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Muslim countries 'may have mistaken' other planets for Eid moon, astronomy centre says

Moon sightings indicating the start and end of Ramadan have long been debated [NurPhoto]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2020

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An Emirati astronomy centre said some Muslim countries may have mistaken other planets for the new moon sighting that signals the end of Ramadan.
Some African nations celebrating Eid Al-Fitr on Saturday may have mistaken sightings of Venus or Mercury for the new moon that spells the end of Ramadan, an Emirati astronomy centre said.

Islam follows a lunar calendar, and the fasting month of Ramadan ends at the beginning of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. The three-day Eid Al-Fitr celebration marks the end of Ramadan.

A sighting of the moon's new crescent on Friday would have made Saturday the first day of Eid. However, no sighting was observed by Saudi Arabia according to state news agency WAM, meaning fasting continued for a 30th day, with Eid celebrations scheduled for the following day on Sunday.

Though Saudi Arabia's moon sightings apply to the kingdom alone, millions of Muslims around the world tend to follow Riyadh's announcements.

Some Muslim countries in Africa - such as Morocco, Somalia, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Senegal and Mali - said the new moon was visible to them on Friday evening, meaning Ramadan had ended that day.

In a Friday announcement, Somalia's Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowment Sheikh Nur Mohamed Hassan said eight people testified that they had spotted the crescent from the vicinities of capital Mogadishu.

However, the Abu Dhabi-based International Astronomy Centre (IAC) said the moon had set before the sun for all countries in the Muslim world on Friday evening, meaning it would not have been seen that night.

The IAC noted that Venus and Mercury, on the other hand, had converged "very closely and strikingly" above the western horizon. They would have been visible from west Africa that evening, it added.

The centre said this "may be the reason" why some countries believed to have caught a glimpse of the moon on Friday evening.

Moon sightings indicating the start and end of Ramadan have long been the subject of debate among the global Muslim community.

Though many Muslims look to Saudi Arabia for a final verdict, the kingdom's moon sightings have previously elicited some controversy, particularly in countries without a centralised Islamic authority.

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

Critics of Saudi moonsighting methods say Muslims outside of Saudi Arabia should rely on local moon sightings, as Riyadh has allegedly announced the wrong date for Ramadan and Eid on several occasions.

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