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Friday or Saturday? Muslim world split over when Ramadan fasting begins

The beginning of Ramadan is set by the emergence of the crescent moon [NurPhoto/Getty]

Date of publication: 23 April, 2020

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Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will start Ramadan on Thursday evening, while Iran and Oman have announced Ramadan for Friday evening.
Middle East countries, and beyond, are split as to whether the month of Ramadan - when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk - will begin on Thursday or Friday evening.

Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are some of the countries set to start Ramadan on Thursday evening, whereas Iran has announced Ramadan for Friday evening.

In Egypt, Grand Mufti Shawky Allam announced that Friday will be the first day of fasting.

He said in a statement: "[We] looked for the crescent of the blessed month of Ramadan after sunset on Wednesday but failed to see it. Accordingly, [we] announce that Friday is the first day of the month of Ramadan."

In Turkey, where the government uses satellites to look for the crescent moon, the first day of fasting was also announced for Friday.

Dar Al-Fatwa in Lebanon also announced that "tomorrow, Thursday, will be the last day of the month of Shaaban, and thus the first day of the holy month of Ramadan will be Friday".

In Iran, a member of the moon sighting committee announced that Friday will be the last day of Shaaban and that Saturday will mark the first day of fasting.

Oman also announced fasting there would commence on Saturday after it was unable to spot the new moon on Thursday evening, Al Waeem reported.

Many Muslim countries around the world will send teams out to look for the new moon on Thursday evening.

If it is spotted, they will announce the start of Ramadan. If it's not, they will announce Ramadan for the following evening.

Islam follows a lunar calender and so the duration of the month can vary. If the crescent moon is spotted, the start of the new month is announced. 

But countries, like Saudi Arabia, have standardised their calendar and only use moon sightings for four months of the year. This means their calendar is often one day ahead of those based on physical moon sightings. 

Imad Ahmed from the New Crescent Society (NCS), a group dedicated to reviving the Islamic tradition of celestial observation said: "I expect that Saudi Arabia will carry out its Ramadan moon sighting on Thursday, which in itself concedes that they started the month of Shaaban - the month that precedes Ramadan - a day too early."

"In a way, they will be forced to say they will have sighted the moon on Thursday - even though the moon will be scientifically impossible to see - because if they don't, it will mean that the month of Shaaban will be 31 days, which it can't be. This would be hugely embarrassing for them," he adds.

Read more: When is Ramadan, and will Saudi Arabia get the date 'wrong' again?

Muslims in the UK have only achieved consensus on the dates for Ramadan and Eid twice in the last 35 years, according to the New Crescent Society (NCS), a group dedicated to reviving the Islamic tradition of celestial observation.

The coronavirus pandemic is cutting off the world's 1.8 billion Muslims from cherished Ramadan traditions as health officials battle to ward off new infections during Islam's holiest month, haunted by multiple outbreaks traced to previous religious gatherings.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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