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Why is the start of the Islamic month based on sighting the
There is a lot of discussion on this on the web - but
its very difficult to find quality reasoning that
demonstrates arriving at a conclusion through logic.
Therefore after doing some thinking I wrote-up the
following. What ever is truthful of this is from Allah
and whatever is false is from me.
motivation for this was because I was brought up using a
calendar which I believe has been set to start the
Islamic month soon after conjunction of the moon;
however many Muslims around me would depend on the
sighting of the moon to determine the start (and end) of
an Islamic month. I began wondering which was correct?
reflecting on this subject here is what I came up with:
my opinion, a lot of Muslims believe that the Prophet’s
directions were to sight the moon 
(Quoting a Hadith is controversial to some Muslims - I
feel though that my points can be made without the
- that explains why they still insist on a moon sighting
by at least 2 adult Muslims in the same region /
country. In my opinion again, some Muslims, e.g. the
Saudi’s, use a pre-calculated Islamic calendar (either
adjusted regularly or not) to determine the start of
each Islamic month.
think the base
question for which there should be an answer
is whether physical sighting the moon is important, i.e.
did the Prophet direct Muslims to sight the moon in
order to start the Islamic month, or is it permissible
to calculate the birth of the new moon and begin the
Islamic month from that date.
believe it is possible to accurately calculate the birth
of the new moon, but you will agree that there is no
accuracy possible in whether a moon can be sighted or
Therefore the base question above.
The original Jewish calendar was primarily lunar,
with each month beginning on the new moon, when
the first sliver of moon becomes visible after
the dark of the moon. In ancient times, the new
months used to be determined by observation. (from
The correct term for birth of a new moon is called
conjunction (astronomical new moon) - this is when
the earth, sun and moon are in the same plane.
NOT the same as
new moon. Usually the moon has to be at least 15
hours old before it can be seen from somewhere on
The Islamic concept of sighting the moon is known as
Roya't (the sighting).
At the time of the prophet, the Arabs knew of the
solar calendar and the lunar calendar because of the
presence of Christians and Jews in Arabia.
In my reasoning, the Islamic month begins when the new
moon is sighted. Lets consider a logical explanation
instead of the "I-think-the-Prophet-said-so" argument
that I feel is devoid of logic.
understand that the sighting of the new moon will occur
several hours after the conjunction. I still hold the
reasoning of Roya't because:
The moon is a reflector of light and not a source.
Therefore at and just before conjunction,
the moon is completely dark (due to its
astronomical alignment) and cannot be seen.
This is why it is not considered a new moon
at this time because there is "no moon".
A new moon or a born moon is the moment after that,
when the alignment of the moon, earth and sun,
allows the first sliver of light to be reflect off
the surface of the moon to the earth.
Due to proximity of the post-conjunction moon to the
setting sun, angle, orbital eccentricities, other
earthly factors, like atmospheric interference, it
usually takes > 15 hours after conjunction to see
the new moon on earth even with a powerful
If one went sufficiently high up above the
earth so that the angle of observation was
different, it probably is possible to detect
the first sliver of light from a new moon
shortly after conjunction. But now the
question becomes, how high should one go -
because if you do go really far above the
surface of the earth, you may never see the
"no moon" or the black moon!
Switching gears a bit,
we know it takes ~ 8 minutes for sun light to reach
earth. This means when we see the sunset, or detect
it using electronic equipment, the sun has actually
already set 8 minutes earlier! But the calculation
of Maghrib time is based precisely on when the sun
sets for human observers on earth
8 minutes before.
Similarly for calculating the times of other
Therefore to the human eye, the new moon is not born
until humans can see it or detect it on the earth.
That said, I am a firm believer in the
importance of intention (niyah)
in acts (based on Hadith ). So if the intention of
the person is to start Ramadan on the 1st but that date
differs from the
1st of Ramadan (which Allah knows best), then I believe
Allah will reward the person accordingly.
As a final point let me mention why I believe the lunar
calendar is actually better for Muslims:
The lunar calendar (as described above) is more
democratic. With the solar month, it is difficult to
tell when the month began and when it ends, all you have
to go by is the changing of seasons and depending on
your latitude a change in angle of the Sun. But with the
lunar month, anyone can mark the start and end and
enumerate months. So no church / mosque / government can
control your religion - no middle man :)
In the end Allah knows best!
and end fast with the sighting of the moon and if moon
can not be sighted on the 29th
(because of whether
then count the days to 30
(i.e. start the next month
30 days after the current month)" [Bukhari & Muslim]
"The acts are not
(to be judged) except
Also check out the FAQ pages at
- Mujtaba Khambatti, October 2004