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Tradition or science: Muslims debate official start of Ramadan

It is known as the pre-Ramadan headache. But, for Muslims in Toronto,the ailment has nothing to do with anxiety around fasting from sunriseto sunset in the coming days.

It is known as the pre-Ramadan headache. But, for Muslims in Toronto, the ailment has nothing to do with anxiety around fasting from sunrise to sunset in the coming days.

Instead, it is caused by confusion that every year precedes the month of fasting, prayer and self-reflection.

Simply trying to answer the question: When does the month officially start?

“It’s a not an easy question to answer,” said Taha Ghayyur, the coordinator of the Muslim information portal Torontomuslims .com, which attempts to sort out the messy details for community members on its website.

“This year it is pretty much between Friday or Saturday … and for some in Toronto, it could also be Sunday,” he said.

Traditionally, Muslims in Toronto have literally looked to the skies on the eve of Ramadan — the month the Quran was revealed — for signs of the new moon to determine when the holy month begins. A second group, mostly from the Arab world, used global moon sighting, and start fasting when Muslims in Saudi Arabia do.

But in recent years, scholars in North America introduced a new idea to use scientific astronomical calculations to predetermine the first day of Ramadan. When introduced in 2006 by the Fiqh Council of North America, an organization that makes legal opinions on Islam, it was meant to unify the community.
Instead, it ended up doing the opposite.

“It has added to the confusion,” said Ghayyur. “Since most people see all three as Islamically correct, now people have too many options in a way.”

Many in the community say within the issue of moon sighting is a deeper debate. A debate between the those trying to find ways to modernize Islamic traditions within the bounds of Islam, and those struggling to hold fast on to tradition.

 
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