Millions of Muslims across the globe will be on the alert on Thursday, August 20, for the sighting of the new moon to determine the starting of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The Indonesian government announced on Thursday that Saturday, August 22, will be the beginning of Ramadan after efforts to sight the new moon failed.
The head of the Religious Ministry’s Hilal and Ru’yat Committee said he has received letters from 29 people across the country saying none of them saw the new moon.
The Nahdhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s two largest Muslim organizations, also confirmed Saturday as the start of Ramadan.
Religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, have called upon the public to sight the new moon on Thursday evening and report to the nearest court.
For the first time, Saudis will be able to use telescopes, not just the naked eye, to sight the new crescent.
Egypt, home to Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam, is also sighting the Ramadan moon on Thursday.
Other countries sighting the new crescent Thursday include Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Somalia and Djibouti.
Muslim minorities in Spain, Czech, Hungary, Greece, the Netherlands, Brazil and the Philippines are reportedly sighting the moon today.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Most dedicate their time during the holy fasting month to become closer to Allah through prayer, self-restraint and good deeds.
Some countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Oman, Morocco and Mauritania, will be sighting the new moon on Friday, August 21.
Others have already determined the start of Ramadan according to astronomical calculations.
Libya said Ramadan starts Friday based on astronomical calculations.
Lebanon's top Shiite scholar Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah announced that the fasting begins Friday based on calculations.
Turkey had earlier declared that the holy fasting month would fall on Friday based on calculations.
The majority of Muslims in Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Albania and Ukraine follow Turkey.
Germans of Turkish backgrounds, who make up the majority of the Muslim minority, also follow Turkey.
The Union of Islamic communities in Italy (UCOII) has decided that fasting will begin Friday according to astronomical calendar.
The Islamic Cultural Center, which manages the Grand Mosque of Rome, decided to follow Saudi Arabia.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has announced that Ramadan will start in North America on Saturday according to astronomical calculations.
The European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) said Ramadan starts in Europe a day earlier, also based on astronomical calculations.
The first day of Ramadan and moon sighting have always been a controversial issue among Muslim countries, and even scholars seem at odds over the issue.
While one group of scholars sees that Muslims in other regions and countries are to follow the same moon sighting as long as these countries share one part of the night, another states that Muslims everywhere should abide by the lunar calendar of Saudi Arabia.
A third, however, disputes both views, arguing that the authority in charge of ascertaining the sighting of the moon in a given country announces the sighting of the new moon, then Muslims in the country should all abide by this.
This usually causes confusion among Muslims, particularly in the West, on observing the dawn-to-dusk fasting and celebrating the `Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of fasting.