The Benefits of Using Astronomical Calculations for Ramadan and Dhul-Hijjah

Harnessing Science in the Service of Shariah

By Dr Musharraf Hussain

Recently, the Imam’s and trustees of the Karimia Institute have made a decision to align with the UK European Hilal Forum, and I would like to elucidate the rationale behind this choice.

The Islamic Shariah is inherently logical and grounded in reason, representing a rational and natural way of life that appeals to human intellect. The Islamic lunar month commences with the sighting of the moon, which is a straightforward concept. However, in a geographical location like Britain, moon sighting is often hindered by cloudy atmospheres due to its position in the northern hemisphere. Consequently, reliance on reports from other regions becomes necessary. This raises the question; whom should we follow?

The majority of developed Muslim countries possess excellent observatories that provide extensive data, enabling scholars to make informed decisions without direct moon sighting. These observatories base their determinations on the Quran, where Allah states, “The sun and the moon move in set orbits” [Anbiya: 33]. In other words, they adhere to accurately calculated celestial trajectories. We unquestionably acknowledge the precision of sunrise and sunset, relying on them to establish our daily five prayer times.

Astronomers have been accurately measuring the moon’s orbit around the sun for millennia, determining it to be 29 days, 12 hours, and 42 minutes. Nowadays, with the aid of satellites and high-resolution telescopes, the moon can be located anywhere in the sky.

The formula employed by the UK European Hilal forum is as follows:

  1. The conjunction (the moon’s new phase or birth of the new moon) must have occurred in the UK.
  2. Moonset must take place after sunset in the UK, and the moon must remain on the horizon for a minimum of 20 minutes.
  3. The moon’s visibility must fall within Category A, B, or C, as defined on, for anywhere in the world (A = easily visible with the naked eye, B = visible under perfect conditions, C = requires optical aid to locate the moon).

This formula is commonly adopted by various moon-sighting organisations. However, it does not mandate direct naked-eye sightings of the moon, rendering it a purely astronomical and calculation-based approach.

The benefits of this formula are multifaceted:

  1. It fully aligns with the principles of Shariah.
  2. It allows for accurate prediction of the commencement of the Islamic month well in advance, including the sacred months.
  3. It promotes inclusivity by incorporating the observatories of numerous Muslim countries, fostering unity among Muslims globally.

These attributes make it an attractive and straightforward formula.

Over the past five decades, I have witnessed conflicts, heated debates, and even discordant behaviour among Muslims in mosques and families regarding moon sighting. This state of affairs is unequivocally un-Islamic and unacceptable. It is high time that we seriously consider putting an end to this situation. By accepting astronomical data as a reliable means of determining the start of the Islamic month, we can achieve this goal, following the example of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf states.

There should be no doubt regarding the legitimacy and accuracy of scientific astronomical data as a source of knowledge and decision-making for the beginning of the sacred months. Numerous scholars have issued fatwas affirming this viewpoint. The advantages of this approach are evident, which is why the Karimia Institute, along with many other mosques and Islamic centres throughout the UK, have adopted it.