Relying On Lunar Calculations Or Their Own Eyes, Muslims Greet The Crescent Moon And The Beginning Of Ramadan.
January 10, 1997|By Terry Wilson, Tribune Staff Writer.
Eyes were trained skyward in Muslim communities throughout the world Thursday night as the faithful searched for the crescent moon that signals the beginning of Ramadan.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a time of reflection, purification and abstention for Muslims, who refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and other pleasure-based activities during daytime hours for its 30 days.
“It’s a comprehensive and holistic approach to purify a person’s soul,” said Moon Khan, spokesman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “It is a month of reconciliation, rethinking and renaissance of the spirit.”
But while many at least tried to see the moon for themselves, many others have begun to rely more on astronomers’ calculations that the month has begun.
“It’s a matter of education,” said Mohammed Kaiseruddin, a nuclear engineer. “Slowly people are learning more and more about how accurate these calculations are.”
Ramadan celebrates the month when the beginnings of the revelation of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, were imparted to the prophet Muhammad. (The process took 23 years.)
It is considered a blessing time, but also a time when control is exercised over desires, behaviors and emotions.
“When we refrain from saying bad words, refrain from hurting people’s feelings and when we practice helping others and giving charity for the sake of Allah for 30 days, hopefully we will be good for the remaining 11 months,” said Syed Khan, secretary for the Islamic council.
In the Chicago area, many of the estimated 300,000 Muslims will breakfast before sunrise and fast until sunset.
Fasting exceptions are made for children, adults who are in poor health, people who are taking long trips and women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating.
After night falls, they go home to dine with families. They then will gather at the community centers to recite part of the Koran. By the month’s end, the 1,700-page Koran will have been divided into 30 parts and recited aloud.
Islam uses a lunar calendar, and all of its months are 29 or 30 days long. In years past, people in parts of the world where watches were not commonplace could easily see the moon and know when Ramadan began.
In recent years, there has been controversy over lunar calculations and whether they should be trusted to indicate the beginning of Ramadan or whether moon sightings should still be the only trusted sign.
The Chicago-area council addressed the matter a few years ago and issued a non-binding resolution that said it is all right to follow astronomical calculations, Syed Khan said.
Engineer Kaiseruddin said scientific calculations of moon phases can accurately be made through the next century because the orbit of the moon doesn’t change.
“The difference of opinion is whether the moon has to actually be sighted or whether the calculations are reliable enough to depend on to indicate it will be sighted,” Kaiseruddin said. “The level of confidence in moon calculations still is not there (for everyone).”
So both ways have prevailed.
While a few looked at the calendar and relied on the prediction, others waited for official word.
A group of volunteers gathered Thursday night at the Islamic Society of North America in Indianapolis to take calls from people who reported seeing the crescent moon.
Each year they ask questions, such as where the moon was, where the person is calling from and who the person is, to authenticate the report. They take the information to Islamic scholars, who validate or discount the sighting, said Habiba Ali of the Islamic Circle of North America.
Reliable sightings are passed to a group of Islamic leaders in different parts of the country who convene by a telephone conference call. If they accept the sighting as authentic, word spreads by telephone across the country that Ramadan has begun.
In Bihar, India, where Moon Khan grew up, he and his parents would go outside just after sunset and look to the west for the moon.
“Everybody would do that,” he said. “Over there it is a kind of family ritual, and there would be a lot of people everywhere. It’s a collective celebration.”
Article Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

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