Faizel Patel
5 minute read
1 May 2022
4:01 pm

Eid 2022: ‘Moon Wars’ a contentious issue in SA – Sightings explained

Faizel Patel

The sighting of the moon is a very contentious issue in South Africa, however, the UUCSA said a sighting decision cannot be taken until the last sighting region in the west of the country has been concluded.

Photo: iStock

With just a few hours possibly left for the end of the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims across the country will be waiting in anticipation to find out if Monday is Eid-ul-Fitr.

Eid 2022: What you need to know

Ramadan comes to an end

The end of Ramadan is marked by the sighting of the moon on the evening of the 29th of the Islamic month.

In this case, 29 Ramadan 1443AH (After Hijrah or Migration), which corresponds to 1 May 2022. Ramadan will be followed by the month of Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar.

Eid in South Africa

Moon wars

The sighting of the moon is a very contentious issue in South Africa. A number of organisations are guided by their own policies and principles based on Islamic law.

However, the majority of the Muslims in South Africa ascribe to the moon sighting of one Islamic body –the United Council of Ulama in South Africa (UUCSA), or the United Council of Muslim Theologians.

UUCSA has a set of policies, procedures and principles to guide the organisation in making an informed decision to the benefit all Muslims in the country.

Over the years, different moon sighting groups have emerged in South Africa, which has created a disparity in observations and views with regard to the start of Eid in South Africa.

This has led to the term ‘moon wars’ which at times have turned ugly and fractured South Africa’s Muslim community.

UUCSA secretary-general Ml Ebrahim Bham explains Muslims utilise the age of the moon as a guide but are not guided by it to determine the beginning or end of an Islamic month, which is based on the lunar cycle.

The Hijri (Islamic) calendar is a lunar calendar, consisting of 12 months of 354 or 355 days.

As it is a lunar calendar, there is an annual drift of 10 days, meaning it is not synchronised with the seasons as the dates repeat every 33 years.

The observance of a new moon marks the beginning of each month.

The Islamic calendar began in 622 AD when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) migrated from Makkah to Madinah to establish the first Muslim community.

The principle laid down by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that if the moon is not sighted, then a month of thirty days must be completed.

Moulana Bham explains there is precedence for this ruling in Islamic history.

It does not occur frequently but has happened on a few occasions in the past, including the era of Prophet Muhmmmad (PBUH) and in Saudi Arabia.

Acceptance of moon sightings in SA

UUCSA’s current policy states whilst there is a jurisprudence basis to accept moon sightings beyond the boundaries of South Africa, there is also a jurisprudence basis to restrict moon sightings within the borders of South Africa.

Moulana Bham said due to the difference of opinion of Islamic scholars regarding the acceptance of moon sightings beyond the borders of SA, UUCSA gives preference to the view of accepting moon sightings within the boundaries to avoid conflict.

To get complete consensus on the moon matter throughout the world is proving extremely difficult.

Moon consenus

In the United Kingdom, for example, it is not uncommon to celebrate Eid on three different days; one moon sighting is based in Saudi Arabia, another from Morocco and the other from Pakistan.

From a jurisprudence principle, there are several views on the matter and the decision has not been cast in stone.

The decision only to accept moon sightings in South Africa was taken in conjunction with seventeen Islamic bodies affiliated with UUCSA.

It is also endorsed and agreed upon by esteemed and highly qualified Islamic scholars Mufti Mohammed Saeed Motara from Darul Uloom Azaadville, and Mufti Radha-ul-Haq of Darul Uloom Zakariyyah.

It was decided that UUCSA would be guided by the fact that it would rather retain unity in South Africa than try to forge unity with neighbouring countries on this issue.

While there are a handful of other moon sighting groups who do not ascribe to UUCSA’s moon sighting policies and procedures, there is no difference of opinion amongst the majority of South African scholars or dilemma on moon sightings.

Moonsighting procedure for Shawwal 1443/May 2020

  • UUCSA requires naked eye sightings to declare the start of a new Islamic month. However, astronomical information is used as a guideline to assist the Muslim community in fulfilling this important act of worship.
  • An important factor is the altitude of the moon at sunset. Generally, crescents lower than 8 degrees at sunset are not sighted. The Shawwal crescent will be only 4~5 degrees.
  • Another critical factor is the moonset lag – the time between sunset and moonset. A lag time of 40 minutes or so allows enough time for the crescent to be sighted. The Shawwal crescent has a lag time of only about 25 minutes, which makes it very difficult to sight.
  • Crescent visibility plots using the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) sighting criteria, based on years of research that the SAAO have conducted on crescent visibility in South Africa also indicate that this crescent will be easily visible only from West Africa, and the whole of Southern Africa is excluded from the visible zone.
  • Nevertheless, looking for the Hilaal is an act of worship of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and we urge and encourage one and all to go out and make your best effort to sight the Hilaal (moon).
  • The planet Mercury will be on the western horizon on the eve of sighting in the vicinity of the moon, and should not be mistaken for the Hilaal.

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UUCSA said a sighting decision cannot be taken until the last sighting region in the west of the country has been concluded.

“Therefore, it can take some time for UUCSA to come to a final decision on the Hilaal. We humbly request the public’s patience while these important deliberations are taking place. The process to come to such an important decision cannot be rushed.”

When will Eid-ul-Fitr be in 2022

If the moon is not sighted on Sunday, this will culminate in another night of prayer and another day of fasting.

Therefore, Eid will then be on Tuesday which would not require the sighting of the moon.

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