South-East Asian Islamic scholars have achieved a remarkable feat in developing an effective methodology for determining Hijri calendar dates. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, since 1992, have calculated in advance Ramadhan, Eidul-Fitri and Eidul-Adha dates, then validated them by crescent (hilal) sightings. For 15 years, predicted and actual sighting dates coincided, confirming correctness of the methodology. It deserves close consideration by Australian imams.
Their method of calculation (hisab) of sighting possibility (imkanur-ru’ya f’il hilal), combined with actual sighting (ru’ya), has been tested and validated, thereby raising confidence in their imkanur-ru’ya determinations from zannu (probable) to qa’ti (definitive) in fiqhi terms.
Malaysia tried different approaches over 50 years in deciding the current method.
Its National Islamic Affairs Council under jurisdiction of the Rulers’ Conference, comprising the King and State Rulers, adopted the Istanbul Declaration 1978 regarding sighting criteria, that the crescent can be visible if at sunset its altitude above the horizon is ≥5° and separation (elongation) between sun and moon is ≥8°.
In 1992, criteria were modified so that an acceptable hisab calculation must satisfy EITHER During sunset, hilal altitude is ≥2° and elongation is ≥3°, OR At moon-set, moon age is ≥8 hours. Beginning 1995, all Hijri months used these criteria.
In furthering scientific research, a consortium of JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia), University Malaya, Survey and Mapping Department Malaysia, and Negeri Sembilan Mufti’s Office, led by Islamic astronomer, Prof Dato’ Mohd Zambri bin Zainuddin, collected crescent visibility data using telescope, theodolite and naked eye.
Benefitting from this accumulating data, new Malaysian sighting criteria beginning Muharram 1443H will insha’Allah officially be ≥3° altitude and ≥6.4° elongation.
Imkanur-ru’ya calculations are done using Accurate Times forecasting software, the software adopted to calculate official prayer times in Jordan and UAE.
The software is written by Mohammad Odeh of the International Astronomical Center.
Religious Ministers of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (MABIMS) periodically confer, including on Islamic astronomy (falak).
In Malaysia, JAKIM director-general hosts a twice-yearly meeting of the Experts Falak Panel (state representatives and university experts), to discuss possible imkanur-ru’ya dates for Ramadhan and the two Eids, and decides for each.
Subsequently, a regional meeting of MABIMS Falak representatives is held to discuss and agree upon certain calculated dates, which are used by their governments to pre-determine festival dates (TBC = to be confirmed). These appear in diaries available worldwide.
Leading-up to the calculated dates, sightings by competent observers occur across Malaysia at 29 observation sites covering a distance comparable to the breadth of Australia.
Precise bearings for anticipated sightings are accurately predetermined based on observatory location.
Official declaration live on television and radio of the beginning of Ramadhan, Shawwal, Dhul-Hijjah is made by Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, once results of crescent visibility are provided by the observer team.
Permissibility for accepting telescopic sightings was agreed at the International Hijri Calendar Union Congress 2016 in Istanbul, and also by Hanbali fiqh.
It follows the usul-al-fiqhi principle that most Islamic texts provide general provisions, not specific details, that allow varying implementation according to time, place, and circumstance (Qaradawi).
From this position, optical instruments are acceptable ru’ya aids in facilitating the earliest hilal determination, a worthy objective.
The successful approach taken by Malaysian imam-scholars, with calculated imkanur-ru’ya dates validated by sightings, is believed to offer a fiqhi-acceptable method for consideration for use in Australia.
Malaysian scholars show willingness to demonstrate the methodology to Australian Imams.
This writer thanks Professor Zambri for kindly sharing details of the Malaysian approach for lunar determinations.
Dr Daud has been a representative of notable falak scholar, Prof Mohammad Ilyas, beginning 1996, and at times conveyed Elyas’s imkanur-ru’ya diagrams to Australian imams.