Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Still Eid. Shine on you crazy moon... Very Important People confirm lack of moon sighting in Oman

Well, thankfully it's still Eid Holidays. On the International scale, Oman kicks butt on Public Holidays. I loose count of how many we get - although last year's unusual royal berevement count helped recently to give even more. (Can someone do the math and tell us? How many free holidays this year?)

Does everyone out there know we still use (except for banks) the Thursday-Friday as a weekend. So for second Eid, the Public Sector got Sunday through Saturday off, a whole week pretty much, in addition to annual leave quota (if you have such a thing).

It also means the town is pretty dead. Everyone who can is off, either camping or out of town. Most of the traffic consists of idiots from the UAE or GCC. Yippee. Is it any wonder we escape? The Dragon too succumbed to the lull of beaches, boats, bikini babes and booze. (In fact, I find most religious holidays are best celebrated in this time honoured way. Look at Christmas!) Hence the lack of posts past 2 days. Can you blame me?

Picture: How the Dragon spends his religious holidays.

The consternation of the masses over the timing of the holidays are the only thing of note. Ibadhi religious holidays are based on the observing the appearance and disappearance of the moon.

Picture: David Ryle at

There is an Official Moon Sighting Committee, tasked with receiving reports from across the land through notarised observers (not just someone stumbling out of the Ruwi Novotel). This is why we never know exactly when the holiday will be until the last minute.

But although one might think modern astronomy could easily determine the timing precisely for everyone, but no:

New Moon is often considered to occur at the time of the appearance of the first visible crescent of the Moon, after conjunction with the Sun. This takes place over the western horizon in a brief period between sunset and moonset, and therefore the precise time and even the date of the appearance of the New Moon by this definition will be influenced by the geographical location of the observer.

Ah hah. Makes planning holidays hard.

But it also meant that if the moon might have been theoretically visible (under ideal conditions) in parts of the Sultanate last week, because it was cloudy the moon went unsighted, and so Oman's Eid (and Islamic calendar date) is on a different day to Saudi's. Saudi you see, did see the moon. Saudi even send planes up to see it if necessary, which is why they can announce earlier with accuracy and religious consistency in their eyes [but then they have a Haj to run, and try having more than 2 million guests arrive on your doorstep at a few days notice].

Not Oman. Also, there can be astronomical differences between the observability of the moon between someone in Oman and in Saudi.

The Islamic calendar has retained an observational definition of the New Moon, marking the new month when the first Crescent Moon is actually seen, and making it impossible to be certain in advance of when a specific month will begin (in particular, the exact date on which Ramadan will begin is not known in advance). In Saudi Arabia, if the weather is cloudy when the New Moon is expected, observers are sent up in airplanes. In Iran a special committee receives observations of every new moon to determine the beginning of each month. This committee uses one hundred groups of observers.

So when the Omani committee confirmed the moon was not seen (when it had been expected), a lot of people were a little miffed, having booked holidays in advance, made plans, Haj, etc etc. I mean, aircraft don't schedule themselves, and modern enterprises also operate on a slightly longer operational timescale.

So the mighty Majlis had to weigh in and check that there hadn't been a cock-up with the whole moon thing. Which they did, and confirmed it was OK (no actual explanation though, your typical 'Because I said So, Trust Me' Omani Government public answer) and announced it in the papers. Oh, and they were careful to point out that other countries in the region agreed that Oman's call on the whole moon-thing was spot on.

Majlis clarifies doubts on Al Hijja moon-sighting
Saturday, December 06, 2008 11:34:49 PM Oman Time

MUSCAT — The Majlis Al Shura has confirmed that the justifications upon which the specialised committee has made its decision on sighting the moon of the month of Al Hijja 1429 were accurate. The Majlis, in a statement issued yesterday, said it has followed up the issue of sighting the moon announced by the specialised committee and pointed out that it has studied the issue with the Council of Ministers, and submitted its views, stressing the importance that moon-sighting should be based on agreement of Shariah and jurisprudence evidences among Islamic nations as well as the advancements made in moon-sighting by using new technologies. The Majlis confirmed the correctness of justification given by the specialised committee in sighting the moon and affirmed that differences in moon-sighting among the Islamic countries and difference in calculating timings is a normal thing. A number of Islamic nations have agreed with the Sultanate’s views on sighting the moon this year as confirmed by renowned observatories, the statement concluded.

'So all you peoples gossiping out there, just shut up! You're so annoying' [Said in accent of King Julian, Ruler of the Lemurs in Madagascar the movie, BTW]

But clearly they didn't quite shut up, so subsequently the ruling Council of Ministers weighed in too, with there own investigation of the investigation of the observation, and their own press release from the official news agency, saying that no, it really really was OK that Oman's Eid was different.

Which is great, as coming from the Council of Ministers it is also a very overtly political statement. It emphasises that in such things, Oman does its own thing, and doesn't look to Saudi or Iran to control their religion. Damn right. You go Oman!
Moon-sighting decision is ‘accurate’, says Council of Ministers
Monday, December 08, 2008 12:08:54 AM Oman Time

MUSCAT — The Council of Ministers affirmed that the decision taken by the Moon-Sighting Committee for the month of Dhul Hijja was accurate.

Celebrating Eid Al Adha by the Sultanate tomorrow was based on the committee’s decision and on what have been studied previously in coordination with the Majlis Al Shura and other state departments for moon-sighting in the Sultanate after resorting to astronomy and hearing of different opinions.

The council affirmed the accuracy of the decision as it was based on scientific facts as confirmed by astronomers in the Sultanate and abroad. The decisions was also based on the Shariah evidences that set the beginnings of the lunar months based on place and region of the moon sighting, it said.

The council appreciated the efforts made by different authorities including the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs, the main committee for sighting the moon, the sub-committees in the various parts of the Sultanate, and the Oman Astronomy Association for Sighting the Moon and the evidence provided by them for fixing tomorrow, December 9, as the day of Eid. Saudi Arabia and several other nations celebrate Eid today.

The council extended its Eid greetings to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, the citizens and residents of Oman and Muslims all over the world.

I would have preferred if they printed some maps showing the degree of difficulty seeing a new moon (which can be done, see this example for a lunar eclipse) that night, wrt nearby countries, to explain to people why it can be different and sort of bolster their case on the 'no cock-up' part. But even if it was a screw up, it was 100% Oman's right to do so, so take that Saudi! Eid is Tuesday, so there.

Map showing degree of eclipse visibility


  1. Eid mubarak sir, and thanks for that very...detailed post. I've only recently discovered your blog, and have bookmarked it, its interesting.

    My eid holiday hasnt really kicked off, but just kicking back, sleeping till 11am (not late by some standards, but a blessing for me), walks on the beach, bumming around, enjoying the fantastic weather. If anyone doesn't consider this heaven, then god help them.

  2. Come clean, Dragon - is that an actual Eid snap, or an artist's impression, as it were?

    If the former, any chance that your little friends have brothers?

  3. UD

    I have no problem Oman announcing Eid at whatever day the government want, its the government right and prerogative, but why did the government took the unnecessary steps of policing mosques, arresting people who had eid prayers on Monday (it happened in Ibri, Buraimy & Salalah), Doesnt the ROP has more pressing duties to do than manning mosques to nab people who had the audacity of having their eid on Monday?

  4. One thing, among many, that always confused me was that sighting the moon anywhere within Oman meant that all the people within the boundaries of Oman started the month at that time whether or not they actually saw the moon themselves. This means an Omani on one side of the street in Buraimi would still be fasting while his Emirati neighbor on the other side of the street in Al Ain would be starting Eid because someone saw the moon somewhere in UAE, and no one in Oman did. In the time of the Prophet, PBUH, I understand there were no nations with set boundaries like today. Each person, or tribe, had to see the moon themselves. Maybe this 'moon sighting' problem is really the result of our modern technology interfering with the 'original ways'.

  5. Rev,
    Cool. Welcome to paradise.

    Ah, picky, picky. Why, that's Ms. Dragon on the left, with a very good friend of both of ours on the right. Albeit in a different setting... and perhaps models substituted for the actualité... but you get the picture... hedonism, the best religion in the world, IMHO.

    Sorry no suitable siblings come to mind. But we have this cousin we don't talk about...

    Arresting people???? For praying? Wow. Tell more please. Facts. Pictures. Witness statements.

    But, WTF, what's wrong with them, don't they know its official, its Eid on Tuesday? What's wrong with them? Pesky Fifth columnists...

    Ah, those were the days. When the internet, science, and nation states were still just a dream. Same with time. Who had watches?

    Does it really matter? I mean, yeah, the moon. OK. 29 days a month. But everyone knows it doesn't actually fit with an Astronomical year, right?

    An EVERYONE does business in the Gregorian Calendar anyhow.

  6. arrested – “ that would be at the morning prayer Musallah in them thar hills of Dhofar !” said in a not very convincing deputy sheriffs voice - wearing the white hat of course - with a crowd of onlookers

    Virtually yours

  7. A guy standing just east of Sur is around 7 or 8 degrees of longitude (rough estimate) away from another guy camping way over to the west near that pointy bit where Oman and Saudi and Yemen meet. If these two guys happen to be in the Moon Sighting Committee they are never going to agree. In fact, the guy to the west is on the same longitude as many people in Saudi and a good deal west of somebody in Abu Dhabi! So logically......oh, never mind.

    I suppose that is what gives Oman its special character.

  8. For Arabic readers, this is the letter from the Ministry of Interior which was directed to all the Sheikhs of the Wilayats to advice the citizens of their respected Wilayats NOT to perform Eid prayers on Monday December the 8th as it's been declared that Eid is on Tuesday December the 9th, and ROP will take legal actions against those who perform Eid on December the 8th as per the royal directives of His Majesty, according to the letter. This order has been issued by the minister of interior on December the 6th, so I think people have been warned.

    It doesn't make sense that people perform Eid prayers on December the 8th when Eid is NOT on December the 8th. So, I don't think arresting them and taking legal actions against them is something unusual or weird, especially that they have been warned and directed NOT to perform Eid prayers on December the 8th since December the 6th.

  9. Considering how often Saudi Arabia is wrong in declaring moon sightings and later recapitulating by asking people to fast extra days, it is quite obvious that they don't rely on actual moon sightings. Saudi Arabia chooses sightings that match their requirements. If it is convenient for eid to be on Monday, so it shall be. Unfortunately a vast proportion of islamic states do not have their own moon sightings and rely entirely on Saudi Arabia's decisions. That's not right. Oman has always been independent in its moon sightings for all months, except for Hajj where they often change their calendar to match Saudi Arabia's. This year a religious decision was taking that we should continue our policy for all months, including hajj. It's as simple as that.

    I believe that the people who disapproved of the government's decision and decided to proceed with celebrating eid on Monday and preforming eid prayers that day were making a political decision. Their decision amounts to a clear act of political dissent. Oman is not a country in which you are allowed to dissent. They were warned before hand that if they proceeded with their action there would be repercussions, and so there was.

    Due respect to your views on planning holidays. In this particular case, Monday was a holiday and regardless whether eid was Monday or Tuesday, anyone planning holiday was assured that Monday to Friday would be part of the official holiday. Anyone who wanted extra days off should have taken them as part of annual leave. This is what we have been doing all along, and then whatever extra days of official leave can be credited back.

    I think the Omani government is going to gradually shift until we go by system which uses astronomical calculations instead of actual moon sightings.

  10. Though I could not understand the entire talk about the reasons for the alteration to the previous practice of celebrating Eid with Saudi – what I did understand makes perfect sense given the need to sight the moon. I think other countries also celebrated on dates differing from Saudi (Morocco, Malaysia ….). It was a bit strange jumping the calendar around to fit in with the Eid – especially if, as Muscati says, Saudis sightings could be debated in any case. If in Oman they use astronomical calculations then the intellectual reason will be transparent and it will reduce the need to debate after the event whether the moon could have been seen or not. One suspects that for Ramadhan it will be a blessing to be able to forecast its start and end, quite apart from other months.

  11. Amjad, Muscati,

    Interesting. Were people actually arrested and/or charged with anything? And if so, what was the charge and law behind it?

    I find it difficult to understand, as an infidel, how praying gets to be a crime.

    As I posted, I agree completely its a political statement of religious independence that Oman follows its state religion and bases Eid in Oman on the sighting of the moon. But I would have hoped that intimidation and suppression were unnecessary and potentially counter productive.

    Amjad, can you provide a rought and ready translation of the letter for ignoramuses like me?

    I think these arrests, if true, are a big story.

  12. UD

    We dont have evidence, all what we hear is what people told us, some are ROP officers, they were on standby as if the country was about to be invaded, with clear instructions to arrest people who give eid prayers on Monday.

    I dont know or heard from reputed source of any actual arrests through.

  13. Thank goodness the date for the GCC conference isn't dependent on siting the moon, otherwise we'd never know when it was going to happen......

  14. Reading all these long comments, i can see the excitemenet of the writers, some are just for the purpose of commenting, others have a point to make. with all my respect to all, it is a complex issue and can not just be explained by logic or just science. government stand is to use science to only disapprove the sighting and not approving it. while the government have invested in the best telecope they could get at jabal alakhdhar. what bother me the most is hearing people talk about the subject without having full knowledge of the subject or without listning to the other side of the story

  15. So, Mohammed, Enlighten us. What's the deal?

  16. Well it is not like either you follow the astronomical calculations camp or not. Either be with us or with them as they say. Saudi Arabia as per their calendar had reached the 30th day of the lunar month, meaning they completed 30 days. As you all know that is the maximum days of Islamic calendar or rather lunar calendar. Choices for Saudi Arabia? they either have to declare next day as the first day of Thi alhij or maybe they could announce that they made a mistake on their previous calculations. Here in Oman, as per the calendar, we were supposed to have only 29 days but due to no reporting of the moon sighting, the sharia dictates that we complete the 30 days and that was exactly what happened. We all tend to think that marking of first of the lunar month is only used for celebrating eids and starting of ramadhan and haj, not really. As Islamic culture, our birthdays should be remembered also at least with Hijry dates, widows to observe the moaning with hijry dates. those who insist to unite with SA, should realize that muslims in USA are asleep while jajij are standing in arafa, the day of big prize. And on the opposite side, Japan have completed their day already. If we are to follow their argument, then we should all pray at the same time all the prayers no matter what local time is!, Does not make sense. There are many other issues that can unite the Islamic nations without declaring eid on the same day. We cannot deny political borders, but if they exist, then with the same argument, we should unite our own nation before we unite with the rest of the Islamic world. Scientists and astronomers have been pondering with the issue of moon sighting for long time now. If it is a matter of using science, then technically we could spot the moon at any time of the day as long as it is not below the horizon and maybe one day they will launch a rocket just to be above the horizon to spot the moon. Technology already exist that detect objects without seeing them, will that be acceptable. Recent invention will enable scientists to detect a moth passing in front of a lit window 1000 miles away. No matter how much we deploy science, we will not be able to avoid uncertainty, actually there is a principle named after it, Where scientists are forced to believe that no particle could be located accurately without uncertainly. So scientifically it was difficult to spot the moon on that day, but did we have to push our luck just to align our eid with SA?! It is worth noting that if Morocco did not cite the moon (west of Oman and SA), how could SA could taking into consideration that moon travels more than 2 degree away from the sun by the time it is sun set in morocco manage to declare eid or cite the moon. At the end of the day, we should surrender to the good intention of the responsible people to follow what has said in the Quran, Fast when seen and break fast when seen. A rule that is applicable to all months of God. I pray to God that a day will come where people in big groups go out at the time of moon sighting to observe it instead of arguing about whether to follow SA or not.

  17. Hey, Nice post Mohammed.

    That's what we wanted!

  18. As a followup to the topic i found this interesting article about recent claims of one of Australian astronomer and how he managed to identify the exact date of Jesus (PBUH)birthday. the question would be, will the chrismas celebration dates be changed and how science should affect the way we believe in things. you can read details on my recent blog posting.


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