Religion and science; the importance of sighting the new moon

Sent On: 
Fri, 2021-09-10
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The first light from the crescent moon determines the start of the lunar month which is of great importance to Islam and other religions. The start of Ramadan [Ramaḍān] and other religious obligations depend on a lunar calendar. It is thus understandable that the new moon has long been a matter of Muslim scholars.


Dr. Muhammad Al-Awsat Al-Ayari [Muḥammad al-Awsaṭ al-ʿAyārī], a scholar of Tunisian origin who contributed to most  of NASA’s space observatories, wrote a book titled “Sighting the Month,” that is challenging traditional methods of sighting the new moon.



             Books “Sighting the Month”                          Dr. Muhammad Al-Awsat Al-Ayari


Muslim scholars are holding on to the traditional methods of sighting since it is written:


يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ ۖ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ

“They ask you (O Muhammad) about the crescent moons. Say: They are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage.” (Qur’an 2: 189).


Sahih Al-Bukhari [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī] collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad [Muḥammad] and recorded that the Prophet once said: “Do fast when you sight the (crescent) moon, do not break your fast until you see the (crescent)  moon.”


How did Dr. al-ʿAyārī come to challenge these traditional moon sighting methods? He writes in an email on September 2, 2021, “During a visit to my hometown, a ten-year-old child came in the company of her father to my parents home to request that I solve the outstanding problem of the Islamic dates of celebrations. I was humbled by what she said:  "It is heartbreaking to see members of the same family divided on when to start fasting the month of Ramaḍān and when to celebrate the Eid [ʿĪd al-Fiṭr] -do you  know how to solve this problem?"  I told her the truth: I did not know. But I promised that I would try to answer her question. Little I knew this matter was about to commit extensive personal resources, continuous research work over two decades, and completely change my life. The young girl grew up, followed in my footsteps, and graduated from the same engineering school that I attended. In the meantime I was still working on her question :).


Today, a fundamental answer to her question rooted in science is finally provided in the book: "Sighting the Month," which has been translated to French and Arabic.” Tunisian humanitarian activist Ruqaya Al-Hafi [Ruqaya al-Ḥāfī] highly recommends reading this book in her book review for Arab-West Report.


The research of Dr. al-ʿAyārī has resulted in several surprises such as the exact time of Jesus' crucifixion, a clarification as to why the transition from the pre-Islamic Arabic calendar (lunisolar) to the Islamic calendar (Hijrī calendar -a pure lunar one) has generated confusion over the dates of the historic events of the emergence of Islam. Dr. al-ʿAyārī discovered that the prophet Muḥammad consistently celebrated Ramaḍān according to the old Arabic calendar, that is in the December time frame (short cool days) and not at different times around the year (including unbearable summers). The Islamic prophecy started in the holiest night in Islam, called Laylat al-Qadr (meaning the Night of Power, or the Night of Decree or Night of Destiny), the night that the Holy Virgin Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The Hajj [Ḥajj] used to take place at the spring equinox. “Did the followers of the Prophet make a huge misinterpretation of pertinent Qur’anic verses after his death? The answer is in the book,” Dr. al-ʿAyārī writes that he hopes that one day Muslims will also celebrate Christmas eve!   


There are several other findings and observations of historical value, including the identification of volcanic eruptions that preceeded the rise of Islam. The original Arabic calendar, Dr. Al-Ayari writes, “was in fact similar to the Coptic and Ethiopian Christian solar  calendars, but  was transformed into a lunisolar one  during the  conversion  of the people of Yemen to  Judaism.


The book takes the reader on a  journey through several disciplines: Practical Astronomy, Paleoastronomy, atmospheric optics, societal sciences, history,  religion and mathematics.”


Tunisian humanitarian activist Ruqaya al-Ḥāfī knows Dr. Muḥammad al-Awsaṭ al-ʿAyārī personally and wrote a review of his book for Arab-West Report.



Ruqaya Al-Hafi


Ruqaya al-Ḥāfī long wondered how God can be merciful and ask Muslims to fast during the hottest time of the year since with the lunar calendar Ramaḍān every so many years falls in the summer. She is grateful for the evidence provided by Dr. al-ʿAyārī that Ramaḍān should anually fall in the month of December.  She notes the discrepancy between traditional thinking and science and louds the efforts to Dr. al-ʿAyārī to reconcile both since this is, in Ruqaya al-Ḥāfī’s words, “a way to unite humanity. It reduces the chasm and social animosity, and has the ability to achieve world peace among peoples.”



September 10, 2021

Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report