Can Sighting the Crescent Moon (Hilal) be projected into the Future: Open Letter to moonsighting.com
More and more school districts are considering making Eid-al-Fitr an official holiday on their school calendar, as well as accommodations for Ramadan. The conundrum with this for many districts is that they typically want their school calendars mapped out by the day for three to five years in advance. This presents a challenge because the changing of the months in the Islamic calendar is dependent on the sighting of the young waxing crescent that first follows the new moon, in Arabic it is called the hilal.
What can further be a problem is the impression that the visibility of the hilal can be mathematically projected into the future with perfection, therefore making it possible to predict and forecast onto a calendar. I have already spoken with one school district that took this approach and is now at risk of not actually having Eid set as a day off when they are intending to depending on how the days play out.
At root of the problem here is the perception amongst some may Muslims that the sighting of the hilal can be projected into the future and that therefore a simple Google search becomes sufficient for looking up the precise dates of when Ramadan will begin in the future and Eid will take place.
Where this perception exists, to the best that I can entail, it is a misinformed understanding and it is has been largely perpetuated by the website moonsighting.com and the network of people behind it. Therefore I have taken some time to examine the veracity of this website and that has resulted in me having some questions for them that I recently emailed to them and articulated in the letter that is pasted below. This also has many relevant links of information on this issue, and I am posting this in order for these links to be accessible to my followers on social media who may be directed here when I talk about this online.
From: Michael Abraham <email@example.com>
Date: Mar 20, 2023, 2:52 PM
Subject: Inquiry about site for projections in USA school calendars
Greetings, I am author of this book and I consult with schools across the United States about teaching Muslim students. Many school districts nowadays are considering making Eid-al-fitr an official holiday on their school calendar and are also very concerned with student and family accommodations cornering Ramadan when it arrives.
School districts typically like to be able to project their calendars out 3-5 years, so the veracity of your sight has become of great interest to me.
I have been looking into the issue of the hilal and the accuracy of projection for some time as a non-expert. It appears to me to be correct that what the United States Naval Observatory says here is correct, that it cannot be predicted with certainty.
Moonsighting.com seems to take on a very deterministic tone with regard to projecting into the future. Thus, there are a few questions I would like clarification on regarding your website.
On the home page there is a link to the “About Us” page that talks about Khalid Shaukat, the site’s founder, and quotes him or moonsighting.com as saying, “We, at Moonsighting.com through Moonsighting Committee Worldwide (MCW) collect and publish moonsighting reports from all over the world every month on the days of first crescent moonsighting. These sighting reports presented every month, consistently prove to match with the predicted Visibility Curves shown on the world map for every month since 1993.”
I am wondering what exactly is meant by “consistently prove to match” here. Does “consistently” here mean 100% of the time? Or more often that not? Or something else?
Elsewhere, specifically this article, Shaukat is quoted as saying “Recorded data shows how the science of moon sighting is compared with the actual observations. The results show that calculations of sighting and observations have matched every month since 1993”
I am not sure if that is definitively attributable to Mr. Shaukat since it is not on moonsighting.com, but I am wondering if “matching(ing) every month since 1993” is what is meant by “consistently prove to match” on moonsighting.com?
Reason I ask, I am curious about the predictions laid out on the website and how accurate they have actually been, specifically concerning predictions on the beginning of Ramadan.
I noticed that the Ramadan and Eid page on the website does not list any of the predictions that have been made in previous years, it only has them for future ones. But I used archive.org to access the content of that page as it appeared in previous years, which was available going back to 2014, and found that in both 2014 and 2018 the wrong date was predicted on the website.
2014: the site said, “Therefore first day of Ramadan is June 28, 2014 (Saturday), insha'Allah. First Tarawih prayer will be on Friday night” source: https://web.archive.org/web/20140403110427/https://moonsighting.com/ramadan-eid.html (screenshot attached also)
News records show that Taraweeh actually began on the 28th and fasting on the 29th. The announcement by Saudi is reported here, and the announcement by Pakistan is reported here. And actually on your own sight you have the first day of fasting listed as the 29th here.
In 2018, the sited said, “Therefore first day of Ramadan 1439 is on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, insha'Allah. First Tarawih prayer will be on Tuesday night.” source: https://web.archive.org/web/20180225020817/http://www.moonsighting.com/ramadan-eid.html
(screenshot attached also)
News records show that Taraweeh actually began on the 16th and the first day of fasting was the 17th. See the announcement by Saudi reported here, and the announcement by Pakistan is reported here.
Another question, last year on the page that tracks sighting for Ramadan, it says “On April 1, the moon may be seen with difficulty in Hawaii and Polynesian Islands”, this seems to contradict the prediction made here that taraweeh would be on April 1st, entailing the moon would be cited that day, or is the website saying that a sighting in Hawaii or the Polynesian Islands would trigger the advent of Ramadan?
Also, on that same sight it says “We have serious comments on the fact that according to the data produced by HMNAO - an historic branch of the Royal Observatory Greenwich - that the moon was actually scientifically impossible to be seen in Saudi, and indeed the UK, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, on Friday 1 April.”
A few questions regarding this, 1.) if it was projected to be scientifically impossible to see the moon in throughout all these places on that day, why was April 1st projected as the advent of Ramadan (with April 2nd as the first day of fasting) on the Ramadan and Eid page?
2.) The quote seems to suggest that sightings reported out of Saudi must have been unreliable due to it being scientifically impossible for the moon to be sighted. But my question on this, it appears to me that the visibility maps on moonsighting.com use Yallop’s method, as they seem to correlate to the maps used on this site by the Science Department of Universiteit Utrecht in the Netherlands. On that same site, they are very non-deterministic about the ability to project the crescent moon’s visibility. They also state about the maps generated from Yallop’s method “these world maps are only indicative and assume average observing conditions near sea-level. In rare cases of exceptional atmospheric transparency, such as can be found in dry desert-like regions and at high altitudes, it may be possible to view the lunar crescent outside the nominal visibility zones.”
According to multiple news reports, such as here and here, the moon was sighted in Saudi in Taif, which is over 6,000 feet above sea level…could it be that there is a discrepancy between the Yallop maps and the actual observations due to Yallop’s method assuming a viewing position near sea-level as stated by Universiteit Utrecht?
Also, the map put on this page above the statement about Saudi seems to indicate that the entire eastern hemisphere could not have viewed the moon at that time and it is stated that it according to HMNAO it was impossible to view from Saudi as well as Africa.
However, the United Ulema Council of South Africa, who according to this article (and on their website) require that the moon be viewed with the naked eye within South Africa, reported sighting the hilal in South Africa on April 1st, (screenshot attached too).
How is this reconciled?