By the time you’re reading this, the suspense regarding moon sighting last night should not be a news of surprise to anyone. The National Moon Sighting Committee (whatever their purpose may be) has literally one job to do and people who celebrate Eid cannot trust them to do even that one right. That brings us to question the entire stunt of moon sighting. How did it come to be? How logical are the old methods and what do science and common sense say? Let’s take a look at the facts.
What is a new moon?
Not a Twilight movie. A new moon is a common astronomical phenomenon that takes place periodically in a process known as the moon cycle. A new moon occurs, after a complete cycle, when the surface of the moon facing the earth is completely away from the sun so that no sunlight reflects off it. This phase, logically, is not visible.
The start of a new lunar month begins when the first light from the crescent moon is observed. This happens 11-15 hours after the new moon. This is our cherished “Eid moon” and our centre of all the circus.
Do different places on earth observe different phases of the moon?
A common misconception, but no. Of course, because our earth is spherical, the crescent moon cannot be observed from everywhere on earth. The lunar phases occur at the same time no matter where you are. The only issue, naturally, is of the visibility.
From the parts where it will be visible, the same phase will be visible to all.
Our reluctance to scientific methods and common sense
In the past, a naked eye sighting of the moon marked the beginning of Shawwal and Eid day. The religion wasn’t spread worldwide like today and it was fairly easy to keep track of things for a comparatively smaller community. Modes of communication between faraway communities were extremely limited and each community relied on their own sighting to mark Eid day.
We no longer need to rely on our eyes to know the moon cycle. Thanks to the modern apparatus of science, we know how the moon cycle works and when the new moon will come up. So what bars the Islamic scholars from following this simple, harmless calculation?
If the crescent moon is sighted from any corner of the world, that means the month of Shawwal has begun.
Now that we’re in the clear, Eid Mubarak to those who’re celebrating. Those who are not, happy holidays!