The Old Criteria (Up to 1419 AH)
Most people think that Saudi Arabia always adopt the actual sighting of the crescent as the basis to start Islamic months. But during the previous years [ie. before 1998], it was very clear to the public as well as to astronomers that most of the Saudi months were wrong if the actual sighting is the basis for starting the Islamic month. Fortunately, the Jordanian Astronomical Society (JAS) received a telegram from The Highest Religious Council "Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala" in Saudi Arabia showing the basis of the Saudi official calendar (Umm-ul Qura). Below is a literal translation of this telegram.
"( To Jordan/ Al-Yadodeh/ M.Kh./ Al-Sook/ Mr. Hayel Mamdooh Abu-Zeid, dated January 21, 1998/Ramadan 23, 1418H.
We wish to thank you for sending us your greetings of Ramadan, and for reminding us of the date of the New Moon of Shawwal for the year 1418 H. We would like to remind you that determining the first day of the Islamic month is like determining the prayer times, and the aim of His Almighty from these times is to inform us not to take it as worship. It is adopted in Umm-ul-Qura Calendar that if the Moon's age at Sunset is 12 hours or more after the New Moon then the PREVIOUS day is the first day of the Islamic month, since the Islamic day starts at Sunset, and the night is before the daylight, as well as the time of fasting is in the civil daylight. May Allah accept your worship. May Allah bless this Ramadan. Thanking you for your good cooperation.
From: Kingdom of Saudi Arabia/ Al-Riyadh/ The Higher Religious Council "Majlis al-Ifta' al-A'ala"/ Mohammad Bin Ehmead.)"
Mr. Hayel of JAS received other letters also, about the same subject, which were clearer than this telegram. The following example may make their system clearer: If for example 29th Dec is 29 Sha'ban, and the New Moon Phase occurs after Sunset in Riyadh, say at 11 pm on 29th Dec., then the next day (30th Dec.) at the Sunset (For example at 5 pm) the Moon's age will be 18 hours which is more than 12 hours, so that day (30th Dec.) is the first day of Ramadan, even though the New Moon was not even born at the Sunset on 29 Sha'ban (29th Dec.), and generally in such cases the Moon will set before Sunset! Below is a copy of the telegram.
The 2nd Criteria (1420 AH - 1422 AH)
Starting from 1420 AH Saudi starts the lunar month if the Moon sets AFTER the Sun on the 29th day of the previous month, as seen from Mecca. Although the new criteria are much better than the old ones, it still ignores the the crescent visibility! Also, at certain months they begin the month while the Moon is not yet in conjunction (i.e. new moon)!! Setting of the Moon after the Sun does NOT always imply that the Moon reached conjunction.
Kindly find below a quote from the statement of Al-Shorah Council in which they mentioned their new criteria.
A literal translation of the below quote goes thus:
"To determine the beginnings of lunar months, the collaborators in the preparation of Umm Al-Qurrah calendar should adopt the sunset before the moonset according to Mecca, and the coordinates of Al-Haram Mosque are adopted."
For example, on 07 December 1999 (29 Sha'ban), the Sun will set in Mecca at 17:38 LT, and the Moon will set at 17:29. So since the Moon will set before the Sun, 08 December is NOT 1 Ramadan. Consequently, 1 Ramadan will be on 09 December.
Kindly find below two papers. The one to the right is a paper from an old Saudi calendar (which was printed before changing the criteria), showing that 1 Ramadan coincides with 08 December. Whereas the one to the left is a paper from Umm Al-Qurrah Calendar 1420 AH, showing that 1 Ramadan is 09 December 1999.
The New Criteria (1423 AH - Present)
The The official website of Umm Al-Qurah Calendar mentions that if on the 29th day of the lunar month these two conditions are satisfied, then the next day is the first day of the new lunar month:-
- The New Moon Conjunction occurs before Sunset
- The Moon sets after the Sunset
The main extract from the above website is given below:
"The calculations of the Um Al-Qura calendar are based on the terms set by the distinguished Council of ministers, which adopt the location of the Holy Kaabah as the reference for all calculations, and require conjunction to occur prior to sunset (moonset occur after sunset) as conditions for the birth of the new lunar month.
The Um Al-Qura calendar is both the formal and civil calendar of the Kingdom, but it may not match the actual visibility of the crescent [moon] which is necessary to start the religious months."
Note also that the moon sighting astronomy experts are of the opinion that the Saudi Umm Al-Qurah calendar criteria does NOT guarantee the visibility of the moon. Indeed, none of the official Saudi Hilal Committee members have ever been able to sighting the moon on the 29th day of the Umm Al-Qurah calendar date in Saudi Arabia. However, quite often unreliable witness claims are accepted to match the Umm Al-Qurah date!