Crescent sighting Image Credit: Sabq

Manama: Almost all Muslim countries will mark the start of the fasting month of Ramadan on May 17, a Saudi astronomer said.

“I believe that 99 per cent of Arab and Muslim countries will announce that Thursday May 17 will be the first day of the holy month,” Mohammad Oda, the head of the International Astronomic Centre, said, quoted by Saudi news site Sabq on Monday.

He added that he based his prediction on astronomical facts.

Oman on Sunday announced that May 17 would be the first day of the holy in the Sultanate this year.

In a statement, the crescent sighting committee said that “astronomical evidence revealed that it will not be possible to sight the crescent in most part of the Sultanate on Tuesday [May 15], therefore Ramadan will be on Thursday.”

Last month, Kuwaiti astronomer Adel Al Saadoon said the crescent announcing the start of the month of fasting would be visible with naked eye in North African countries, but telescopes would be needed in Kuwait.

“The sun will set down at 6:16 on May 16 and the crescent will be visible for around 26 minutes, and therefore May 17 will be the first day of the holy month,” he said.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the 12-month lunar-based Islamic calendar followed by Muslims.

The sighting of Ramadan crescent has often been a point of debate among Muslims, resulting in countries announcing the start and end of Ramadan on different days.

The clash is mainly between conservatives who insist on seeing the crescent with the naked eye, in line with a literal interpretation of Islamic principles.

Such a view is in contrast with that held by those who call for the use of astronomical calculations to predict the start of the month.

For the naked-eye sightings, varying geographical and weather conditions meant that people in different locations cannot see the appearance of the crescent, resulting in Muslims around the world starting their fast on different days.

However, the strict interpretation of the visibility stipulation is increasingly becoming a source of national and social divisions, defeating the call for unity preached by Islam during the sacred month.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in sensual pleasures from sunrise to sunset and focus on their spiritual relationship with God and on charitable deeds.