Eid al Fitr celebrations begin today following confirmation last night of the official sighting of the new moon, marking the end of Ramadan. The moon-sighting committee announced the beginning of Eid from the Abu Dhabi Judiciary building at about 8.30pm. According to Islamic tradition, the sighting of a new moon determines the end of Ramadan and start of a new month. Families who have been fasting during daylight hours for the holy month were to gather at Abu Dhabi mosques at 4.49am tomorrow for the dawn prayer. This is followed by the Eid prayer which, traditionally, takes place outdoors. Then families congregate for a day of feasts and celebration, as couples visit their parents and children receive gifts. "It has been determined that Eid begins on Tuesday," said Dr Hadef bin Jua'an al Dhaheri, the Minister of Justice, at the official announcement after last night's meeting of the Shawwal Crescent Committee. The sighting marks the official start of a three-day holiday period. Today, tomorrow and Thursday are public holidays, followed by a normal weekend. All businesses and government departments are expected to go back to work after the festive period on Sunday. Today also marks the beginning of Shawwal, the 10th month in the Islamic calendar. "After exhausting all legitimate methods and making contacts with neighbouring countries, the Shawwal moon was sighted," the committee said in a statement released by the state news agency, WAM. To mark the start of the festivities, the committee's members extended congratulations to the country's rulers, the people of the UAE and Muslims around the world. "The Islamic month is tied to the moon," said Hasan al Hariri, head of the Dubai Astronomy Group. "This way, God made it easy for humanity. No calendar, no counting days, just follow the moon." Astronomical calculations dating back to early Islamic times can determine with some accuracy when the moon will be sighted by the naked eye. "Astronomers do not come up with contradictory calculations. They use maths and science to arrive at the same answer," said Mr Hariri. "But astronomers do not call Ramadan and Eid. That is the job of muftis." The moon-sighting committee meets if there is the slightest chance of a sighting because, by tradition, when the new moon can be seen by the naked eye, a new month has begun. Uncertainty about when Eid will begin remains until the very last minute, with contradictory reports, rumours and media speculation. However, last night's committee's meeting was not in vain and the sighting of a tiny sliver of the new moon was confirmed. Different countries often call Ramadan and Eid on different days. This year, Iran and Oman began Ramadan a day after the UAE and other GCC countries. Each year the UAE ensures its timings match Saudi Arabia as a display of "unity for the Arabian peninsula", according to one official. The Emirates is an hour behind Saudi Arabia, which means the Emirati moon-sighting committee broke their fast then waited for the Saudi committee to break theirs before they could begin communicating. Other nations, however, are likely to choose a different date. Nigeria, for example, started its Eid celebrations yesterday. firstname.lastname@example.org
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