November 1998: Page 1, 2, 3, 4

Submitters Perspective

Page 3

The Month of Ramadan

Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. Those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. God wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify God for guiding you, and to express your appreciation. (2:185)

…You may eat and drink until the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn. Then, you shall fast until sunset. Sexual intercourse is prohibited if you decide to retreat to the masjid (during the last ten days of Ramadan). These are God’s laws; you shall not transgress them. God thus clarifies His revelations for the people, that they may attain salvation. (2:187)

Ramadan is one of the lunar months in the Islamic calendar. A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth. Because a lunar month is, on the average, one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is 10-12 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, the Month of Ramadan comes 10-12 days earlier each year. This way we get to fast when the days are very warm and long in summer as well as when they are cool and short in winter. This beautiful design by God is also a test for us to see if we will fast regardless of the length or temperature of the days of Ramadan.

The beginning of a new lunar month is the moment, during the

moon’s orbit around the earth, when the moon is in conjunction with the sun, with the sun’s light hitting the side of the moon away from the earth. In this position, the moon is said to be a “new moon,” with its dark side turned toward the earth. By definition, a new moon is not visible from the earth as the sun’s light is shining only on the side of the moon not facing the earth.

As the moon continues to orbit around the earth, it starts forming a crescent. This will be minutes after the new moon even though the crescent will not visible for several hours. In some traditional Islamic countries, Muslims do not start fasting until they can see the crescent in the sky. In those countries people who sight the crescent first may also be rewarded. To get the reward, some people camp on hilltops where the visibility will be the best.

God gave us scientific knowledge to determine exactly when a lunar month will begin and end. Any observatory or astronomy center should have that information for your area. Some almanacs, magazines or newspapers also report the times for the phases of the moon. To determine when one should start fasting, compare the time the new lunar month begins with the time of sunset, the beginning of a day in the Islamic calendar.

The Islamic day is the same as the Hebrew day. It begins at sunset and ends at the next sunset. In this system, the night comes before the day. Therefore, in some traditional Islamic countries, when they talk about, for instance, Friday night, they are actually referring to

Thursday night as we know it because that night actually belongs to Friday according to their definition of a day.

Beginning of Ramadan

To determine when Ramadan (or any lunar month) begins, we need to know mainly two facts. The first is the time of the “new moon,” and the second is the time of sunset of the same day as this new moon. Even though the lunar month theoretically begins with the new moon, in practice the month begins on the first sunset following this new moon.

If the new moon time for the month of Ramadan is before the sunset, one starts fasting the next day at dawn (fajr). However, if the new moon time is actually past the sunset, then that particular night is considered to belong to the last day of the previous month (Sha’ban). Therefore, even if the new moon time may fall before the dawn, the first day of Ramadan does not start until the next sunset. Thus one starts fasting at dawn following this sunset.

Ending of Ramadan

One has to use the same system to determine the ending of the month to be consistent. If the new moon time for the month following Ramadan (the month of Shawwal) is before the sunset, one ends fasting at that sunset because the next day will be the first day of Shawwal. If the new moon time is past the sunset one must fast the next day also since that day will belong to Ramadan.

Continued on page 4