8th April 2019
An Historic Meeting at the Royal Observatory Greenwich National Hilal Conference 2019 / 1440 On Saturday 6 April 2019, the New Crescent Society and the Royal Observatory Greenwich hosted an historic event, bringing together community leaders, imams, and astronomers at the Royal Observatory to discuss the lunar Islamic calendar in the UK. This event is part of the wider Astronomy & Islam series held at the Royal Observatory. Attendees came from across the UK, including Blackburn, Bradford, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham, Birmingham, and Cambridge. Most of the major mosques in London were in attendance, including London Central Mosque (commonly known as Regents Park Mosque), and East London Mosque. The makeup of the audience represented a diverse range of Muslim opinions, and many commented on how wonderful it was to have so many different viewpoints assembled in one place. The day commenced with a Planetarium show. Royal Observatory Astronomer, Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, took the audience through a whirlwind tour of the night sky, highlighting the Muslim contribution to astronomy and the observation of celestial bodies. The second part of the day included two seminars and an extended discussion, which took place at the National Maritime Museum. It was a wonderful day, enjoyed by all. Many commented on the attention to detail, and the attentiveness of the staff, astronomers and volunteers throughout the day. A special thanks to Dr. Emily Drabek-Maunder, Nick Babbs, Dr. Brendan Owens, panelists Eng. Qamar Uddin (ICO UK) and Shaykh Suliman Gani (Purley Mosque), and all the staff at the Royal Museums and New Crescent Society for facilitating such a lovely and productive morning.
National Hilal Conference 2019, Royal Observatory Greenwich National Hilal Conference: Sessions Dr. Drabek-Maunder led the first seminar, The Science Behind the Moon and New Crescent Sightings, which looked at lunar phases and orbits, eclipses, and technical aspects around new crescent visibility. She showed those present how to access data from Her Majestyâ€™s Nautical Almanac Office (HMANO), which can be used to accurately predict new crescent visibility for any location on the globe. Looking at the data, Dr. Drabek Maunder also demonstrated why Muslims in the UK were celebrating Eid on different days: some crescent sighting reports were not scientifically possible, which led to a split in Eid dates. Other key points of this presentation included the distinction between the New Moon (which is when the moon is invisible), and the New Crescent, which is when the moon first becomes visible. The Islamic Calendar traditionally commences on the evening of the New Crescent being sighted, which is often the evening after the New Moon. She also demonstrated that the new crescent moon could not be sighted in all locations on the same evening, clarifying why Muslims in different locations see the new crescent on different days. The presentation concluded with the Royal Observatoryâ€™s commitment to serving the Muslim community, and future collaboration. The second session, entitled Towards a United Eid in the UK, was delivered by Imad Ahmed, Director of the New Crescent Society. Imad took us on a tour of moonsighting traditions and best practices from around the world,
from the Far East of Asia, Morocco, to the tip of Africa in Cape Town. He also highlighted the work that the New Crescent Society has been doing in reviving the traditional practice of crescent observation in collaboration with the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The focus of Imad’s session and the subsequent audience discussion was ‘how can we successfully have a united calendar in the UK?’ This discussion was prefaced by an important caveat: there are many different Islamic positions on how Muslims can conduct their calendar - indeed, Imad showed over 20 positions and considerations. All of these positions have an Islamic proof or justification, and therefore it would not be fruitful to have a debate around which Islamic position was superior – because they are all, in fact, perfectly valid. Rather, our collective discussion should be about how to move forward, working as a community to come to a decision we all feel comfortable with.
A full house at the special Planetarium show, Royal Observatory Greenwich
A packed audience at the National Maritime Museum Panel & Discussions Several speakers spoke about the importance of unity for the Muslim community in the UK, including Imam Khalifa Ezzat of London
Central Mosque, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Chairman of Balham Mosque & Tooting Islamic Centre and Shaykh Babikir Ahmed of the Mosque and Islamic Centre of Brent. There was a wise statement from Imam Abdul Qayyum, from East London Mosque, who explained why the seven leading mosques in London had chosen to follow Saudi Arabia. When this decision was originally taken, there were no meaningful sightings taking place in the UK, and so following another country was required. Given that Muslims were already accustomed to celebrating Eid from receiving reports on major news outlets from Saudi Arabia, it was the appropriate choice at the time that would ensure maximum unity in the community. He acknowledged that following Saudi was an interim position, and that the most important principle in a calendar was having community agreement. Some speakers, such as Dr. Adil Salahi and Dr. Suhaib Hassan, proposed the view that we should use a computed/calculated calendar, as we have the scientific knowledge in order to do so. Mufti Shoyaib Nurgat spoke about his mosque's decision of shifting from following Saudi sightings to following local sightings, as his younger congregants had easy access to technology and scientific research, and complained that the sighting reports which came from Saudi Arabia were consistently unreliable.
Imam Khalifa Ezzat, London Central Mosque
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Balham Mosque & Tooting Islamic Centre
Maulana Shoyaib Nurgat, Walthamstow Queens Rd Mosque Towards a United Eid?
Shaykh Babikir, Mosque & Islamic Centre of Brent
Imam Abdul Qayyum, East London Mosque
Dr Adil Salahi, Muslim Welfare House
Dr Suhaib Hasan, Islamic Sharia Council of UK
The New Crescent Society's position is that the Muslims in the UK should have a united calendar, based on local visibility. In the past, Muslims in the UK were not in a position to convene their own local calendar, lacking the infrastructure to conduct local sightings. We are now in a position where we have more than 3 million Muslims and almost two thousand mosques and Islamic centres across the county. Just as Muslims in other countries can have their own calendars and sighting locations â€“ such as Bangladesh, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Morocco â€“ Muslims in the UK are in a position to convene their own calendar without relying on word from abroad. As this calendar would be based on the visibility of the moon within our own region, which is easily predicted using data from HMNAO, it would mean that in practice we could predict the calendar and Eid dates accurately for the considerable future. This would satisfy both those who advocate for a calculated calendar, whilst also fulfilling the wishes of those who regard the physical sighting of the new crescent as a religious requirement. Best practices from other locations, such as Morocco (which have almost 300 sighting locations nationally) and South Africa (who are a Muslim minority, but have formed a united national body to oversee their calendar) should be considered in developing this calendar. Imad concluded with his proposal of forming a national body, a National Hilal Committee,
which could oversee this calendar. This idea was met with wide approval.
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Panel session for QnAs & discussion. (Left to Right: Dr. Emily Drabek-Maunder, Imad Ahmed, Eng. Qamar Uddin and Shaykh Suliman Gani) Next Steps The New Crescent Society will now be meeting with major stakeholders in this discussion in smaller forums, and will organise at least two more large conference-style meetings: one after Eid al Adha to pin down a criteria for our calendar, and one to formally launch a National Hilal Committee. We do not believe that the calendar can be solved in time for Ramadan and Dhul Hijjah this year (indeed, we are anticipating a split beginning date for Ramadan), but we remain optimistic that some kind of community consensus can be achieved by Ramadan 1441/2020. If you would like to host a local group discussion group, or contact us, please do not hesitate to do so at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Whilst the problem of the Islamic Calendar in the UK is not one that can be solved overnight, there was an air of optimism this time round. All those present demonstrated a firm commitment for uniting Muslims of these islands on a united calendar, and expressed a sense of excitement in achieving this with the support of the Royal Observatory. Of course, the Royal Observatory Greenwich provided the perfect, symbolic location for this discussion. It is the point from which time and distance is internationally measured, a site from which celestial bodies have been historically observed, and an institution which still reaps the rewards of the advances made by early Muslim astronomers. We pray that it is also becomes remembered as the place where a group of Muslims gathered on a sunny April morning to reconnect with their heritage and solved the conundrum of the Islamic Calendar in the UK. What now? Contact us!: If you would like to meet members of the New Crescent Society for a group discussion, offer feedback, to request training, or anything else, please don't hesitate to contact email@example.com The New Crescent Society Connecting Communities to the Cosmos To find our more about the New Crescent Society, join our FB page. Reference: https://newcrescentsociety.blogspot.com/20 19/04/national-hilal-conference-2019
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