Ramadan begins at sunset the night before the first day of fasting.
This year, according to Moonsighting.com, the first day of fasting would most likely be Monday August 1, 2011, making it easy as the Islamic lunar month of Ramadan would correspond to the month of August. Consequently, Ramadan itself began at sunset on Sunday evening, July 31, 2011.
Growing up in Toronto though it wasn’t always that straightforward. Every year there was the one camp that said Ramadan began only if the new moon was sighted visually and locally. At first locally meant the city you were in. As numerous cities in North America began to have significant Muslim populations, informal new crescent moon sighting networks grew into formal Hilal Committees. They’re even on twitter: @HilalCommittee. Hilal being the arabic word for crescent moon. An acceptable local sighting of the new moon anywhere in North American would herald the beginning of Ramadan.
The other camp though, leaned more into astronomical calculations in determining the start and end dates for Ramadan. For many years it was a toss up as to when the majority of a city’s Muslim population would begin their month of fasting.
In my teen years and early twenties, many of the Greater Toronto Area’s Islamic Organizations would send a representative to meet at one of the local masjids. It ended up becoming Hilal Committee of Metropolitan Toronto & Vicinity.
At times, they went late into the night dialing around North America to confirm a visual moonsighting. The west coast counted, Hawaii did not. Meanwhile back home in other countries, Ramadan had already been declared and Muslims east of our time zone were already fasting.
It’s not all that strange. Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian calendars have Christmas and Easter 11 days apart each year. I grew to feel being off by a day wasn’t so big a deal as I thought it was when I was a kid. It was everything to the Grown-ups though.
It’s taken a few decades, likely as a consequence of globalization and easier instant communications, more and more of the Muslim world increasingly begins and ends Ramadan on the same day each year.
Most months, time and location permitting, I take a few minutes after sunset over the one to three days that it’s possible to sight the new crescent moon and search for it. I don’t use a telescope, just the naked eye. Having done this for years, I’ve learned the best neighbourhood vantage points to look for the new moon. Often I email a report to Moonsighting.com. Sometimes my reports get published.
Last night, after praying my sunset prayers at the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre near Bloor and Dufferin, I biked east to Christie Pits Park and searched for the new crescent moon. Astronomically, it would be highly unlikely that it could be easily be spotted from Toronto on Sunday evening, July 31 2011.
After about ten minutes of searching for the new moon, I concluded it would indeed be a negative moonsighting report I’d be emailing to Khalid Shaukat at Moonsighing.com.