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View Full Version : Muslims in a mess over the Moon



parallaxicality
2011-Sep-07, 08:30 AM
To summarise: The festival of Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fast of Ramadan, must, according to the dictates of the Prophet Mohammad, fall on the first day the crescent of the new Moon is visible to the naked eye. Traditionally, the date would be called by stargazers in each local community and, since the timing of the rising of the Moon varies with geographical position and local topography, Eid tended to fall on separate dates. However, in recent years Muslims, or at least Sunnis, have tended to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia in determining the end of Ramadan, so that all Muslims can celebrate on the same day.

Now, however, there is consternation about the Saudi stargazers' call of Eid on the 29th of August. Several astronomers pointed out that the Moon would not have been visible after sunset and so a sighting on that day would have been impossible. Some have speculated that the stargazers saw Saturn instead, though I find it difficult to see how one could mistake Saturn for the Moon. The Iranians, who don't follow Saudi Arabia's lead, have lept on the "mistake" and claimed that the Saudi authorities would pay a holy fine for eating on Ramadan. Saudi scholars, incensed at being called out, have stated that the naysayers are, "motivated and deviated people with foul mouths that cast doubt on our religion and should be silenced".

Link (http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=236772)

Link (http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=9006110174)

Link (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-stargazers-accused-of-bungling-dates-of-ramadan-2349805.html)

Link (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/05/astronomers-query-ramadan-end)

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-07, 11:52 AM
I'm particularly intrigued in the Persian link by the quote
"The vice-president of Jeddah Astronomy Society reassured that it is impossible to view the Hilal with the naked eye." (The Hilal is the New Moon). Makes you wonder what they did before telescopy was invented, or whether this is just another way of saying "you cannot verify what I say is true".

"Several astronomers pointed out that the Moon would not have been visible after sunset and so a sighting on that day would have been impossible." I wonder how impossible? Have there not been recent cases of "impossible sightings", in particular in places where the sun is not visible in midwinter, where there have been claims that the sun has been visible a day or two earlier than the astronomical prediction? This can happen due to unusual atmospheric conditions refracting the sun's rays into line of sight, or people not being in the exact place the astronomers calculated for and thus having a different topography to affect sight lines, or the topography changing due to major landslides, etc.

It sounds like what the astronomers are saying is that the time of moonset was before the time of sunset, so although the moon was already new at sunset, you can't sight it then because it has already set. But if the astronomers were in a location that caused the times of apparent sunset and moonset to be somewhat different, for reasons of topography, or whatever, then maybe for them locally apparent sunset preceded apparent moonset, if those times were sufficiently close together. It makes some sort of sense because you would expect the times of sunset and moonset to be fairly close at new moon, particularly not so far from the equinox.

TonyE
2011-Sep-07, 12:08 PM
A/C my planetarium software the Moon did set more than 1 minute later than the Sun on the 29 Aug in Saudi. At that time it was about 15 minutes of RA east of the Sun but about 7.5 degrees south. Exact figures would depend on where exactly in Saudi the observation was made and at what altitude.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-07, 12:30 PM
OK, I've just read the bottom of OP's 4 links now, I didn't bother before, it is much more careful than the other ones. Apparently the traditional requirement is for a "naked eye" sighting. That is what the Jeddah astronomer was actually saying - the new moon was astronomically present (edit) after sunset, but it could not possibly have been seen with the naked eye in such a brief instant and so close to the sun. That is consistent with TonyE's calculation (thanks Tony).

So, on this occasion, it looks like the Saudis have announced Ramadan on the basis of an astronomical new moon, rather than a naked eye one, which is something they have in the past apparently said they wouldn't do.

Hornblower
2011-Sep-07, 01:10 PM
OK, I've just read the bottom of OP's 4 links now, I didn't bother before, it is much more careful than the other ones. Apparently the traditional requirement is for a "naked eye" sighting. That is what the Jeddah astronomer was actually saying - the new moon was astronomically present before sunset, but it could not possibly have been seen with the naked eye in such a brief instant and so close to the sun. That is consistent with TonyE's calculation (thanks Tony).

So, on this occasion, it looks like the Saudis have announced Ramadan on the basis of an astronomical new moon, rather than a naked eye one, which is something they have in the past apparently said they wouldn't do.

Perhaps the Saudis acted in haste and accepted what they thought was a reliable report of an actual sighting, without doing a sanity check to make sure it was geometrically possible.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-07, 02:21 PM
Sorry, Hornblower, I mixed up "before" and "after" in my previous post (now corrected), thought one thing and wrote another.

The new moon was geometrically present; the "difficulty" is that if it was detected, it must have been seen with the assistence of astronomical instruments, not with the unaided eye.

So we need to be clear: the "mistake" that some are denouncing is not the declaration of a geometrically impossible new moon. Rather they are claiming that it cannot have been detected by methods the complainers consider doctrinally permissible.

I suspect that the accusation that they saw Saturn instead is some generic abuse; it isn't plausible when you understand what is going on here.

Buttercup
2011-Sep-07, 04:09 PM
Saudi scholars, incensed at being called out, have stated that the naysayers are, "motivated and deviated people with foul mouths that cast doubt on our religion and should be silenced".

Typical of religionists: Agree or else! Don't you dare doubt or question!

Be silenced HOW? Let me guess...it's shiny and sharp.

grapes
2011-Sep-07, 04:33 PM
Typical of religionists: Agree or else! Don't you dare doubt or question!

Be silenced HOW? Let me guess...it's shiny and sharp.Don't do that. Obviously, this is a mine field, but any posts that focus solely on the religious aspects of it will be infracted.

Githyanki
2011-Sep-07, 07:29 PM
And this gentlemen, is how wars start...


It's easy for a guy with basic mathematical-skills to determine when the Moon will be crescent, but if they have to actually observe according to their religious by-laws, then they must.

pzkpfw
2011-Sep-07, 09:35 PM
And thus an infraction is earned by Githyanki

fcunnane
2011-Sep-08, 05:24 AM
Hi, there are many problems with lunar and solar years etc. Do some reading, check it out objectively. Also, there may be enough solar years vs. lunar years to make a difference. Maybe even a fraction of time exists due to the rate of orbit differences over so many years...

astromark
2011-Sep-08, 09:23 AM
I have little doubt that a 'sensible' time period after the New Moon, can the moon be viewed as a slim slither...

with the unaided eye.. That the tradition implies that the festival is not over until the new moon is viewed..

Some of these cultural groups do not question the elder of the house..

If they are told its been viewed, then that is not challenged. Yes a mistake might be made this way..

It would not be the first or last time some confusion interrupts the normal flow of events...

I do have some objection to the discussion of thing's religious.. Its just better not to.

With respect and tolerance.. Mark.

Hornblower
2011-Sep-08, 12:39 PM
Hi, there are many problems with lunar and solar years etc. Do some reading, check it out objectively. Also, there may be enough solar years vs. lunar years to make a difference. Maybe even a fraction of time exists due to the rate of orbit differences over so many years...

I cannot figure out your line of thought in this post, and I do not see whatever it is as relevant. We know that conjunction was at 3:04 Universal Time (UT) August 291, and that the next sunset in Saudi Arabia was about 12 to 13 hours later. Sightings of the Moon less than 20 hours after conjunction are very rare, and only under favorable geometric conditions with the Moon directly over the setting Sun or nearly so.

The geometry here is nearly the worst possible for the northern hemisphere. The Moon's path was well to the south of the ecliptic at that point and diverging slightly from it, and the ecliptic was near the minimum inclination to the horizon in the annual cycle. My sketch for Riyadh's latitude places the Moon nearly on the horizon at the moment of sunset. I fully agree with astronomers who concluded that a sighting was physically impossible and that the observers were mistaken.

1Sky and Telescope, August 2011