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What’s With The Moon? It’s Moon-Sighting, Not Moon-Fighting

Ramadan Ready series, part 1. Watch the video on YouTube.

Did you know that 'months' are actually called 'months' because they’re related to the moon? The lunar cycle is approximately 29 to 30 days in length. And that gives us the approximate lengths of our months. Many of us have memorized from childhood the saying: 30 days of September, April, June and November... So we have increased a couple of days to get to the solar cycle, which is approximately 11 days longer per year than a lunar year. February remains at 28 days except for a leap year in which case it becomes 29. Now, in the ancient world when people did not have the modern calendars and smartphones that we have, how did they tell time? Well, they counted the lunar cycle. They saw the phases of the moon and they knew that one complete cycle was one month. So in the Jewish calendar, a lot of their religious observances are pinned according to that lunar cycle. A similar thing happened with the religion of Islam. Christianity went a slightly different route, but you will notice that Easter varies, and that's because it is basically tied to the lunar cycle, but some adjustments are made to keep that celebration in the spring.

There’s a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that says, “fast when you see the moon and stop fasting when you don't see the moon,” but then so many questions could arise about what that actually means. What does it mean you see the moon? Who should see the moon? And what does it mean to see the moon? Is it with a telescope or is it with your naked eye? There are so many questions and so many ways in which Muslims could take the conversation that it has led to a lot of disagreement, because people aren't sure whether it should be one day or the other that Ramadan begins.

The hadith does not go into all of these details. It just says in a very brief manner, “start fasting when you see the one moon and then stop fasting when you see the next one.” So that's how we count the beginning of the month. And the Quran is very clear we don't worship the moon. The Quran says, “Do not prostrate either to the sun or the moon.” And the Quran tells us what the purpose of the sun and the moon are: so that you may know the passing of the years and the months. So we know of the passing of the months by the moon…by its appearance and then the next appearance. But we don't worship either the sun or the moon. So we shouldn't make it appear as though we are worshiping these objects. It is God that we're trying to serve, and the sun and the moon only serve as markers of time. With the Earth's rotation around the sun, we know that one year has elapsed. With the moon's rotation around the Earth, we know that one month has elapsed.

What do we do when we're not sure how they should decide the beginning of the month of Ramadan? Because this becomes a big controversy. How do you decide? It could be either one day or the other. And it depends. If you think, “fast when you see it” means when you see it in Saudi Arabia, then that would result in a different day of fasting than if you see the moon in Canada. The moon appears at different times to different parts of the world.

You have to be calm about this is because these matters are not so clearly defined. If they were so clearly defined, we wouldn't have the great scholars of the Muslim world having different opinions about it.

Since these things are not specified -- whether you need to see it with the naked eye, whether you need to see it in your own locality, whether you need to see it in anywhere in the world and so on -- that's why we have different views emerging. There are basically three or four different approaches to the question. And all of these approaches have very good arguments going for them. Whatever is being followed in your locality or the major mosque where you attend, just go with that. And yeah, take another chill pill if you need to.

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