While many Muslims are fasting today to mark the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when followers fast from dawn to sunset, many others are postponing their fasts after star-gazers failed to spot a new crescent moon over North America and many Islamic countries last night (July 8), when Ramadan was expected to begin.

The Islamic year is based on the lunar cycle, with a new moon signaling the start of a new month, and is about 10 days shorter than the solar-based Gregorian calendar.

The Islamic Society of North America, a major Islamic group based in Indianapolis, said several weeks ago that, according to astronomical calculations, Ramadan would begin with the birth of a new moon on July 8, at 12:16AM. The group’s Islamic law council affirmed that position today in a statement.

“On the basis of these facts, those who agree that astronomical calculations are an acceptable method of deterring the Islamic lunar months, including Ramadan and Shawwal, should not have any confusion because of the decision of some countries overseas.”

Yet many Muslims reject astronomical calculations as a means of tracking the moon. They insist that for a new month to begin, the new moon must be sighted by the human eye, as was done in the time of Prophet Muhammad, Islam’s 7th-century founder.

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, for example, goes by moon sighting, known as “hilal,” over Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace, and said in a statement today that no moon had been seen. Consequently, Ramadan would start tonight, while the first day of fasting would be Wednesday July 10.

That position was echoed by the Hilal Sighting Committee of North America, the Chicago Hilal Committee, and the website www.CrescentWatch.org, who all said their observers did not spot a new moon, and that Ramadan should start today and fasting on Wednesday. Many mosques across America followed suit, telling followers that Ramadan starts tonight.

The disagreement may cause problems at the end of Ramadan, when Muslims will have to decide when to start celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that follows the fasting month.

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