This letter is addressed to all who were involved in the determination of Ramadan 1425 starting day.
Regretfully, I would like to inform you that your mission was unsuccessful.
In this letter I would like to explain how, why, and suggest how to prevent it from happening again. May Allah help us all. Aameen.
* Sighting details:
1- Location is Austin, TX on 10-14-04.
2- Sighting method: Naked eyes.3- Sighting time 7:03PM around sunset, for about 2 minutes.4- Crescent was to the right of Sun.5- Crescent was two fingers width (held at arms length) above horizon or 3 degrees.6- The curvature was from 9-to-12-to-3-O'Clock positions for the wife and from 10-to-12-to-2-O'Clock for the husband. This means the tips or edges of crescent were pointing downward? Later the wife said she was not sure about that.
As an experienced person, it took me just 10 seconds to tell that this sighting was NOT correct.
Part1: Why was it a false sighting:
Here is how an experienced astro consultant would have looked at this report. I put details to help the inexperienced. Also they are not arranged based on importance:
1-The moon’s elongation (spatial distance from sun) was too close to allow naked eye sighting. Notice that there were no other reports of sighting anywhere in the country, not even with binoculars, not even from the west or southwest where Moon will have aged by two more hours than it was in Austin. Aging by two hours means sighting moon will improve since moon is moving eastward at much faster speed than sun is. This will result in larger elongation or spatial separation between them, which means moon, will be further away from sun’s glare, hence easier to sight. This is why the more west you go the better the chance to sight moon. Two hours of aging means moon moved away from sun by one degree, this equals the size of two full moons stacked next to each other. This is not bad! In many cases this could be the difference between seeing and not seeing the crescent.
2- Sighting time looks suspicious. Why? Well, two reasons:
A- It is too close to sunset time. Sunset time in Austin was at 7:00PM, while moonset time was at 7:30PM. The best time to sight moon would have been in what I call “window of opportunity”. It is as far away from sunset time and sun’s glare as possible, but as earlier as possible before moon dips too close to horizon which is contaminated with atmospheric moisture, dust particles, smoke…etc. In this case best window of opportunity in Austin was somewhere between 7:15PM – 7:22PM. When someone says I saw crescent at 7:03PM when sun’s glare was high, but could not see it at 7:20PM when sun’s glare got lower, this raises my suspicion, because sky would have been darker at 7:20PM than it was at 7:03PM.
B- Issue of false crescent:
The time period: 10 minutes before sunset to 10 minutes after sunset is always suspicious especially if you live in city which has jetliner route and too close to an airport. From my observations I noticed that if these four conditions occur you “could” see false crescent:
Condition1: A jetliner changes altitude as it descends or ascends. This indicates the presence of nearby airport.
Condition2: At the same time it changes direction or curve sharply parallel to the viewer.
Condition3: The jetliner must be close to the western horizon.
Condition4: The time must be around sunset (-10 to +10 Minutes). If jetliner is curving toward you the lit part of the false crescent will be pointing toward sun, which will make it look very genuine crescent to the inexperienced. If jetliner is curving away from you, the false crescent will be pointing toward you (backward looking crescent), which is similar to what the husband and wife reported earlier, before people put words into wife’s mouth which made her say she was not sure.
Luckily, false crescent has some characteristics that smart astro-consultant will use in order to verify whether the person reporting the sighting saw true or false crescent:
1- False crescent is always solid and steady. This means if you take your eyes away from it, then look back, you will find it again with ease. This is in contrast with real crescent, which is very elusive and hard to re-find once you take your eyes away from it.
2- Average deceptive time of false crescent is 3-5 minutes
This is because it is made up of smoke or vapor and it is dependent on light and wind. There are two ways in which false crescent disappears:
A- Wind will shuffle it and make it loses its crescent-like shape. This is the gradual way.
B- The sun gets deeper below horizon, thus cutting light off it. It becomes very whitish in color similar to the background near the horizon. The result is that the false crescent disappears almost suddenly. This is similar to what husband and wife reported.
3- They reported that sighting time of 7:03PM around sunset, for about 2 minutes before moonset. This is NOT correct. The moon did not set few minutes after sunset, it set 30 minutes after sunset.
4- They reported that moon was about two fingers width (held at arms length) above horizon. This is about 3 degrees at most. This is NOT true. The moon was more than 6.5 degrees above ground around sunset time!!!
5- They reported crescent was to the right of Sun. This is totally FALSE and contradicts with basic astro facts. Here is why: After the new moon birth, moon always moves ahead of sun eastward.
Between Dec. 21 and June 21, Sun moves toward us in the northern hemisphere. This is northward movement. The opposite happens between June 21 to Dec. 21 where sun is moving away from us toward southern hemisphere, or southward movement. When moon moves eastward after new moon time, it is actually moving ahead of sun on its yearly path (the ecliptic). It takes sun 365 days to do complete circle on the ecliptic. It takes moon only about 29.5 days. This means when moon’s age is 24 hours, it has moved ahead of sun by just over what it will take sun to accomplish in 12 solar days on average.
Now, since sun is moving southward this time of year, this means in Oct. 26 (Oct. 14 + 12days) sun will be more southward than it was on Oct. 14.
This means moon was to the LEFT of sun on Oct. 14. Calculations confirm that. I say to the left because when moon observer looks toward west, his right side will point toward north, his left side toward south, and his back toward east. This is basic “direction” rule.
I must mention here that the above explanation is valid mainly during eclipse months. There was an eclipse on Oct. 14. Reason is because moon’s orbit is tilted by 5 degrees to sun’s ecliptic path which means new moon could be up to 5 degrees north of sun (to right of sun) even during period between June21 and Dec. 21. It also could be up to 5 degrees south of it (to left of sun). This tilt is why we do not have eclipses every new moon. During eclipse month this tilt is zero, which will make above explanation valid. There are two opportunities a year when moon crosses sun’s path during new moon as it moves from +5 degrees tilt or north of sun path to –5 degrees tilt or south of sun path and vice versa. These are called nodes. The moon spends 6 months north of sun’s ecliptic, and 6 months south of it.
Following the Oct. 14 eclipse the moon will spend the next 6 months being south of sun’s ecliptic path until next eclipse.
6- At sunset time in Austin, TX moon was about 9.5 degrees to the south of sun. Since full moon size is about half degree, 9.5 degrees will equal 19 full moons stacked next to each other to sun’s left. This is long distance between sun and moon in sky! When someone claims to have sighted moon to the right side of sun, they are way...way...way off!!!
7- They reported the curvature was from 9-to-12-to-3-O'Clock positions for the wife and from 10-to-12-to-2-O'Clock for the husband. This means the tips or edges of crescent were pointing downward? Later the wife said she was not sure about that! This above curvature is telling us that they saw the dark side of moon pointing toward sun, while the lit part was pointing away. This is good indication of false crescent sighting as I described earlier.
Part2: Flaws, and how to correct them:
I will show the ideal process of determining the start/end of Ramadan.
As I do, I will compare it with the current approach to show you the problems.
a. The process of determining the start/end of Ramadan starts by determining the start of the month of Shaban. This is done to determine the day of accepted sighting of Ramadan’s hilal in North America (the 29th day of Shaban). Many countries have different dates, and this causes confusion. There must be clear official announcement made within the first week of Shaban.
Many countries do that, but I have always struggled to find one in North America.
b. The committee in charge of determining the start/end of Ramadan must have “ODD” number of astro consultants to prevent tie. Right now when one consultant rejects sighting, and the other accepts it, the committee gets confused and resolve it by simply siding with the one who is in accordance with most Middle Eastern countries.
In congress the vice president is always the tiebreaker. In federal reserve open committee they have 9 voting members.
c. Only astro consultants should call witnesses to ask about sighting details. Committee members should avoid questioning witnesses because they do not know how to ask the correct questions and to avoid “memory contamination”. In our case when committee members called the “wife” to ask her about crescent curvature orientation, they actually unknowingly contaminated her memory. The most authenticated and purist part of any sighting report is when first reported. Any change of mind afterward is just sign of contaminated memory. The wife definitely saw crescent. It was false crescent. So when you call her to question the curvature, you put her in tough situation. She is 100% sure she saw crescent, so to avoid rejecting her sighting which she believes to be true, she will have to doubt her own sighting memory details. Once doubts come in, anything comes from this witness is contaminated. Notice that she did not even reverse the curvature details, she just said she was not sure, which might give hint that she still believes the crescent curvature reported earlier (which is wrong) was correct. Also, the fact that two people gave the wrong crescent curvature is really sign of confidence from them, and basis for rejection of the sighting.
d. Astro consultants should try to preserve the purity of the sighting report. This means when astro consultant calls witness, he should never use words like: are you sure moon was to right of sun? Or: the moon should have been to left side of sun not to right…etc. Astro consultant can, however, use this tactic to double check that an eyewitness did not simply make verbal mistake while telling what he/she saw:
“Ok, the crescent that you saw was to right of sun, not to left, did I get it right?”
e. Do not try the philosophy of “united start/end of Ramadan with Middle East”. It should be understood by all committee members that Islamic governments do not practice Islam correctly. One of the malpractice parts is the issue of start/end of Ramadan. Hence following anyone of them will likely lead to errors. Trying to follow the majority is meaningless because it is “unity in committing error”. Having 1 being correct and 50 being wrong, is always better than having 51 all of them are wrong! Remember we are required to sight crescent in order to start/end Ramadan. Having united day is not a requirement especially that we are oceans apart and do not really share day or night, which will make it astronomically impossible to always have united days with them.
f. The committee must have credible astro consultants. After mentioning the above details, I think the astro consultant who told you that all sighting info that were given was approximately correct except the issue of crescent curvature??? (he also said that on his web page) I think this astro consultant is NOT credible, and should have no business being part of this process. Saying “moon was to right of sun” is very serious gross error. Saying “moon set few minutes after sunset” is gross error. Saying “moon was only 3 degrees above horizon after sunset” is an error…etc.
This same astro consultant has had long history of bad calls. He has made millions over the year’s fast extra days! He is very divisive figure. I have spoken with him before, and he always has two arguments:
1- It does not matter what day we start, they are all ok. If you want to start tomorrow it is fine; there are many Muslims who are doing that. The only thing that matters is our intentions.
2- When there are mistakes in the reported sighting, they are probably because the witness is inexperienced, and we should not take this issue seriously.
I will answer the first one in # g and the second in # h.
g. Determining start/end of Ramadan is very serious issue. Making error will make many people either fast extra day, or break fast one day earlier. I heard Fatwa long time ago by Hassan Ayyoub who was famous scholar.
One person asked him what do you say if someone forged start or end of Ramadan?
He said” if person makes people fast extra day knowingly all who fasted that day will get their reward for fasting, and getting tired, thirsty, hungry.. etc, but he will get sins for everyone of them. The reverse is true when making them break fast one day earlier. Also, this person will be written in the book of Allah as liar, because if there were 10 millions who fasted that day, then he has committed 10 million lies in one instant. This is a person who had lied to the Muslim ummah” What happened on 10-14-04 was very close to forgery if not real forgery! An astro consultant gave his approval to a bogus sighting, except the issue of crescent curvature. Then committee members tried to make the wife change her mind. She did not change her mind; instead she said she was not sure. The husband was not home to change his mind, then it was declared that there were two crescent sighting reports from Autin,TX. Also there was the claim that it was possible to sight crescent with naked eyes, which is not true!
This whole thing was so pathetic.
I also would like to ask this question: how could this astro consultant be credible if he believes the outcome does not matter?
h. Mistakes in eyewitness initial report DO matter. The argument that people who are reporting crescent sighting are inexperienced, so when there are errors in their report we just simply ignore them, this argument is nonsense. My answer to it is: why do we bother to take any crescent sighting report to begin with? why not just always start Ramadan the next day following the 29th of shaban? If we get correct sighting report then we are ok, if we get bogus report we will also start the next day, because the person reporting this sighting was definitely inexperienced!
I would like to stress one point: if a sighting report has errors, and you accepted it, then you have committed forgery!. Other excuses such as unity with other Middle Eastern countries, or Moon can be sighted with naked eyes do not count! My rule is: if you want to bend the rules, there are many numbers of excuses available to you!
In the old dark days of the 80’s, every mosque in North America had its own start/end of Ramadan dates. Many times there were three different Eid-ul Fitr prayers in the same city!!! Gradually, during the 90’s many Imams started to follow ISNA to avoid these problems and get Muslims united. Thanks to efforts of so many unknown (to me) good people.
Imams and people put their trust in ISNA. It is necessary for ISNA to live up to this trust The way Ramadan starting date was determined this year was anything but trustworthy. This is not the first time major mistake had occurred. Just two years ago the same astro consultant accepted crescent sighting from two Arizona buddies which was wrong, and angered so many. This can’t keep going on forever. People has limit on how much mistakes they are willing to swallow from ISNA. Determining start/end of Ramadan correctly is not rocket science! I hope I have succeeded in showing you things from the eye of the experienced so that you will have different look at things the next time around and avoid making mistakes. I also do hope you will implement changes and corrections mentioned earlier, to your flawed process. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at
By Dr. Imad ad-Dean Ahmad