Muslims in the Philippines will join fellow Islam believers across the globe in searching for the Ramadan crescent tomorrow, Thursday, to determine the first day of fasting.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar called Hijrah. It's the year 1433 in the Islamic calendar, compared to 2012 in the Gregorian calendar.
When the Islamic holy month arrives, adult Muslims are obliged to abstain from food, drink, cigarettes, sex, backbiting, etc., from dawn to dusk.
The National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) has formed the National Moon-Sighting Committee (NMSC) to scan the horizons and look for the tiny glimpse of the crescent that will signal the advent of Ramadan.
The NMSC, chaired by Director Sultan Masiding Salic, also gathers results and awaits religious leaders' verdict before announcing the first day of fasting.
Islamic religious leaders and organizations in Regions 9, 11 and 12 are also gearing up for the sighting of the moon, said Habib Zain Jali, head of the Bangsamoro People's National Parliament (BPNP).
"If the crescent is seen by the naked eye on July 19, then Ramadan will start the next day; if it is not seen, then fasting will be on July 21," Jali told the Manila Bulletin.
Moon-sighting is a responsibility of the ulama (top Muslim religious leaders), he said. "It is very clear in the Qur'an to sight the moon with the naked eye," he said.
"We are trying to adopt a single start for Ramadan in the Philippines," said Jali.
He said the Darul Iftah (House of Opinion) of Region 9 will be coordinating with the Darul Iftah in Regions 10 and 12.
"We should be starting to fast in Ramadan on the same day as a show of unity and brotherhood," said Jali.
He said only the ulama and other religious leaders should be involved in moon-sighting, saying it is not part of the government's responsibility.
"Moon-sighting is a religious activity. It should be left to the religious leaders," said Jali.
The Office on Muslim Affairs (OMA), which was later replaced by the NCMF, created a moon-sighting group every year.
Muslims in other parts of the world also do not normally agree on when to commence their fasting, some claiming geography as the reason.
Purely a lunar calendar, Hijrah's 12 months are reckoned from the phases and stages of the moon. While the Christian calendar has 365 days, the Islamic calendar just has 354 days.
Every month of the Hijrah starts and ends with the moon cycle. (Edd K. Usman)