Solar eclipse only occurs at New Moon, when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth and the Moon's shadow sweeps across a portion of Earth's surface and an eclipse of the Sun is seen from that region. Solar eclipses are two to five per year, but the ground covered by totality is only a band of about 30 miles wide, length being that portion of the globe which is under the moon's shadow. Solar eclipse always occurs at the end of an Islamic month. The closest time between solar and lunar eclipse is 2 weeks.
At solar eclipse the sun is partially or totally blocked by the moon. Some people are confused with this phenomenon that the moon surface is seen, and the Islamic month has begun. There is a big difference in seeing this dark circle blocking the sun and the visible Crescent that marks the beginning of an Islamic month.
Let me emphasize that a solar eclipse is the proof of disappearance of the moon and does not mark the beginning of a month. Few years ago Sheikh Ali Al-Tantawi, the Mufti of Egypt at that time, also said the same thing when the eclipse occurred in Saudi Arabia, and he said in a fatwa that this was a proof of the disappearance of moon and it is not Hilal nor should it be taken as a Hilal.
Here is an interesting story you may have learned in grade school. The story is about Columbus, the sailor when one of his ships was damamged and he stranded all his ships and crew in Jamaica (Caribbeans). His knowledge of astronomy and moon phases would end up saving the lives of himself and his crew. In the beginning the crew traded things for food with the natives, but later, the natives became annoyed with some of the less respectful sailors, and refused to deal with Columbus. Columbus and his crew faced starvation. That's when Columbus used his astronomy knowledge of precalculated lunar eclipse on February 29, 1504. He told them that he would remove the moon from the sky if they would not cooperate with him. The natives at first did not believe him. Then the full moon rose a blood red, then it began to dim. The natives worried. The moon got very dim; the natives got very worried. Then the moon disappeared. The natives were in a panic and pleaded with Columbus. Columbus knew precisely when the moon would reappear. He agreed to bring back the moon in due time, if they agreed to give him food. The natives agreed, and were awash with relief when the moon reappeared. Columbus saved himself and his crew from starvation.
Date of death of Ibrahim (son of our beloved Prophet, peace be upon him)
Sun Eclipse also occurred at Prophet's time when (his son) Ibrahim died. It was recorded in history that it was Jan 27, 632 CE (Monday), see details of this eclipse. It was the 29th of Shawwal, while Dhul-Qi'dah 1, 10AH was on Jan 29, 632 CE (Wednesday). Dhul-Qi'dah was of 29 days also and Dhul-Hijjah 1, 10AH was on Feb 27, 632 CE (Thursday), such that Hajj-e-Nabavi fell on Friday, March 6, 632 CE. This also proves that sun eclipse cannot be taken as the beginning of a month.
[See Shawwal 10 AH - Rabi-ul Awwal 11 AH Hijri calendar - Editor]
All the solar eclipses that could be noticeable in Arabia during the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) are listed below (For details of any eclipse, click on it):
Sun-Eclipse visible while Prophet(S) was in Makkah:
(Islamic date unknown because of undocumented practice of Nasi')
- July 23, 613 CE (Monday) - Around 10 am Local Time
- May 21, 616 CE (Friday) - Around 10 am Local Time
- November 4, 617 CE (Friday) - Around 11 am Local Time
- September 2, 620 CE (Tuesday) - Around 10 am Local Time
Sun-Eclipse visible while Prophet (S) was in Medinah:
- April 21, 627 CE (Tuesday) - Dhul-Qi'dah 29, 5 AH - Around 11 am Local Time
- January 27, 632 CE (Monday) - Shawwal 29, 10 AH - Around 10 am Local Time
Extreme care must be taken when watching the solar eclipse. You should visit a web site which discusses a number of ways to safely view the solar eclipse
At solar eclipse, congregational prayers (2 Rak'aat) should be performed as done by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). According to Hadith, the Prophet (S) performed 2 long Rak'aat in congregation (Qir'at loudly) when solar eclipse occured, and individual prayers are encouraged (at least 2 Rak'aat) when lunar eclipse occurred. If congregational prayers are done at lunar eclipse, then Qir'at should be done silently.
Ref: MCW December 2015
The points below need to be considered when making a lunar calendar:
- The moon orbits the earth in 29.5 days
- The earth (with the moon) orbits the sun in 365.24 days
- One orbit of the moon round the earth is called a lunation (month)
- The lunar year is made of 12 lunations/lunar months (354 days)
- The moon is fully visible (full moon) when it’s on the opposite side of the sun and earth
- The moon is totally invisible (new moon) when it’s in between the sun and earth
- The moon has 27 days of visible phases and 2.5 days of invisible phases
- The moon travels round the earth in an elliptical orbit, so its sometimes closer or further from earth
- The moon becomes visible after 29 days in some months and after 30 days in other months
- The lunar month is never less than 29 days and never more than 30 days (it’s 29 or 30 days)
- The moon may become visible after 29 days in one country/region and after 30 days in another
- The 29 and 30 days months do not alternate, they appear in different combination in each year
- The lunar year usually has 6 months that are 29-days and 6 months that are 30-days
- The Islamic lunar (hijri) calendar is based on sighting the moon by the human eye on the 29th day
- If the moon is sighted on 29th day, the new month starts from next day, otherwise after 30 days
The modern visibility calculations can predict moon sighting fairly accurately but actual sighting (confirmation) is used for religious purposes, such as for Ramadan and Eid festivals.
It is commonly believed that the full moon falls only on the 14th night of the lunar month and some people use that factor to extrapolate the beginning of the month. It will be useful to understand the technical definition of the full moon and if it appears other than on the 14th night.
What is full moon?
The full moon is the instant of time when the earth is between the moon and the sun in the same vertical plane. This could happen at any moment of the day or night. Therefore, it is very possible that in one month the moon is full at day time and could be 99% lit on the night before. It then becomes full in the morning, but decreases to 99% lit-up on the following night. Such a moon would appear as a full moon to an observer on both the nights. These two nights could be 13th and 14th or 14th and 15th of the lunar month, depending upon the location of the observer on the earth and the birth of the moon (i.e. New Moon Conjunction time).
The time of full moon
As an example, consider the New Moon Conjunction for the lunar month of Dhul Hijjah 1435 AH, which occurred on Wednesday 24th September 2014 at 06:14 hrs UT/GMT. It became a full moon on Wednesday 8th October 2014 at 10:50 hrs UT/GMT, which was daytime in the UK but night time in the USA, as shown in the Day and Night World Map below (timeanddate.com website) below.
The moon may appear full on multiple nights
By calculating the percentage illumination of the moon on the midnight before and the night after the full moon, it was found that the moon would appear full to the naked eye on both the nights of 8th and 9th October 2014, as shown in the Lunar Phase Calendar diagram below (from the moonconnection.com website).
It is also interesting to note that those two nights happened to be 13th and 14th Dhul Hijjah 1435 AH in the UK and USA, who started the month with verified moon sighting news. It is also true to say that in some other lunar months the full moon may fall on the 14th and 15th of the lunar dates.
Therefore, it is incorrect to assume the time of full moon to be on the 14th lunar date only and use that to extrapolate the start date of the lunar month, since the moon may appear to be full to human eye across multiple nights, as explained above.
Note also that all these full moon dates (13th, 14th and 15th) are also known as the days of “white fast” (Ayyam-e-Bid/ایّام البیض), when Prophet Muhammad (sallahu alayhi wasallam) used to keep fast in the middle three days of the lunar months.
When does lunar month start?
The traditional method of starting the lunar month is by looking for the crescent moon after sunset on 29th lunar date by the human eye. If the moon was sighted then the month would start from the next day. Otherwise, 30-days of the month were to be completed, since a lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long (for all normal locations). From a scientific point of view, a lunar month is 29.53 days long and it may become visible to the human eye after sunset either on 29th or 30th day of the month, depending on the location of the observer and the time of New Moon Conjunction. The total number of 29 and 30 days month are approximately 6 months each, respectively (in different combinations), making a total of 354 days lunar year (i.e. 11 days shorter than a solar year).
Possibility of sighting the crescent moon
The crescent visibility map below (from crescentmoonwatch.org) shows the Dhul Hijjah 1435 AH moon was born on Wednesday 24th September 2014 at 6:14 UT/GMT, but it was not possible to be sighted by the human eye on the same evening in Saudi Arabia or anywhere in the whole world. Therefore, the month of Dhul Hijjah 1435 AH was started in the UK and USA from Friday 26th September 2014, making Eid-ul Adha to be on Sunday 5th October 2014.
The civil calendar of Saudi Arabia
The civil calendar of Saudi Arabia (called the “Ummul Qura” calendar) is not based on the visibility of the moon, but on the astronomical formula of, “moonset after sunset at Makkah horizon after New Moon Conjunction”. Therefore, quite often this calendar date biases their witnesses to claim a sighting a day before it is possible to be sighted by the human eye. Unfortunately, this also happened when looking for the Dhul Hijjah 1435 AH moon and Saudi Arabia started the month a day earlier than when the moon was possible to be sighted anywhere in the whole world. Note that some countries simply follow the announcement of Saudi Arabia, especially at the time of Hajj, so their decisions are not a proof of Saudi announcement being correct. [See also the Saudi Dating System]
In conclusion, it is incorrect to extrapolate the start of the lunar month based on the lunar date of the full moon. It is also not correct to justify the erroneous sighting claims of a location/country based on the assumption that the full moon is only on the 14th lunar date.
By Syed Khalid Shaukat, Edited by Qamar Uddin (May 2000)
This is an attempt to present a clear perspective of the science of moon-sighting and to clarify some of the common misconceptions about moon-sighting.
Main Factors for Crescent Visibility
Most people associate visibility with the age of the moon. The age of the moon is simply the time lapsed since the New Moon. Crescent formation depends upon the angular separation of the moon from the sun as seen from the earth. As time passes from the instant of New Moon, the moon moves slower than the sun appears to move (because of rotation of the earth). This causes the angular separation between the sun and the moon and the formation of the crescent. This may be explained better with the help of the following figure.
Figure 1 shows a space view of sun, moon, and earth. The earth revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit, with the sun off-center, and the moon revolves around the earth in a similar way. When the New Moon occurs, the sun, moon, and earth come in line as shown, and no light of the sun falling on the moon can come to the earth, so it is a dark or invisible moon. About 18-24 hours after New Moon, the moon moves away from the line of earth and sun, to its new location as shown by the location of the crescent moon. Now, sun and moon have separated from the same line. The angle subtended by sun, earth, and moon is the "angular separation". This angular separation causes the crescent to form. Until this angle becomes 7 degrees, no light of the sun reflected by the moon can come to the earth, because of the mountains on the surface of the moon that block the sun's light (Danjon 1932). This angle must be about 10-12 degrees for the sun's light to reflect from the moon, making a thin crescent which can be sighted. Sometimes, this crescent is very thin and very low on the horizon, so it can not be seen as it disappears in the glare of sun, and therefore is not visible, even though it may remain above horizon for 20-30 minutes after sunset.
Another important factor is the moon's altitude above the horizon. If the crescent thickness is sufficient, but it is not above the horizon, then it can not be seen. This happens in the month of September and October in the UK/USA, when the moon is in the southern hemisphere, therefore, it can not be seen from northern hemisphere. If the moon is above the horizon but close to it within the glare of the sun, then it may not be visible. A crescent within an altitude of 10 degrees is usually not visible. For a sightable crescent from any location, the following parameters are most important:
- The angular separation of the moon from sun as seen from earth (which is also called Elongation, or Arc of Light/ARCL).
- Moon's altitude above the horizon.
It is also a scientific fact that, if the moon is visible anywhere on the globe, it would be more easily visible on all places west of it (within the visibility parabola). On the contrary we hear news of moon sighting in the Middle East, and on the same evening, neither in West Africa nor in North America (3 - 8 hours later), it is not visible despite clear horizons. This is against known scientific facts. This clearly tells us that what was seen in the Middle East could not have been the moon. Muslim astronomers in this age of technology are now in a position to calculate the dates for possible/impossible moon sighting. So the validity of sighting claims can be easily verified for correct moon sighting.
Here are some common misconceptions about moon sighting that people talk about.
Misconception 1: 29th day moon is always thin and 30th day moon is thick
In fact, it is very possible that the 30th day moon of one month is about the same thickness as 29th day moon of another month. This can be better explained by Figure 2.
The moon revolves around the earth in an elliptical orbit, therefore, sometimes it is closer to the earth and sometimes it is farther from the earth. In Figure 2, the left hand side picture is an example of 29th day moon of one month when it is closer to the earth and its age is 20 hours, while the right hand side of the picture shows 30th day moon of another month that is farther from earth with the age 25 hours. To an observer from earth, both of these crescents would appear to be about the same thickness.
Misconception 2: 29th day moon sets in a short time while 30th day moon remains longer on the horizon
This is another myth and can be clarified with the help of Figure 3. The horizontal line represents the horizon of an observer from earth looking for the moon. In the left hand side picture the 29th day moon of one month is closer to the horizon but moves along a slanting path and eventually sets below horizon. In the right hand side picture the 30th day moon at another location is higher above the horizon, but moves almost vertically downwards and takes less time to go below the horizon as compared to the left hand side case. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the 30th day moon remains longer on the horizon.
Misconception 3: If the moon is thick and remains on the horizon a long time, it must be the 2nd day moon
This is a very common argument that we hear repeatedly, but has no truth in it. This can be clarified with the help of Figure 4. If on the 29th day, the moon at sunset is 18 hours old and is higher above the glare of the sun, it may be visible on that day and will appear to be very thin. However, if the 18 hours old moon on the 29th day is very low on the horizon, it would not be visible on that day, then on the 30th day it would be 42 hours old and quite thick, and remains above the horizon a long time, but it was not visible the day before!
In Figure 4, the left hand side is 29th day moon when it is 18 hours old and is not visible because it is very close to the horizon and disappears in the glare of the sun. On the next day (picture at right hand side of Figure 4) the moon is 42 hours old, therefore, quite thick, and is higher above the glare of the sun, therefore remains above horizon a long time, but it is the first day's crescent, because it was not visible the day before.
Many a time you hear the phrase, "Dark Side of the Moon". People think that the far side of the moon is the dark side of the moon, and that the dark side faces us at the time of New Moon. That is not the case. The same side of the moon always faces the earth, sometimes illuminated, and sometimes dark. The moon takes 27 days, 7 hours, and 43 minutes to spin, or rotate, once on its axis. It takes the same amount of time to orbit the earth. The combination of the two motions keeps the same side of the moon facing the earth. To us on earth, the moon is fully illuminated at full moon, completely dark at New Moon, and partially lit in between.
Misconception 5: Three consecutive months of 30 days are not possible
Three consecutive months of 30 days are very possible and are not uncommon. In fact even four consecutive months of 30 days is possible, but rare. This is mainly due to broadening the Matla' (horizon) in over 48 contiguous states of USA as one Matla'. The Committee for Crescent Observation (CFCO), Ithaca, New York has documented the moon sighting for every month for various locations throughout the world spanning last two decades, and confirms that three consecutive months of 29 days, and four consecutive months of 30 days are possible for USA.
Misconception 6: Full moon occurs on the 14th night
This is wrong too. Full moon is the instant of time when the earth is between the moon and the sun in the same vertical plane. This could happen at any moment of day or night. Therefore, it is very possible that in one month the moon is full at 7:00 AM. This moon would be 99% lit on the night before and becomes full in the morning, but decreases to 99% lit-up on the following night. Such a moon would appear as a full moon to an observer on both nights. These two nights could be 13th and 14th, or 14th and 15th depending upon the location on earth and the New Moon birth universal time.
Misconception 7: Moon must be visible if moonset is after sunset
No, this is not necessarily true. The moon must be high enough at sunset for it to be above the solar glare and the effect of atmospheric haze near the horizon. This height (Altitude/ARCV) needs to be above 8 degrees (at sunset) for a moon age between 18 - 24 hrs old to be visible to the naked eye.
However, quite often we hear about claims of sightings from the Middle East when the moon is below 1-degree altitude at sunset which is not possible because the crescent shape is formed on the bottom part of the moon’s disc, which may be below the horizon, even though the upper part may be above the sun at sunset (hence the ”moonset after sunset” condition is fulfilled), as shown in Figure 7.
For example, on Monday 3 June 2019, the following lunar parameters may be taken into consideration at the sunset from a give location in the Middle East.
New Moon Conjunction = 13:02 hrs; Sunset = 18:39 hrs; Moon Altitude = 0.5°; Moonset = 18:43 hrs; Lag time = 4 min; Sun Azi = 295°; Moon Azi = 293°; DAZ = 4°; Moon Age = 5:37 hrs; Elong = 4°.
Since the travel path of the moon was diagonal on the horizon (from top left to bottom right), indicated by positive DAZ value and it was 4 mins “on the horizon”, it means at 2 mins after sunset, the lower half of the moon’s disc was already below the horizon and not visible to the human eye, even if there were no solar glares or any atmospheric haze as commonly seen in the deserts of the Middle East.
Therefore, we can safely conclude that at 2 mins after sunset, the crescent moon was impossible to be sighted by the human eye, since the lower part of the moon’s disc was already below the horizon! The recommended altitude of the moon at sunset for crescent visibility is 7.92° (Alrefay, 2018: PDF).
To start an Islamic month correctly, we must examine sighting claims in light of knowledge that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) has given us. Let us pray to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to open our hearts and minds to understand these facts about moon sighting. Let us further pray to Allah Almighty that He may guide us to the right path, forgive our mistakes and make us united in the way He pleases, Ameen.
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