Eid al Fitr 2018: Besides the necessary appeals issued by the Royal Court and local moon sighting committees, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Middle East countries are witnessing a new trend since last few years before the start of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr.
A report carrying statements attributed to some “astronomical center or observatory” will be published by any one of the Arab media which is then reproduced and widely followed by others. Hype is then created and public opinion is built, days before the official announcements by the Saudi Royal Court or Moon Sighting Committees formed in the UAE and other Arab states to decide the start of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr festival.
The Islamic Calendar is based on sighting of the new moon since the days of Prophet (Peace be upon him). And hence a month in the Islamic calendar is sometimes of 29 days or of 30 days based on when the moon is sighted. Accordingly, the start of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr is decided.
However, quite strangely, all these experts associated with some or the other “astronomical centers or observatories” speculate on the possibility of moon sighting in such a manner that the month of Shaban is always of 30 days whereas the month of Ramadan is always of 29 days. This is seemingly done to delay the start of Ramadan as late as possible whereas announce the first day of Eid al Fitr as early as possible.
Most of the times, these reports widely carried by the Arab media, lack clarity of conclusion to avoid backlash as such speculations are prohibited and invalid under the Islamic Sharia, but tactically play with words to build a public opinion before the official announcement made normally after the Maghrib salath on 29th of the ongoing month.
“The Abu-Dhabi based International Astronomical Center (IAC) announced on Wednesday that new moon of the lunar month of Shawwal shall be observed after sunset on June 14, Thursday, the last day of the holy Month of Ramadan. This means that Eid Al Fitr will be heralded on June 15, marking the first day of the three-day celebration”, Ahram Online reported on June 06, the tactical use of some multi-meaning words can be easily manifested..
“In most of the Arab world, the crescent moon cannot be easily seen with the naked eye except for in the far western regions of southern Morocco, Mauritania, and west Africa, according to the IAC. The crescent moon will be visible by telescope in east and southeast Asian countries and Europe”, the report went on to add.
The new moon not sighting with naked eyes ends the enitre story here itself. But, the report is soon carried by other Arab media quoting the same “Abu-Dhabi based International Astronomical Center (IAC)” though with slight variation in the wording to make the reports more speculative.
Reproducing the IAC statement as carried by Ahram Online which said “…the crescent can only be seen through a telescope from the east and southeast of Asia and Europe while it can be seen with the naked eye with difficulty from all Arab countries, except in the far west”, UNA-OIC in a report published on June 09 said, “On this day (June 14), the crescent can be seen from all Islamic countries with the naked eye or through a telescope if the sky is clear.”
The claim that the crescent can be seen with naked eyes is not originally attributed by the IAC. Moreover, crescent if at all is seen with the help of telescope has so far been not accepted by the Islamic jurists – both in Saudi Arabia, UAE or elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Al Jazeera followed the Ahram Online and UNA-OIC news on June 12 "concluding" that, “The IAC expects the crescent moon to be visible from all Islamic countries with the naked eye or through a telescope on the night of June 14.”
Interestingly, no one bothered to name the expert or official whom they had talked with at the “Abu-Dhabi based International Astronomical Center (IAC)” and the announcement of which is even missed by the UAE media.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) however a different trick is used to build up public opinion about the first day of Eid al Fitr - long before it is officially decided by the moon sighting committees.
As reported by the local media, the Department of Culture and Tourism (DCT Abu Dhabi) has announced a citywide shopping experience to give shoppers discounts of up to 90 per cent in seven malls for 24 hours, to mark the first day of Eid. “With more than 500 stores involved, the sale will kick off at 10:00 am on Friday, June 15, and run until 10:00 am on Saturday, June 16”, local media reported as if the First Day of Eid al Fitr has already been decided as Friday June 15, 2018.
Al Arabiya in the meantime while publishing the appeal issued by the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia requesting the masses to look for the new moon on Thursday, added this blunder, “Saudi experts at astronomical observatories said that on the 30th day of Ramadan, which falls on Thursday, the moon will set 42 minutes before the sun sets. According to this, and if the weather allows for it, the crescent should be easily seen that evening.” The fact is that Thursday June 14 is 29th Ramadan, not 30th Ramadan as reported by Al Arabiya.
Amid this game of speculations to impress upon the authorities responsible for deciding the start of Ramadan or Eid al Fitr based on the moon sighting, the worst was done by Khaleej Times – Dubai’s leading newspaper.
On Tuesday May 15, 2018 even as the Saudi Royal Court and Moon Sighting Committees formed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were still busy in meetings to decide the first day of Ramadan 2018, Khaleej Times at about 07:30 pm local times citing a report by Al Arabiya declared that the Ramadan moon was not sighted in Saudi Arabia, hence the first day of Ramadan 2018 will be Thursday May 17, 2018, instead of Wednesday.
“The holy month of Ramadan will begin on Thursday, May 17, it was announced today. The announcement was made after the Saudi moon-sighting committee met on Tuesday evening and were not able to sight the Ramadan crescent”, Khaleej Times reported on Tuesday May 15 citing Al Arabiya, ignoring the fact that the moon announcements in Saudi Arabia is made by the Supreme Court, not by any moon-sighting committee.
A fact check on the same day revealed that Al Arabiya had no such report published by that time except a report in its Arabic and Urdu editions earlier which citing “a Saudi expert associated with an observatory in one of the Kingdom’s university” speculated that there was a least possibility of moon sighting on Tuesday May 15, 2018.
Interestingly, there was already a widespread belief among the Umrah pilgrims in Makkah that Ramadan this year will start on Wednesday May 16, 2018. Accordingly, a section of Urdu press in India had reported that Ramadan in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states began on Wednesday May 16, 2018.
The claim that the Ramadan schedule was, wittingly or unwittingly, manipulated gathered further credence this year when the new moon was sighted in Pakistan and India on Wednesday May 16, confirming that Muslims in the Indian subcontinent will start the Holy month of fasting along with their counterparts in the Middle East. This was a rarest of rare case as there is normally a difference of at least a day between the two regions because of their geographical locations.
Manipulating Haj Dates
The routine practice of building public opinions by publishing reports by “unnamed experts” days ahead of the official moon sighting announcements reminded those keeping a watch on the matter about the allegations leveled in the past that the Saudis adjusted the Haj dates as per their own convenience and manipulated them if the Haj Day or Youme Arafah coincided with Friday.
The Haj day on Friday is considered more significant – a belief though is debatable. But, when there was no quota of Haj pilgrims, Youme Arafh or Haj Day coinciding with Youmul Jumah – Friday, would attract unprecedented number of pilgrims from all corners thronging the Holy land. It was alleged that to avoid this heavy influx of pilgrims, the Saudis used to manipulate the Haj dates in the past. The allegations were never refuted or confirmed by the Saudi authorities.
First Day of Eid 2018
Away from this debate, Muslims in the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent will for the first time in the recent history look for the new moon on Thursday June 14, 2018 corresponding to 29th of Ramadan 1439. If the new moon is sighted on Thursday, the first day of Eid will be Friday June 15, 2018.
If the new moon is not sighted on Thursday, the first day of Eid 2018 will be Saturday June 16, 2018. This is in accordance with the Sunnah and tradition of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
[The writer, Aleem Faizee, is Founder Editor of ummid.com. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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