In an 11th hour move late on the afternoon of Monday, August 29, 2011, the government of Indonesia declared that the fasting month of Ramadan scheduled to end on that date was to be suddenly extended for an additional day, moving the “official” start of the Islamic New Year – the first day of the month of Syawal from Tuesday, August 30th to Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
The “age” of a New Moon is of paramount importance to Moslems. While modern technology allows precise calculations of the start of a new month, many Islamic scholars insist on ancient visual methods of New Moon confirmation that are much less precisely predictable and subject to the vagaries of weather. The young crescent moon that marks the start of a new month, or in this case the new year, is very low in the sky making the thin crescent difficult to sight in the twilight sky during the first two days of its cycle. Most observers will, however, be able to observe the lunar crescent within one day of the New Moon, weather permitting.
Orthodox Islamic teachings dictate that the new moon must be visible to the unaided eye.
Because of the difficulties in seeing the new moon of the month of Syawal marking the start of the Islamic year 1432 Hijrah, a debate broke out among various Islamic grouos in Indonesian resulting in the last minute postponement of the New Year.
The postponement was declared after hearing testimony from an expert astronomer from the Ministry of Religion. The expert, Cecep Nurwendaya, told the August 29th session, chaired by the Minister of Religion and televised live to the nation, that the exact position of the moon needed to declare the start of the New Year was still uncertain. Referring to 32 different observation points employed to fix the phase and position of the moon observers were unable to absolutely verify the 2% elevation of the New Moon needed to confidently declare the New Year had arrived.
Citing overcast conditions at some observation points, the experts said it was indeed possible that the correct face and position of the moon for the commencement of the New Year was “highly likely” or “more likely” to occur on Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
Prior to the convening of the meeting, the second largest Islamic organization in Indonesia – Muhammadiyah – had earlier set the New Year day for Tuesday, August 30, 2011.
Upon reconsideration of the lack of firm sightings of the New Moon, Islamic scholars from outside the Muahammadiyah movement argued that earlier calculations and the timings used in neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Malaysia, were wrong and it would be best if Indonesian Moslems extended their fast for one more day and celebrated the New Year on Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
While the government acceded to the request of a date change the Muhammadiyah members stuck to their original and widely accepted calculation celebrating New Year on Tuesday, August 30th.
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