Dubai: As the Hijri (Islamic) calendar is a lunar calendar and so follows the moon’s cycle, that is why Ramadan’s beginning is decided by moon sightings.

Dr Humaid Majol Al Nuaimi, Chairman of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Science and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of University of Sharjah for Academic Affairs, and Hasan Ahmad Al Haririm President of the Dubai Astronomy Group, spoke to Gulf News about the process.

Al Nuaimi said that Ramadan and the Hijri (Islamic) calendar follows the sighting of the moon and not the birth new moon, explaining that the birth of the new moon does not mean the start of the new month.

However, Al Hariri said that it depends on whether you are a follower of the school of astronomical calculations or of the astronomical sighting.

“Both are correct- for example – Turkey and Malaysia follow the astronomical calculations method.” Al Hariri said.

All GCC countries follow the sighting method.

Al Hariri said that astronomers provide Islamic scholars with the scientific information to help them with their decision, but the ultimate decision is that of the scholars, as to when Ramadan will start.

“Everyone can be an astronomer now if they have a smart phone. Just go into the “google sky” application using the GPS and if you see the moon then it is the start of the month, if you do not then it is not.” Al Hariri added.

The New Moon and Moon Sighting

Al Nuaimi said that although the scientific method of calculating the new moon’s birth is very accurate, even “up to the second”, that does not mean that the moon can be seen.

“There is a big difference between the birth of the new moon and the moon sighting; we can calculate the new moon for the next 10,000 years if we want… there are even websites that can do it.” Al Nuaimi said.

He added the formation of the new moon does not indicate the beginning of the Hijri month, as that depends on the “sighting” of the moon. “The formation of the new moon does not mean we can see it… we cannot see the moon unless it is seven degrees away from the sun and five degrees above the horizon.”

Al Nuaimi explained that the viewer’s geographic location (longitude and latitude), the position of the moon in the western sky after sunset, and the visibility condition of the sky play a major factor in the new moon’s visibility.

“The sky should not be polluted, whether it is dust or light pollution, as that will affect the visibility of the moon.”