Ramadan End Date Remains Mystery to Many Muslims

Saeed Ahmed
Cox News Service
December 14, 2001
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.

"We cannot simply go against the traditions set forth in the Koran and the teachings of the prophet," said Khalid Siddiq, director of Atlanta's largest mosque, the Al-Farooq Masjid.

The motions of the moon are deeply ingrained in the Islamic calendar. While the beginning of Ramadan also is based on the first visual sighting of a new moon, the dilemma is most acute during the Eid-al-Fitr and another moon-dependent holiday, Eid-al-Adha (Eed-ul-UD-ha).

Both are celebrated by joyous community prayer, acts of charity, visits to friends and family and in some places, the giving of gifts to children. Eid-al-Fitr is drawn from the Arabic words for words joy and charity.

Technology Instead of Tradition

While the meaning of the words remains consistent, many American Muslims are ready to use technology instead of tradition to end their month of daylight fasting.

"Why not just go that extra step?" said Khan. "The visual sighting of the moon was simply the most convenient method for the prophet's day and time. But we have to evolve with our time."

For now, North American Muslims divide into two groups over the moon-sighting issue. Some rely on visual sightings in the United States; others on a sighting in any Muslim country around the world. This has led to Muslim communities in Atlanta celebrating Eid on separate days on more than one occasion.

But the moon-sighting debate doesn't spoil the spiritual essence of the holiday.

"It's a matter of minor concern," said Riyadh Hassan, a businessman who lives in Atlanta. "If there's ever a time to set aside differences and celebrate our commonalities, it's this one day of the year. And we try not to ruin that."

Copyright 2001 Cox News Service

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