The annual Muslim festival, which is around one month long, begins this month, and approximately one quarter of the world’s population will be observing the practice, which includes fasting during daylight hours.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar: each month begins when there is a new moon. Consequently, the month of Ramadan begins when there is a new moon.
But when Islam began, astronomy, and therefore accurate lunar calendars, did not exist, and so the months – including Ramadan – would begin when the first crescent moon was sighted.
Traditionally, Muslims do not follow lunar calendars, but rely on actual sightings of the moon shape their calendar.
Nowadays, Muslim officials tend to combine the two methods: they will predict when the moon is likely to be sighted using the lunar calendar and this helps to organise festivities in their respective countries. However, many countries have committees who will look for the moon in the sky, and usually won’t announce the start of the month until they have spotted it themselves.
Some countries that don’t have a committee will follow that of Saudi Arabia, and some Muslims choose to follow Saudi Arabia regardless of whether their country has its own committee – this a matter of personal religious preference.
The Islamic Crescent Observation UK (ICOSUK), have formed their own, UK specific committee for Muslims who wish to follow the calendar according to sightings in this country, rather than that of Saudi Arabia who may see the moon at different times due to the way it orbits around the earth.
Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, have announced that Ramadan will begin today, Monday 6 June.
The ICOUK, however, have announced that the official UK start date is tomorrow, Tuesday 7 June.
Geographical disparity can cause much confusion when it comes to the Islamic calendar, and this is often complicated further by the scientific lunar calendar. This is simply because new moons are very small, and so may not be visible in the sky on the first day.
For various reasons, including ease of organisation, some Muslims may choose to simply follow the lunar calendar rather than waiting for a sighting. The calendar will provide set dates, which will not change, and they will not have to rely on a sightings committee.
Which day to begin fasting and other practices is largely a personal choice, though it may be influenced by certain factors, such as which mosque a person belongs to, or what denomination of Islam they follow.
A spokesperson from the Muslim Association of Britain said: “In the old days, people didn’t have any connection to other parts of the world.
“You had to go and find the moon. If you see it, then you start. If you don’t, then you wait.
“In the technological age, if the moon is visible in one part of the world, then the rest of the world can follow, you don’t necessarily have to wait to see for yourself.”
In the UK there is much diversity within the Muslim community, and so not everyone in this country will begin Ramadan at the same time. When you start depends on your denomination, and it may also depend on your family’s country of origin, for instance a family from Bangladesh may wish to observe the Bangladeshi calendar, even if they are living in the UK.
“There are three million Muslims in the UK, and most of them are from different countries,” the spokesperson said.
“Some prefer to follow their home country. If you live in London, you might go with the London central mosque.”
Ultimately, they said, it is more important to carry the message of Ramadan than get caught up in starting on the right day.
“Ramadan is like a refresher course,” they said. “It’s supposed to make you a better person.”
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