If you think about it, the question of time and date is central to the
daily religious routine of a muslim. We need to know when to pray five
times a day, we need to know what time to start and begin our fasts, we
need to know what days to start and end fasting. To know what direction
to pray, we need to know the shape of the earth itself. Even our
prayers are in a sense the reflection of the cosmic clockwork, with
predictable cycles, rising, and setting. It’s not by accident that the
symbol of Islam is the crescent moon.
Despite the rich
heritage of mathematics and science that we as muslims can lay equal
claim to, however, there is an anti-intellectual strain in the modern
Islamic polity that says that calculations, astronomy, and math are
developed in a “western” context and that these ideas need to be
purified somehow before muslims may make use of them. There’s talk of
Islamic science as if science is not something universal, but reduced
to a mere ethnic trait. It’s incumbent on muslims in the modern age to
reject this way of thinking and embrace the tools that let us complete
In these modern times, the definitive resource on astronomical calculations is actually the military – the US Naval Observatory and its counterpart in the UK, HM Nautical Almanac Office.
These are fantastic resources for a muslim – since I am more familiar
with the USNO, I’ll give examples from there, but most of the same kind
of data can be found across the pond. Here are just a smattering of
useful links from the USNO’s Astronomical Applications department:
The USNO even has a page devoted to crescent moon visibility and the Islamic calendar – and they’ve listed the start dates for Ramadan and the Islamic new year all the way out to 1432 Hijri.
is astounding to think that in this day and age, anyone walking down
the street with an iPhone and a GPS can in a fraction of a second
access celestial and cosmological knowledge, to higher accuracy than
has ever been possible. Granted, there is an artistry in the make and
the use of an astrolabe, but those things don’t fit easily into your shirt pocket.
many ways, we are in a golden age of religious observance, because at
no previous point in the history of Islam was such fantastic
calculation and precision possible.