Features

April 10, 2024

Why Saudi takes the lead in Moon sighting

Why Saudi takes the lead in Moon sighting

By Lawani Mikairu

The Muslim calendar the world over is lunar and until a new moon is sighted, indicating the end of the current month, a new month cannot commence. This is why Islamic countries and countries that practice Islam attach so much importance to the sighting of the moon. They therefore have supreme Muslim organisations that have a moon sighting committee. Astronomers look to the sky every year to find out when Islam’s holy fasting month of Ramadan begins as Muslims follow a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days.

In Saudi Arabia, there is a moon sighting committee that reports to the country’s Supreme Court which makes the official announcement that the moon has been sighted. Also in Nigeria, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, headed by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Saad, who is the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, makes the official announcement after the moon sighting committee has reported to him that the moon has been sighted.

There has been curiosity as to why Nigeria had always relied on Saudi Arabia for announcement of the sighting of the new moon, especially the moon that marks the commencement of Muslim’s important activities like the Ramadan fast, the annual Hajj operation and Muslims sallah festivals.

It is easier to sight the new moon in Saudi Arabia than Nigeria because of some factors like Saudi’s advanced technology, the location of the country’s observatory, the quality of the country’s astronomers and staff of the observatory, amongst other factors.

The Saudi Arabia moon sighting committee is headed by world renowned astronomer, Abdullah al-Khudairy, the Director of the observatory of Majmaah University in Hautat Sudair who is considered one of the most famous and dependable moon-sighters in the kingdom.

The location of the Saudi Arabia observatory that is used for moon sighting is one of the best in the world. The decision to chose Hautat Sudair city was carefully taken. According to Abdullah al-Khudairy in an interview with Saudi Al Arabiya News: “Hautat Sudair is a small village located at an intersection between Riyadh, Sudair and Qassim, 140 km north of the capital Riyadh.

“Choosing Hautat Sudair city was because of a specialised scientific team of astronomy professors, who spent about six months until they agreed on a site located southwest of the city. It is characterised by a rocky mountainous land with rare winds. Its height ranges from 780 to 930 metres above sea level. This is in addition to being very far from industrial and environmental pollution areas,” Khudairy said.

The observatory at Hautat Sudair is equipped with sophisticated telescopes and binoculars and these equipment are handled by qualified and dedicated professionals. Though there are also individuals within the Saudi Kingdom who have private telescopes and binoculars they also use to scan the sky. These individuals immediately report to the moon sighting committee if they see any crescent in the sky and the committee will confirm the authenticity through the observatory.

In Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto and the Supreme Head of Islamic Affairs usually set up the moon sighting committee every year to monitor the sighting of the moon across the county. 

The telephone numbers of these individuals are provided for public individuals who may sight the moon privately to report to. These members of the moon committee will in turn report to the Sultan who will now make a public announcement.

Nigeria also has an observatory where weather is monitored and moon sighting is observed. But the quality of the equipment and staff cannot be compared to that of Saudi Arabia.