When is Eid al Fitr is a question on everyone's lips.
Some groups and communities in North America have already announced Eid on Saturday May 23 based on sighting claims from Somalia and Ethiopia.
Was the Shawwal moon really sighted in these countries? Was it possible to sight it?
Is Eid al Fitr on Saturday May 23 or Sunday May 24?
Let us examine this in light of the Qur'an, Hadith and scientific data.
The Qur'an is very clear about sighting of the new moon. Addressing the noble Messenger (pbuh), Allah says in the Qur'an:
"They [people] will ask thee about the new moons: Say: 'They indicate the periods for [determining various activities/seasons] for mankind, including the [determination] of the pilgrimage of Hajj'" (2:189).
There are also several Hadiths related to moonsighting. In one particular Hadith quoted in Sahih Muslim, the noble Messenger (pbuh) is reported to have said:
"Start your [month of] fast when you sight the new moon and end your [month of] fast when you sight the new moon. And if the sky is overcast [and you cannot sight the new moon] complete your 30 days."
The Saturday May 23 declaration of Eid al Fitr was based on claims of moonsighting in Somalia and Ethiopia etc.
How credible are these sighting claims? At the time of sunset in these countries, the moon was not even born yet so how could they see it?
What is the birth of the moon? When the sun, moon and earth are perfectly aligned, referred to as conjunction, the moon is totally black and invisible. This is called the birth of the moon.
When it moves away from the shadow of the earth, it becomes visible.
The moon that we see is a reflection of sunlight from the surface of the earth.
Scientific data about the birth of the moon is as follows (as can also be seen in the chart above).
Birth of new moon: Fri. May 22 at 17:38 UT (1:38 pm Toronto time).
Birth of the moon is not the same as its visibility.
It takes at least 20 - 24 hours (and sometimes every longer) for the new moon to become visible.
Any claims of moonsighting before this time lapse cannot be accepted. Enough data is available to prove that it is not possible to see the new moon unless at least 24 hours have elapsed after its birth.
Various factors influence the new moon's visibility such as the time of moonset after sunset, angle of separation between the sun and the moon, angle of the moon from the horizon and whether the sky is clear or overcast.
The chart above shows the visibility curve of the moon. These charts are developed through computer models and are quite accurate.
According to the visibility chart, the Shawwal moon will be visible in North America (especially in southern United States today (Saturday May 23) after sunset.
The new moon will be visible in areas marked green; in the blue areas, it will be visible if perfect conditions prevail (clear sky and moonset much later than sunset). In the grey and red zones, it can only be sighted with optical aids, such as telescope.
Thus, in areas east of North America, it will be difficult to sight the new moon.
Eid al Fitr will, inshallah-Allah, be on Sunday May 24 in North and South America and in places east of it, it may even be on Monday May 25.
We wish everyone Eid Mubarak despite the very unusual circumstances we are faced with at present.
Celebration of Eid is a communal affair but unfortunately, this year it will not be possible because of the pandemic. Muslims will have to offer Eid prayers at home.
We pray to Allah to accept our ibadaat and to bestow His mercy and grace upon all of us, Ameen.