On the 29th
of each Islamic month, the official moonsighting committee must go out and look. If they see the new crescent moon, it’s the first of the next month; if they don’t, the next day is the 30th
of the current month.
Currently, in Western countries, if two Imams of equal rank go out, and one says, ‘There’s the moon,’ and the other says, ‘No, that’s a cloud,’ and the first replies, ‘You son of a woman of negotiable virtue, that’s the moon,’ and the second answers, ‘May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits, that’s a cloud.’ At the end, it’s the first of a new month for the congregations of the first Imam’s mosque, and it’s the 30th
of the old month for the congregation of the second Imam’s mosque. Normally, this doesn’t make much difference, except for a few months, one of which is Ramadan.
Every single day of Ramadan, a devout Sunni Muslim male must not eat or drink anything beginning 90 minutes before sunrise, but must eat and drink something at exactly sunset. (The rules are slightly different for Shiite Muslims, who start and end their fasting at slightly different times, times that differ by a few minutes from the Sunni times.) The first day of the month after Ramadan, called Eid al Fitr, every devout Muslim must say special prayers, and must eat and drink something between sunrise and sunset. So getting the days wrong is a big problem for the most devout Muslims.
And with their two Imams in profound disagreement, how can a member of one congregation be sure his Imam was right, and the other Imam was wrong?
Some have suggested that one can calculate whether or not the moon is visible, and reject any sightings if it is astronomically impossible to see the moon on the 29th
of the month. This suggestion has been categorically rejected by the Saudis.
To solve this problem, the UAE government will declare the dates of Ramadan, and their declaration will determine Ramadan for all Muslims inside the UAE. And also for all non-Muslims inside the UAE.
So, on 30 Aug. 2008, which is the 29th
of the Islamic month, the UAE moonsighting committee will go out. Then they will wait until they hear the official word from Saudi Arabia, where the sun won’t go down for another hour. If someone in Saudi Arabia sees the moon (someone always does), and if the sighting is accepted, then the UAE moonsighting committee will have seen the moon, and 31 August 2008 will be 1 Ramadan 1429. If all the people who saw the moon in Saudi Arabia have their sightings rejected (which sometimes happens), then the UAE moonsighting committee will not see the moon, and 1 Ramadan will coincide with 1 September1
Farook tells the story that the King of Saudi Arabia offers $1,000 to the first person to sight the Ramadan moon, so one man came at exactly sunset and collected his $1,000. He came back about an hour later and said, ‘I saw another moon, so I’m here to collect another $1,000.’
Since the senior members of the committee sometimes reject the claims of people saying they’ve seen the moon, and sometimes accept the claims, even when, as on 30 August, there is no way anyone will have actually seen a new crescent2
, we won’t know the first day of Ramadan in Dubai until about 11 p.m. on 30 August.
Dubai has set up six cannon. As of 1 Ramadan, at exactly 90 minutes before sunrise, all six cannon will go off to tell those Sunni who are fasting to start their fast. At exactly sunset, the cannon will all go off to tell those Sunni who are fasting to break their fast.
Many restaurants will stop all table service beginning with the dawn cannon until the sunset cannon. Some will have take-away service for those who are not fasting, which includes some Muslims who are exempt. Other restaurants will close during the day, but then remain open all night. Some restaurants will close for the entire month of Ramadan.
As of 1 Ramadan, the Ajman and Umm Suqueim liquor stores will close. The Dubai and Abu Dhabi liquor stores will have shortened hours. Abu Dhabi nightclubs will close; Dubai nightclubs will have shortened hours and no music.
The local TV stations, including all the MBC channels, will have a special Ramadan line-up, with all different shows. Unlike the West around Christmas or Easter, when all the TV channels catering to Christian audiences show special Christmas or Easter shows (e.g., 'Charlie Brown’s Christmas,' 'Charlie Brown’s Easter,' 'Quo Vadis,' 'The Robe,' etc.), the shows on the English-language MBC channels will have nothing to do with the holy month of Ramadan, but they feel that changing all TV schedules is necessary anyway.
(I’ve been told that Arabic and Urdu stations actually have Ramadan-specific programming, but I have no way of verifying that fact.)
Music is discouraged, so those who usually hum or whistle to themselves are advised to stop for the month.
Eating, drinking (this includes water), or smoking in public between the time the dawn cannons go off and the time the sunset cannons sound is illegal.
Everyone is advised to wear conservative clothes for Ramadan, not exposing any skin other than hands and face.
Many restaurants will have iftars
at sunset. Iftars
are special meals to break the Ramadan fast. I recommend the one at Al Nasr Club, though it’s only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The Al Nasr Club is a municipality project, so it charges below-market prices.Iftars
used to be very cheap, as a Ramadan promotion to create goodwill for the restaurant, but this is now mostly a thing of the past. Prices for iftar
have gone up by anywhere from 400% to 900% in the restaurants where I’ve been keeping track.
There will also be many free iftars
(served precisely at sunset) and sohours
(served between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.) in tents around the Emirates. Highly recommended for those who like cabrito biriani
and companionship, or just free food.
So I advise everyone in Dubai, Muslims or infidels (whether kuffirin
) to prepare for Ramadan, which will begin very soon.
And, in the same way that the UAE moonsighting committee ensures that it always sees the moon on the same night as the Saudi moonsighting committee, other countries who are not on the best of terms are careful that, if one sees the moon, the other does not see the moon. Doing this several times during the Islamic year, the Islamic calendars of the countries can be several days out of sync. Return
Some years, the new crescent has been 'sighted' when the old crescent was still clearly visible. Return