July 19, 2012
Posted: 1636 GMT
Muslims around the world begin fasting on Friday in observation of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam when the faithful abstain from eating food or drinking water from sunrise to sunset.
If, that is, Ramadan actually begins on Friday.
Every year, identifying the start of Ramadan is like a waiting game; Islamic scholars must see the new crescent moon in the night skies before the holy month officially begins.
Unlike the Gregorian (or Western) calendar, the Islamic calendar is based on lunar patterns. And the lunar month begins with the sighting of a new moon.
This annual – and greatly anticipated – announcement is typically made by Islamic authorities in each country (although many countries in the Middle East follow the moon sightings of scholars in Saudi Arabia).
But with all the technological advancements of the 21st century, why can’t scholars predict the exact date the moon will appear?
They can – astronomers have the technology to actually see the shape of the moon in broad daylight, even with high humidity, pollution, and even sand in the air.
But some Islamic jurists and clerics refuse to announce the arrival of Ramadan until they have seen the new moon with their own eyes.
Additionally, the validity of these high-tech methods is creating a debate among Muslim scholars and jurists, according to astrophysicist and astronomy professor Nidhal Geussoum, of the American University in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
Adding to the confusion: in some countries, like Sweden or Norway, the sun does not set at all in the summer.
Muslims in countries like those have two options, according to Geussoum. The first, he says, is to go with whatever date is announced in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, considered to be the holiest city in Islam. The second is to begin Ramadan with the moon sighting nearest to them, Geussoum adds.
Here in the UAE, many Muslims are still waiting for an official announcement from the local religious authorities, who will most likely also coordinate with religious authorities in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Many here still don't know when exactly Ramadan will start. And most conversations around this time of the year all begin and end the same way:
‘So, when does Ramadan start?’