reflection of the diversity of the Muslim Ummah.
As for Eid-al-Adha, NWMI celebrates with the hajjis and holds salat and celebrations on the day after they stand at Arafat.