x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Scientist suggests using maths to mark Ramadan

Even on the day, religious leaders in different countries may disagree on when Ramadan begins.

 

ABU DHABI // Waiting anxiously for the thin crescent of the new moon to mark a month of fasting and faith, the Muslim world holds its breath.

Even on the day, religious leaders in different countries may disagree on when Ramadan begins.

All that could be settled, according to a scientist, if science and mathematical calculations set the calendar rather than tradition and eye-witness observations.

And the change is necessary to show that Muslim countries can integrate science into social and cultural life, he said.

Dr Nidhal Guessoum, an Algerian astrophysicist at the American University of Sharjah, has suggested using computer models to predict crescent visibility. He believes the reliance on the human eye or a telescope is an over-literal interpretation of Prophet Mohammed's instructions.

His ideas were published last week in Science magazine.

"Many of us, including a number of reformist Muslim scholars, argue that … the Prophet himself showed a readiness to adopt new, more practical solutions to various problems," he told The National. "Our lives are too complex for people to wait until August 29 to know whether August 30 is a holiday."

Dr Guessoum and a team at the Islamic Crescents' Observation Project, of which he is vice president, have developed computer models to predict the moon's position.

He suggests the use of a bi-zonal calendar that would more closely determine when the new crescent would be visible from the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. His hope is that a universal Islamic calendar would eventually be accepted by Islamic authorities.

The idea of using mathematical calculations rather than physical observations is nothing new, said Sheikh Musa Furber, a researcher and scholar of Islamic sciences with the Tabah Foundation in Abu Dhabi. Calculations are already common for predicting the sighting, but religious leaders would never agree to a predetermined calendar, he said.

"None of the reasons for changing the way it has always been done are religious, so as an Islamic scholar, it holds no weight for me," he said.

"Their entire argumentation is based on engineering and mathematics, and if you want to make an argument to change a policy concerning the Muslim community, it had better be based on religious methodology. Otherwise, the learned scholars will never accept it."

econroy@thenational.ae