Nigeria is sighting the wrong Moon (1)
Ramadan is fast approaching. And as the author of ‘Ishriniyah said, “You indulge in the world and the intelligent does not indulge. You are deceived by its (outward) peace, while it internally is a war. Leave it and go eastward, the west is not stable for you. In Yethrib is a light of Prohethood that does not wane. The eye and the heart are partners in it.”
In his last four years before his death, my late father (may God have mercy on his gentle soul) has broken ranks with the Muslim mainstream whenever it came to sighting the Ramadan and Shawwal crescents. Quite O.K., he used to start fasting on the same day with the rest of us, but he will, in addition, fast on the day Nigerians observe their Eid el-Fitr. Though we did not follow him, his ‘rebellion’ was not new to the family. Earlier, one of my elder brothers who witnessed a ‘419’ case of new Moon sighting in Kaduna in 1980 has since been a skeptic. He has for long been with the elders.
Home aside. In the wider society also, we have witnessed the “rebellion of itinerant scholars (commonly called Kala kato) and their sedentary (and less volatile) counterparts. And in another village just 6 kilometers away from us here, many people have been observing a Ramadan calendar that has for long been two or three days later than ours. As a child, I used to wonder what nuts went into their heads.
In the past all these could be disregarded as coming from a negligible minority in the society. However, recently the divergence of opinion in the Ummah regarding Ramadan and the two Eids has reached a level of serious concern to even the majority. During the last Eid el-Adha, there was a division even among the Emirs. Generally, few people obeyed the Sultan.
The controversy over Moon sighting is global. It has been heightened by developments in communication that made it possible for millions of people to share information instantly. But fortunately, at the global level, science is coming to our aid, if we are ready to use our intellect as commanded by the Quran. Many scholars are now meeting annually to find a way of harmonizing the Islamic calendar, especially on Ramadan, in line with scientific calculations and observations. The difference between them and our scholars is simply that while we still hold on to age long books of ancient writers on astronomy and dating, they were able, by God’s guidance, to keep pace with new developments in the area field. Many of us still believe that the Earth is still flat and static; the sun moves from east to west; etc.
The difficulty with Nigeria is that it has all along observed a different calendar with the rest of the world. Are Nigerians living on a different planet? Some would like us to believe so. But we disagree. The Earth is one. The Sun is one. The Moon too is one. The movement of the Sun and the Moon are predetermined and fixed. But many of our assumptions in Nigeria are simply misconceptions. We just cannot be on one side, and the world on the other; or assume a position that diametrically contradicts what science has established as a stark reality.
Take for example the main reason why my late father decamped from the mainstream on this issue. We once had an argument with him over the issue of seeing the Moon in the East in the morning and sighting a crescent in the west later in the same day. He strongly contended that it is impossible. He insisted that according to classical commentaries of the Quran, the Moon is supposed to ‘hide’ for a day or two, depending on whether its cycle is 29 or 30 days; or something like that, if I can recall. Today, from the literature I am presenting below, science is on his side.
There are many other misconceptions about the new Moon in Nigeria. The matter has caught the attention of Jama’atu Nasril Islam. Months ago, the organization has commissioned Islamic scholars to investigate the matter and come out with the best way to reconcile the stands of Nigerians on it. However, the Ramadan is fast approaching and I have not heard anything about it from them. Shiru ka ke ji, wai ruwa ya ci makadi.
I sincerely feel that it is a responsibility on people like me, who have the privilege of a page in a newspaper, to print here for public consumption what I have learnt in the past two years on the subject. I do not mind the controversy that will ensue. Nigerians like controversy, especially on matters of religion. But like any other new information, I predict that people will be skeptical at the beginning, many will even be furious about its release to the public. However, history has shown that they will eventually yield to what is certain and factual. They will one day defend it, tooth and nail.
I therefore have the pleasure to reprint for the guidance and delight of my readers a presentation made by my esteemed teacher, Engr. A. A. Aziz, at the 3rd Annual Ramadan Symposium of the Abuja Center for Arabic Studies, which was held in 1999 and titled Scientific Developments in Moon Sighting. The presentation will take two weeks to reproduce here. Forgive me for deleting the diagrams. Readers who wish to have its complete copy of the slides (with diagrams) can contact his Esteem for further clarification on 09-5237719. Only in his absence, his student, in the person of my humble self, will attempt to put you through because as the Arabs say, “In Medina no other person gives a fatwa, when Malik is around.” Catch me on 077-540186.
Scientific Developments in Moon Sighting
By Engr. A. A. Aziz
When it comes to sighting the new crescent Moon, Muslims in Nigeria are principally divided into two groups. The first group would always claim to have sighted the crescent on the day of conjunction (i.e. the phase during Moon’s orbit, when the Moon, Earth and the Sun lie exactly at the same line, with the Moon in the Middle). The second group would claim that the Moon was seen at east that morning and therefore could not have been sighted on the same day at west in the evening.
As a result of this, we always commence fasting of the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on two different days in the same town. The questions are: Are there any relationships between crescent sighting at the west in the evenings and Moon sighting at east in the morning hours of the same day? Are we living in an area with peculiar geographic conditions that allow us to be among the earliest observers of the crescent in the world? Does Moon sighting have relationship with eclipses? This presentation will seek to answer these questions through the development of modern scientific criteria for sighting the new crescent Moon in the light of the Shariah. May Allah Guide us. Let us see what Allah (SWT) says about the subject.
Surah al-Rahman 55, Ayah 5: “The Sun and Moon follow courses exactly computed.” Surah Yunus 10, Ayah 5: It is He who made the Sun a radiance the Moon a light and determined its stations that you might know the number of years and reckoning of time.” Surah al-Baqarah 2, Ayah 189: “They ask you about the crescent moons, say: They are signs to mark fixed periods of time for the people and for pilgrimage.”
These Ayaat are telling us that the Moon and the Sun follow the decree of Allah (SWT) and must be used for reckoning of months and calendar. Fortunately we now have Muslim astronomers who can predict, for many years in advance when and where the new crescent Moon will first appear.
Topics of Discussion: Basic facts about the Moon; Science of crescent visibility; methods of sighting the crescent; misconceptions on Moon sighting; actual Saudi Dating System; Expectations for this Ramadan; what next; and conclusion.
The Moon: The Moon is our companion in space, and stays together with us as we travel round the Sun. it is much nearer than any other natural body in the sky, which is why it appears brilliant. This bleak, airless sphere is about 3,476 kilometers in diameter, and revolves around Earth at an average distance of some 384,400 kilometers, completing one revolution in about 27 days. The lunar orbit is an ellipse, not a true circle; so the distance of the Moon from the Earth changes.
Since the Moon rotates on its axis in the same time it takes to revolve around the Earth, the lunar hemisphere visible to us remains about the same.
The light of the Moon: Sunlight falls on the Moon as it does on Earth. What we call moonlight is simply sunlight which the Moon is reflecting toward Earth. Except during lunar eclipses, a full half of the Moon is always lighted by the Sun. but we see this full half only when the Earth is between the Sun and Moon – the phase called full Moon. When the Moon is not in line with Earth and Sun, we see only part of the lighted half.
The lunar phases: The familiar lunar phases occur because the Moon does not always turn its daylight side toward the Earth. When it is almost between the Earth and the Sun, the Moon is new and its dark side (the side that is not receiving light) is turned toward the Earth. It cannot then be seen unless the alignment is perfect enough to produce a solar eclipse. It progressively becomes half (first quarter), then full, then half once more (last quarter). Between half and full phases the Moon is “gibbous”.
The Moon takes 27.3 days to move round the barycenter – the center of gravity of the Earth-Moon system, which lies within the Earth’s globe. However, the Earth is moving round the Sun. The lunation, or interval between successive new moons, is therefore 29.5 days (29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds), not 27.3.
Lunar Eclipse: An eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Moon passes into the cone of shadows cast by the Earth. If the Moon partially enters the cone there is a partial eclipse; if it wholly enters the cone the eclipse is total. Eclipses do not happen at every full Moon because the lunar orbit is appreciably inclined.
Solar eclipse: Eclipses of the Sun occur when the Earth, Moon and Sun are aligned. A total eclipse is seen at places along a narrow band, the path of totality. Over a wide area outside this band, a partial eclipse is seen. Unfortunately solar eclipses do not occur every month because the Moon’s orbit is inclined to that of the Earth and, at most new Moons, the Moon passes either “above” or “below” the Sun in the sky, thereby avoiding eclipse.
Crescent Moon: Just after new Moon, a thin bright crescent is seen. The rest of the disk is faintly lighted. This faint light called the “old Moon in the new Moon’s arms” is light reflected from Earth to the Moon’s dark side, and is known as earthshine.
The Moon rises about 50 minutes later each night on the average, but the actual time from month to month varies considerably. For some evenings around full Moon near the autumnal equinox (about September 23) moonrise will be only about 20 minutes later each night, because the angle between ecliptic and horizon is then near the minimum. Thus we have moonlight in early evening longer than usual. This phase is called Harvest Moon. The next full phase after Harvest Moon is known as Hunter’s Moon.
The lunar pathway stays near the ecliptic or path of the Sun. However, while the Sun rides high in the summer and low in winter, the Moon rides low in summer and high in winter. At the full phase, the lunar disk may take odd shapes as it rises or sets, particularly when seen through a dense or smoky atmosphere. Sometimes reflection makes it look oval.
Science and Crescent Visibility: The Moon orbits Earth once every 29.53 days (average synodic month). Because of this revolution, phases of the Moon change as the Moon’s position change relative to the Earth and the Sun. So, during the Moon’s orbit, if the Moon, Earth and the Sun lie exactly at the same line and the Moon is the middle, the Sun will illuminate half of the Moon that faces it, and the other half which faces us, will be dark because it does not reflect rays of the Sun.
At this point, the Moon is called Wane or New Moon (Astronomical New Moon not CRESCENT). After that, the Moon continues orbiting the Earth and begins to reflect a small amount of Sun’s rays and now we see the Moon as a very small waxing crescent. Afterwards, it becomes first quarter, full Moon, last quarter, waning crescent and then wane again.
Moons age is measured from the moment of the wane (New Moon). We often say this Full Moon is 14 days old, which means that the number of days since the wane is 14. And we say this crescent is about 2-3 days old.
But, did any one ask himself what is the minimum age of crescent that we can see? Generally, it is not likely to see a crescent that is less than 17 hours, i.e. if we want to observe the thin waxing crescent to determine the beginning of an Islamic month, the Moon should be in the wane phase (New Moon) 17 hours ago or more. But why?!
The wane Moon (New Moon) is located exactly at the Sun’s direction, so the Sun’s glare will prevent us from seeing it, in addition, the percentage of the reflected rays out of the wane Moon (New Moon) is nearly equal to zero, and this percentage increases as the Moon’s age increases. Thus, GENERALLY, human eye can’t detect any reflected rays from the Moon if the Moon’s age is less than 17 hours.
No, Engr. Aziz! Nigerians that have eyes that are more powerful than the giant telescopes of NASA do not need to wait for 17 hrs, kai not even for an hour, to claim sighting their ‘CRESCENT.’ Last year, their ‘CRESCENT’ was older than the Astronomical New Moon! Incredible. Funny enough, yearly they make such a mistake and yearly we believe them. They were mistaking an old Moon that was yet to go into ‘hiding’ for a crescent.
Dear readers, we are continuing with Engr. Aziz’s presentation next week.