UK Moon Sighting Conference takes place in Batley (West Yorkshire)

(Adapted from an article published in IMWS Paigaam Magazine; Issue 349, April 2022/Shaban 1443, p.6)

Conference AudienceAs we approach the month of Ramadan, the annual discussion returns on social media and in mosques: ‘When is Ramadan? Why do UK Muslims celebrate Ramadan on conflicting dates? And how can we unite on an Islamic Calendar in the UK?’

On Sunday 20 March 2022, the ground-breaking ‘UK Moon Sighting Conference’ was held in the PKWA Centre, Batley, to answer these questions. Organiser Maulana Abdullah Ahmed assembled an impressive panel of astronomers, scholars and community figures, including Shaykh Suliman Gani, experienced moon sighters, and astrophysicists from Cambridge University.

The five-hour conference discussed UK Moon Sighting from historical, scientific and religious perspectives. Guest speakers proved that, contrary to popular belief, Moon Sighting is possible in the UK, and proposed an exciting plan to unite UK Muslims for Ramadan and Eid dates.

Some of the reasons why we have had divided calendar dates were outlined. The main cause is that mosques follow the calendar declarations of a number of different foreign countries, such as Morocco, South Africa or Saudi Arabia, based on an incorrect notion that the crescent moon (Hilal) is not visible in the UK.

Experienced crescent observers debunked this myth, presenting five years of UK Moon Sighting data, including picture and testimony evidence. They explained their rigorous procedures for observations, scientific verification and sharia testimony. The audience was left in no doubt: the moon is visible in the UK month in and month out, and a sunnah local calendar is possible.

Most impressively, conference speakers presented a set of newly-issued fatawa from major Darul Ulooms in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The fatawa all stated that: Local Sighting is the original sunnah position. UK Muslims should now work towards implementing it. One of the fatawa (Jamaitul Uloom, Binnori Town) went as far as to say that “If Moon Sighting is possible in your country (Britain), then relying on the sighting of another country will not be permissible”. A complete booklet of the fatawa can be found at the ICOUK website (www.moonsighting.org.uk).

Guest speaker Engineer Qamar Uddin said “It was a pleasant surprise to note that those institutions who have previously advised the UK Muslims to follow foreign countries have now retracted those old-fatawa in the light of new evidence, and are now advising the UK Muslims to adopt Local Moon Sighting. All we need to do now (for a united Ramadan and Eid) is for the public to support our Imams and Scholars to agree on a suitable date to change to Local Moon Sighting, InshaAllah".

Organiser Maulana Abdullah Ahmed said, “For over 60 years we have been divided. It is about time we Muslims of the UK hold onto the rope of Allah together, not be divided (Quran 3:103) and unite under the UK Local Sighting”.

In an audience vote, 90% were in favour of local Moon Sighting. Some attendees expressed disappointment that this problem had persisted for so long. Certainly, with the great efforts of the UK Moon Sighting Conference, perhaps a solution isn’t too difficult to see on the horizon?

Related: Local Moon Sighting Fatawa (UK) 1443/2022 (PDF, 56 pages, 38 MB) | Local or Regional Moon Sighting (April 2020)

Hilal Committee Locations in Saudi Arabia - A first-hand report by Qamar Uddin, York (UK)

There is a widespread misconception that Saudi Arabia never does any moon sighting and simply follow their pre-calculated civil calendar (Ummul Qura) for all months, including the “months of Ibadah”, too.

So, when the Saudi Supreme Court announced on Tuesday 10th August 2021 that the start of Muharram 1443 will be from that day (10th) and not from the day before (9th) as in their Ummul Qura Calendar (UQC), it became a surprise to many people and a source of confusion!

I have been closely following their moon sighting procedure for the past 22 years (since I joined ICOP in 1998) and I know for a fact that they started a monthly moon sighting research project from 2009 on the 29th of the UQC, which is accompanied by both KACST astronomers and their local court Judges. I have personally accompanied many of the Hilal Committees for moon sightings when I was living in Saudi Arabia (2013 - 2015).

The Saudi Hilal Committee Locations are shown in the attached map (2021), which has 10 sighting locations (i.e. Dammam, Hail, Madinah, Makkah, Qasim, Riyadh, Shaqra, Sudair, Tabuk, Tumair). These locations are also used by the KACST astronomers on the next day of the 29th UQC date for data collections (without the court Judges, as they only attend on 29th UQC dates). The analysis of their past sighting reports has been published in The Observatory journal (Alrefay, 2018), which could form the basis of a revised UQC criteria, inshaAllah.

SaudiHilalCommitteesUnfortunately, none of the Hilal Committee astronomers have ever sighted the moon on the 29th UQC dates, but the news usually comes from a few places near Riyadh (Shaqra, Sudair, Tumair) from a few early-sighters, who are biased by their UQC to claim a sighting (Kordi, 2003).

Therefore, it is totally WRONG to say that Saudi Arabia does not do any moon sighting and simply follow their UQC for Ibadah, but it is CORRECT to say that the decisions/announcements made in the four “months of Ibadah” (i.e. Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhul Hijjah and Muharram) are based on moon sighting "claims” on the 29th of UQC, usually from Riyadh areas (or by invoking “30-days complete” rule).

The question arises, is it possible to predict the moon sighting dates for the “month of Ibadah” in Saudi Arabia? The answer is, "not really" as they do not follow any consistent method based on the BIRTH or the VISIBILITY of the moon, so it’s all as unpredictable as the British weather!

For example, last Dhul Hijjah 1442, they were looking for the moon on 9 July 2021 (1-day before it was born) and then invoked the “30-days complete” rule to start the month from 11 July 2021, even when the moon was not possible to be sighted in Riyadh on 10 July 2021 (HMNAO Code F).

However, when they were looking for the Muharram 1443 moon on 8 August 2021 (HMNAO Code F), they didn’t see it and the reason was attributed to a sand-storm (dusty) and heavy clouds in the Riyadh area (according to various media reports) and so they invoked the “30-days complete” rule to start the month from 10 August 2021, which by coincidence also matched with the actual moon sighting date on 9 August 2021, as seen in the UK and many other countries of the world (including Morocco). This is great news to start the Islamic New Year 1443 AH altogether in the UK (on 11 August 2021), Alhamdulillah!

In conclusion, Saudi Arabia does moon sightings in all 12 months of the year, but on the 29th UQC dates (which are mostly invisible) and only makes a decision for the four “months of Ibadah”. All other months are according to the UQC dates. All the official dates are also based on the UQC regardless of which month it is (Ibadah or not), so that may confuse the general public as they will not be aware of the “announced dates” unless they specifically look for the Supreme Court decision posts on their Saudi Press Agency website (www.spa.gov.sa)!

Finally, I should mention that we have developed a very good moon sighting volunteers' group in the UK and by looking for the moon on 2-days a month (29th and the next day) over the past few years, we have proven that it is possible to establish a Hijri Calendar purely based on LOCAL moon sighting, which is the ORIGINAL position of the Quran/Sunnah. All we need now is for wider community support to make it robust/reliable, InshaAllah. Many thanks to all the Scholars for encouraging local moon sightings (Kuraib Hadith), JazakAllahu Khaira!

Analysis of Observations of Earliest Visibility of the Lunar Crescent By Dr Thamer Alrefay (et al)
National Center for Astronomy, KACST, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

"Predicting the visibility of thin lunar-crescents following the new moon is difficult and challenging for several technical reasons. The visibility of the earliest new moon has long been used to determine the lunar-crescent calendar and is still used today. Many criteria exist for the first visibility of the lunar crescent. Here, we test the most-commonly-used criteria for thin-lunar-crescent visibility. We used 545 observations, including both positive and negative sightings, made by professional and highly-trained astronomers over a duration of 27 years (1988 - 2015) and from different locations at latitudes between 20° N and 29° N (within Saudi Arabia). We developed a new criterion for lunar-crescent visibility using lunar-crescent width (W) and the arc of vision (ARCV). This new model can be used to predict the visibility of the lunar crescent by naked eye or aided eye, which is fundamental for the lunar-crescent calendar followed by several cultures and religions." [Read more] | Ref: The Observatory Journal, Vol. 138, No. 1267, December 2018


Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why did it take so long to publish this paper (27 years)?
Answer: It took a long time because: (a) they needed a large collection of data for accuracy of statistical analysis; (b) they needed data from all seasons, including dusty summer and clear winter times, positive & negative results; (c) they wanted high accuracy of data, so they only accepted observation reports from experienced observers who recorded the details accurately/immediately after the observation.
Question: How were the crescent observers highly-trained?
Answer: They were highly-trained observers because most of them have postgraduate qualifications in an astronomy related subject and/or have been undertaking monthly crescent moon watch for many years with other experienced observers. As an example of their credentials, the author (Dr Thamer Alrefay) holds the following qualifications: (a) PhD in Space Physics (University of New Brunswick, 2014); (b) MSc in Space Science (Florida Institute of Technology, 2003); (c) BSc in Astrophysics (King Abdulaziz University, 1996)
Question: How does this research comply with the Islamic law of worship (Ibadah)?
Answer: This research finding is based on actual observations by the human eye (i.e. in visible-light wavelength and not in infra-red/CCD imaging wavelength). It was conducted by a large number of people so constitutes average eyesight observations within Saudi Arabia (20° N to 29° N latitude). Therefore, it is most suitable for an improved civil calendar criteria for Saudi Arabia, which will match with actual moon sighting for all Islamic lunar months (e.g. start and end of Ramadan), InShaAllah.
Question: Will this research be helpful in other countries outside Saudi Arabia?
Answer: Yes, if the civil calendar (Ummul Qura) of Saudi Arabia is changed to a predicted crescent visibility (Imkan Al-Ruyat) model then it will help other countries, since some groups in many other countries follow their civil calendar due to the respect for Hajj and Umrah (pilgrims), leading to potential United Eid celebrations, InShaAllah. [Download 1440 AH calendar]
Question: Is it possible to display the Hijri Date on Websites and/or Mobile Phone Apps based on the NACSA criteria?
Answer: We have recently added the NACSA criteria to our database, so any Website/App developers may use the ICOUK Hijri Date API to display the NACSA Hijri Dates on their devices. Others may use this calendar for local moon sighting and report the results to ICOP website.