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.
Unfortunately, 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!
Saudi Arabia to start Muharram from Tuesday, 10 August 2021
Supreme Court: Today, Tuesday is the first day of Muharram 1443 AH
Tuesday 1443/1/2 - 2021/08/10
Riyadh, August 10, 2021, SPA --
The Supreme Court has announced that today, Tuesday is the first day of Muharram, 1443 AH corresponding to 10th August 2021.
It said in its statement that the crescent of the month of Muharram 1443 AH was not sighted on Sunday evening 29/12/1442 AH, there for the Supreme Court decided that Monday 1/1/1443 AH corresponding to 09th August 2021 shall be the completion of the month of Dhu-AlHijjah and Tuesday 2/1/1443 AH* is the first day of Muharram according to the Umm Al-Qura calendar.
*correction: Tuesday 2/1/1443 AH* (according to the Umm Al-Qura calendar) is the first day of Muharram 1443 (10/8/2021)! - Editor
00:11 LOCAL TIME 21:11 GMT
Note that Saudi Arabia didn't see the moon on their 29th of Ummul Qura Calendar (UQC) ie. on Sunday, 8 August 2021 due to a sand storm in Riyadh, hence they decided to complete 30-days of the month for Ibdah purpose (ie. Ashura Fasting), but the civil date will still remain as per UQC (eg on newspapers)! - Editor
Resolving Discrepancies of Day of Arafah Fasting - Report by Qamar Uddin, York (UK) / [download pdf]
We have recently come across a situation in the UK from some mosques who followed the visibility of the moon for starting Ramadan 1442 (14/4/2021) have suddenly decided to follow the BIRTH of the moon (or New Moon Conjunction) for Eid-ul Adha (20/7/2021) so their Day of Arafah fasting (9 Dhul Hijjah) could coincide with the same date as in Saudi Arabia (19/7/2021).
The question arises, is it possible to have a dual-calendar system and still fulfil the Shariah rules of a Hijri Calendar with a lunar month having 29 or 30 days (i.e. not less than 29 or more than 30 days)?
Let’s look at each of the above two calendar systems in turn:
(1) the Saudi Ummul Qura Calendar (UQC) is based on the BIRTH of the moon and started Dhul Qa’dah 1442 from 10 June 2021 (on the day of the solar eclipse) and so their 29th was on 9 July 2021 (before the BIRTH of the next moon on 10 July 2021) and then by completed 30-days, starting Dhul Hijjah 1442 from 11 July 2021;
(2) the UK to Morocco Region calendar is based on the VISIBILITY of the moon and started Dhul Qa’dah 1442 from 11 June 2021 and so their 29th was on 10 July 2021 (a day after the BIRTH of the moon) and then completed 30-days since the moon was not sighted on 10 July 2021 (in the UK to Morocco Region), starting Dhul Hijjah 1442 from 12 July 2021. Note that the Islamic day starts at local sunset and not at midnight or the next morning (which will be the case if USA sighting reports were considered)!
Supposing Saudi Arabia decided to look for the moon on both 9 July 2021 (29th of UQC) and on 10 July 2021 (30th of UQC) as a precautionary measure and didn’t see the moon on either day, as it was scientifically not possible to do so from Riyadh (HMNAO/Yallop Code F), then they would have to assume they had made an error in starting Dhul Qa’dah 1442 (which was not announced) and resolve the discrepancies by showing it having 31-days, which is not acceptable in a lunar calendar system!
It should also be mentioned that Eid-ul Adha and Day of Arafah fasting was legislated from 2 AH in Madinah when Ramadan and Eid-ul Fitr was started by the Prophet (ﷺ); but the Hajj in Islam didn’t start until 9 AH, followed by the last and final Hajj of the Prophet (ﷺ) in 10 AH in Makkah. Therefore, for the previous 7 years, the Day of Arafah fasting (on 9 Dhul Hijjah) and Eid-ul Adha (on 10 Dhul Hijjah) was practised with moon sighting in Madinah and was not connected with the Hajj in Makkah (Ref. Mulla Ali Qari, d. 1606)!
Furthermore, those who perform Hajj do not fast or offer Eid-ul Adha payer! Even if the UK Muslims wished to join the pilgrims with prayer and fasting when they stand on the Plain of Arafat, it is not possible to do so due to Time Zone differences (eg sunset time in Makkah and London are different)!
Nevertheless, a possible solution for those in the UK who wish to follow moon sighting and also fast on the Day of Arafah on the same date as in Saudi Arabia could do so by fasting on both the 8th and 9th Dhul Hijjah so that both calendar days are covered. For the sake of unity, if the Day of Eid-ul Adha can be based on moon sighting (ie. 11th Dhul Hijjah of UQC), then both parties could have a valid Eid celebration eg. on 21 July 2021 (since Eid-ul Adha is permitted over 3-days following 10 Dhul Hijjah).
A long-term solution for a united Ramadan and Eids in the UK will be for all parties to adopt Local Moon Sighting as per Sunnah (eg. within the British Isles), by leaving both Saudi Arabia and Morocco (see 4-years UK observation data on the www.ICOUK.net website), while advising Saudi Arabia (Supreme Court) to upgrade their Ummul Qura calendar criteria to a Predicted Crescent Visibility (Imkan Al-Ruyat) model, as proposed/published by their KACST Scientist from Riyadh (Alrefay, 2018).
When is Eid-ul Fitr 2021 (Local or Regional Sighting)?
By Eng Qamar Uddin, York (UK) / 20 April 2021
On Monday 12th April 2021 (29th Shaban 1442) the crescent moon (Hilal) of Ramadan was not sighted in the UK horizon in clear weather conditions, as reported by many of the ICOUK members on the Moon Sighting UK website (www.moonsighting.org.uk), which also agreed with the fax from Morocco Awqaf Ministry.
On Tuesday 13th April 2021 (30th Shaban 1442), it was cloudy in most of the UK, but yet many of our keen and experienced observers were able to sight the Ramadan moon from throughout the UK. The fact that the moon was sighted in cloudy weather proves that it is possible to sight it in adverse UK weather conditions!
However, there is a difference of opinions between Muslim scholars if the lunar month should start with the BIRTH or the VISIBILITY of the moon. Those who follow the BIRTH of the moon (eg. Saudi Arabia) have started Ramadan on Tuesday 13th April 2021, as per the Saudi Ummul Qura Calendar (UQC). Those who follow the VISIBILITY of the moon (eg. Morocco) have started Ramadan from Wednesday 14th April 2021.
There is yet another established difference of opinions between the Muslim scholars about Local Sighting or Global Sighting criteria. In the earlier centuries (i.e during the pre-telecommunications era) when Muslims were confined to a small area of the Globe, what was considered as Global Sighting then, can now be re-defined as Regional Sighting, as practised by many of the UK Muslims (eg. the UK to Morocco region).
If we were to consider Local or Regional Moon Sighting for the possible date for the Hilal VISIBILITY at the end of Ramadan 1442, we can look at the HMNAO website of the UK government for the Crescent Visibility Prediction data for Eid-ul Fitr 2021 dates for most of the UK cities (as well as for Rabat & Mecca for reference) as shown in Fig. 1 Visibility Map for Shawwal 1442.
On Wednesday, 12th May 2021 (29th Ramadan 1442), the moon will be 25 hrs old (HMNAO Visibility Code B) within the territories of Morocco (i.e Dakhla) and so we are expecting to receive positive moon sighting news (although at a later time).
Accordingly, based on the agreed ICOUK criteria for Regional Sighting, Eid-ul Fitr 2021 is likely to be on Thursday 13th May 2021, InshaAllah (which also happens to coincide with the Saudi UQC date for Eid-ul Fitr, too).
However, the crescent moon of Shawwal 1442 is not expected to be visible on the UK horizon until the next day, hence our monthly “Spot the Moon Photo Competition” will be on Thursday 13th May 2021, InshaAllah.
A few of our ICOUK members have asked about the possibility of switching to UK-only Local Moon Sighting criteria, for a United Eid by all groups, so you may wish to consider the following data analysis/proposal.
Possibility of Local Moon Sighting Criteria
The reason we started a 2-days moon sighting since 2018, with the “Spot the Moon Photo Competition” was to encourage the UK Muslims to look for the moon when it was scientifically possible to be sighted in the UK (and not just look for it on the 29th date of a foreign country!). Furthermore, one of the main reasons for doing so was to evaluate this very possibility of adopting a UK-only moon sighting criteria. [Ref: Why look for the moon after 29th date?]
The observation data collected over the past 4-years (2018 – 2021), shows that indeed, it is both scientifically and practically possible to sight the first day’s crescent moon on the UK horizon (provided enough people are looking for it) and it also meets the Shariah requirement of 29/30 days long months throughout the whole year. [Ref: View Observation Results]
However, we have consistently faced the difficulties of not having enough people looking for the moon in the winter months (Nov – Feb) or enough area coverage when most people are still at work (during sunset times around 4 PM). This lack of support during the winter months will make the change to a UK-only criteria very unreliable (until we have wider community support) and has the potential of further divisions/disunity.
Proposal for Local Moon Sighting Criteria
The adverse UK weather conditions and the lack of sighters have forced the UK Muslims to borrow moon sighting news from nearby countries with similarities of moonrise times. Indeed, the vast majority of the UK Muslims did agree to follow Morocco for the past 50-years (since 1970’s), based on the well-established Regional Moon criteria for centuries! [Ref: Why Two Eids? By Allamah Khalid Mahmood (RA)]
However, there was an unfortunate event in the 1980’s that led some of the UK Muslims to follow Saudi Arabia which resulted in divided Ramadan/Eid ever since! Nevertheless, if both these groups were willing to leave foreign countries altogether and unite on UK moon sighting (ie the British Isles), then that will be a very commendable achievement, InshaAllah.
Up to now, we have undertaken the role of the public to do Sighting and Reporting (via the ICOUK website). However, when we adopt an independent Local Moon Sighting System, we will need to undertake Testimonies and make Declarations too, very rapidly and accurately.
To facilitate a rapid and accurate testimony procedure (acceptable in Hanafi Fiqh), we will need two types of people with specialist skills working as a team in each of the UK Regions. These people must include a few Ulama to take Testimonies (Shahada) and a few IT Admins to facilitate face-to-face and/or remote audio/video links that work flawlessly! [Ref: Hilal Testimony Procedure]
Finally, we will need to provide the necessary training to the above types of people for a few months, followed by a few months of practice with real witnesses before going live from a future date (with a common starting point, e.g. March 2022/Shaban 1443) that is well-publicised for a further few months by all-party Ulama and Community Leaders.
- May – July 2021 (Shawwal – Dhul Hijjah 1442): Formation of UK Regional Testimony Groups (x 12)
- Aug – Oct 2021 (Muharram – Rabi-ul Awwal 1443): Training of UK Regional Testimony Groups
- Nov – Feb 2022 (Rabi-ul Thani – Rajab 1443): Practice/ Publicity of UK Regional Testimony Procedure
- Mar 2022/Shaban 1443: Switch to Local Moon Sighting on a common date for UK, Morocco, Saudi UQC