Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ramadan (1432 AH) is Coming

In the Islamic (or Al Hijri) calendar, this month is called Shaban, the month before Ramadan.

When I first arrived in the UAE, and several times since, I was told that the rulers decide when to have Ramadan, and can vary the date of the start and stop by as much as a week (or more). This, it turned out, was, as Nixon would have said, 'inoperative.'

Every Islamic month is either 29 or 30 days, since the Islamic month is a lunar month. On the 29th of every month, the Moonsighting Committee goes out. If it sees a crescent moon (called a hilal), the next day is the first day of the next month. If it does not, the next day is the 30th of the current month. This is of critical importance only three times a year: on the 29th of Shaban, when the Moonsighting Committee decides when Ramadan starts, on the 29th of Ramadan, when the Moonsighting Committee decides when Ramadan ends, and on the 29th of Dhu'l-Qa'dah, when the report of the Moonsighting Committee determines the days of the Hajj.

On the 29th of the month of Rajab (which was on 1 July), the Moonsighting Committee went out and saw the moon, so 2 July was 1 Shaban.

This means that 30 July 2011 will be 29 Shaban 1432, and the Moonsighting Committee will go out. If they see the crescent moon, then 31 July will be 1 Ramadan; if they don't, then 1 August will be the first of Ramadan. Ramadan must start either 31 July or 1 August, it cannot start any other day, but (officially) there is absolutely no way to predict if Ramadan will start on 31 July or 1 August, it all depends on what the Moonsighting Committee sees on 30 July.

However, all my sources say it has been decided that, on 30 July, when an excited person runs up and says, 'I saw it, I saw it!!!' (and he will, because there is a monetary award for the first person to see the hilal that marks the start of Ramadan) the senior members of the Moonsighting Committee will say, 'We are sorry, my son, but you are mistaken.' So 31 July will be 30 Shaban, and Ramadan will start on 1 August.

Of course, my sources could all be wrong. The Moonsighting committee is supposed to report whatever it actually sees.

So we'll only be certain on 30 July whether Ramadan starts 30 July or 1 August.