Cox News Service
It's an Islamic ritual more than 1,400 years old: scanning the sky for
the crescent of a new moon to usher in Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day feast
that signals the end of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
But visual reliance on the moon means that every year, until just hours before the big day, no one knows for sure when the month of Ramadan ends and Eid-al-Fitr (pronounced Eed-ul-FIT-tur) begins.
This year, the holiday the rough equivalent of Christmas in Islam could occur Saturday night or Sunday in the United States.
As in the solar eclipse, expected at 4:10 p.m. Eastern Time Friday, astronomers know exactly when the crescent moon will be visible from Earth. In fact, there are Muslim Web sites with the time posted (Saturday night United States Eastern Time), and mosque hotlines and e-mail sites are ready to fire off an electronic message the moment Eid is announced.
But tradition says the beginning of Eid can't be decreed until the crescent is seen.
"It's absurd that in an age when astronomy can pinpoint with accuracy the location of the moon, we are still bound by an ancient method of skywatching to celebrate Eid," said Asif Khan, an engineer from Lawrenceville, Georgia.
The quandary is prompting a small but growing number of Muslims across the United States who want Muslim scholars to permit mathematical calculations to designate a time for Eid.
They say that in countries where Islam is the dominant religion, it's fine when no one knows the exact date for Eid. Entire communities gather outside in giddy anticipation, eagerly searching the sky until a national announcement is made and the nation goes on holiday.
Moon-spotting "Becoming Impractical"
But in places such as the United States, the tradition of moon-spotting is becoming increasingly impractical.
It's often difficult to spot the moon on cloudy nights or from brightly lit cities. And it's difficult to plan a day off from school or work without knowing exactly which day.
"Try calling your boss' home at ten at night and explaining to him why you can't show up for work the next day," said Joynul Abedin, who said he will still have to work his eight-hour shift at Atlanta's Midtown fast-food restaurant if Eid falls on Saturday.
Muslim elders, however, dismiss notions of a spiritual compromise for social convenience.