In northern Nigeria, there is a debate within the Muslim community on just how to calculate the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadan. The 30 day period is used for fasting, and is capped by the festival of Ed-el-fitr, or breaking of the fast.
The traditional method mentioned in the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and followed by Prophet Mohammed, is to look up at the sky and visibly sight the crescent moon, or hilal, in Arabic. That is said to be the formal beginning of Ramadan.
But some are asking what happens when some in one geographical area see the moon, but those in other areas do not ?
Sheik Muhammadu Nasiru Adam is the head Imam of Sheik Ahmadu Tijjani Jum'at mosque at Kofar Mata in Kano.
He says Islam has a clear position on moon sighting.
"Islam clearly explains (its views on) the sighting of the moon for fasting and for the Ed-el-fitr festival. The Prophet of God (peace be upon Him) says: one (observes) fasting (after confirming) the moon has been sighted and (one)keeps fasting (until) the sighting of the moon (again) for Ed-el-Fitr.
" (The Koran says) if there is a cloud formation that blocks the sighting of the moon or thunderstorms that covers (it), then complete the month of Shaaban to 30 days or complete Ramadan to 30 days before Ed-el-Fitr," he says.
Sheik Muhammed bn Othman is a reknowned Muslim scholar and preacher. He is the Imam of Usman bin Aufan Jum'at mosque at Kundila Housing Estate, Zaria Road, Kano. He agrees with Sheik Mohammadu Nasiru Adam.
Sheik Mohammed bin Othman say anyone can sight the moon but for the break of the fast, two men are required as witnesses.
"The ulama said that a single man can testify and tell people …he has sighted the moon (especially) if that person has a good reputation. The imir in charge can make this known to the public and fasting can be done the following day. (But two men are required) when it is time to break the fast...," he said.
The Islamic Shura Council of North America and the Fiqh Council of North America have a slightly different position.
They say that a confirmed sighting of the crescent moon in North America will be accepted as long as such a report does not contradict indisputable astronomical information.
The national coordinator of the Islamic Society of North America, Syed Khalid Shaukat, is quoted as saying, “In the present era of scientific and technological advancement, three decades after man landed on the moon, some Muslims are still avoiding the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar. (Instead) they have to wait till midnight for a confirmation of a moon sighting.”
Shaukat says the results of scientific moon sightings and observations with the naked eye have matched every month since 1993. He says the results show that with today’s technology, calculations are more accurate than claims of sighting. He says calculations for sighting represent surety (haqqul-yaqeen) while claims of sighting may be suspicion (zann), or a mistake. For example, today there are many man-made objects in the sky that might be mistaken for the moon.
He says the Muslim holy book, the Sharia, did not intend the sighting of the crescent moon to be a requirement, but rather a tool available to Muslims of past eras. His opponents say the physical sighting of the moon was prescribed by Allah (God), and can not be changed.
The Fiqh Council of North America has set up a system in which scientists examine the claims of anyone who claims to have seen the moon.
Reporter Isiyaku Ahmed asked some people in the streets of Kano for their opinions:
"So many traditions came from the holy prophet (sallalaihi wassalama) and even there is an ayya (verse) which says that ('wuman shaidan munkushahara falya sunhu') when the moon is sighted you should fast. With regards to that, when it has been confirmed that the moon is sighted especially by the Emir, I start my fast."
"I fast during Ramadan, but I normally wait until I sight the moon. This has been the tradition I grew up to min my community, but why would you fast if you don't see the moon? People have different understandings."
" Usually, when it is time we are all excited, we prepare food that we will eat late night and then wait for the announcement for the the sighting of the moon. When that is done, we make some calls to friends and relatives who are outside Kano to make sure that they know that the moon has been sighted; we say our niyya and begin the day."