By Johnny R. Lee, Ph.D.
Ramadan is one of five pillars of Islam, alongside the declaration of faith; prayer five times a day; alms-giving; and the pilgrimage to Mecca. It is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar during which, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, which is an exercise in self-restraint, aimed at making the rich experience the suffering of the less unfortunate.
Fasting is a must for all adult Muslims, unless someone is sick, is travelling, is having their menstrual cycle, is pregnant, diabetic, or elderly. During this time, the pre-dawn meal is referred to as ‘suhur‘ or ‘sahur’ and the feast that happens after a fast is broken at night is called ‘iftar‘.
Moonsighting in Bongao and other communities in Tawi-Tawi.
Before the onset of the holy month of Ramadan, preparations are underway such as sighting the ‘crescent’ or ‘hilal’ of the new moon. A Committee composed of religious leaders and devotees in the community are formed to watch the appearance of the crescent moon to mark the 1st day of the Holy month of Ramadan.
However there are still traditional practices of old when it comes to determine the 1st day of fasting. Aside from relying on the Gregorian calendar, where phases of the moon are clearly indicated, other religious community leaders will dig their old notes believed to contain records (‘padduman’) and ‘formula’ to determine the 1st day of Ramadan. Others in the remote areas are observing the movements of the tide – if it carries a certain floating powdery seaweed-like substance – an indicator to start the fasting period.
But for some Muslims devotees, especially the professional groups, who have the expertise and access to modern technology, more or less, understand the calculations of when and where the sighting occurs. Recorded data from the Moonsighting.com shows how the science of moon sighting is compared with the actual observations.
The different methods used and applied in the calculation of sighting of the first moon of Ramadan has caused a ‘divide’ even among the congregations of the same village or community. The observance of the first day of fasting could come a day, two or even three days apart from each other.
“The presence of numerous ‘hadiths’ on this issue only indicates that even the Companions and their later contemporaries differed about the start and end of Ramadan, such difference did not cause disunity among them, and so there is no reason why it should for us”, says one Muslim scholar. JRL