The holy month of Ramadan commenced on Saturday in most parts of the Muslim world. Some countries began their fast on Friday, due to early moon sighting. Whilst other countries were jostling to sight the moon with their naked eyes, as per Islamic traditions, some nations like Turkey had already defined the first day of Ramadan months earlier.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, based on the crescents of the moon, and 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. Thus, the dates for Ramadan change every year. Then process of determining the start of the month of Ramadan is often complex—and sometimes controversial.
With the advancement of modern technology, which have ushered in the adoption astronomical tools, determining the start of a new moon should be straightforward. But its not that simple as Muslim countries still differ on whether modern technology should take precedence over traditional methods.
Turkey among other countries base their start date on astronomical predictions. But others, such as Saudi Arabia, and some parts of Africa have stuck to the conservative method of relying on the sighting of a new moon.
Last year, Turkey hosted the International Hijri Calendar Union Congress which was earmarked to end of a long-standing conflict dividing the world’s Muslims. Muslim scholars from predominantly Muslim states agreed to adopt a single Islamic lunar calendar.
The landmark move was hailed as important regarding the observance of religious holidays and especially concerns the fasting month of Ramadan. Barely a month after the conference, the conflict was re-ignited when Turkey marked the end of Ramadan a day ahead than the rest of the Muslim world.
The Kaaba is our qiblah, not a place for determining time
Turkish head of religious affairs in Mehmet Görmez defended their stance saying Muslims should not necessarily follow Saudi Arabia’s lead in determining the days of religious festivals such as Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.
“The Kaaba is our qiblah [the direction of prayer], not a place for determining time. These times are determined by the [appearance of the] new moon and the sky,” Görmez said in an interview with Turkey’s run Anadolu Agency, referring to the top sacred mosque of the Muslim world located in Mecca.
“The fact that the Kaaba, the Masjid Nabawi [Mosque of the Prophet] and the Hajj pilgrimage are administered by one country does not mean that we will change the laws and rules of Allah,” he added. “Islam is a universal religion, which was revealed not to a particular geographical region but to the whole world and all of mankind.”
The organisations says sighting the crescent moon anywhere in the world marks the end of Ramadan. During the Hijri Calendar Union Congress, Görmez said there has been a misconception or disregard for scientific facts in the Islamic world.
“In this day and age, when people can travel to the moon and observe the movements of sun and moon second by second, in this age of major scientific developments, it was wrong to disregard these developments and insist on observing the new moon with the naked eye by climbing up mountains. God and the prophet tell us to acquire knowledge and use it.”