PARIS - Differing on the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, French Muslim leaders have agreed to end almost 1,400 years of Islamic tradition, turning to modern astronomy to help determine the first day of the fasting month.
"This is historic," Lyon Muslim leader Azzedine Gaci told Reuters on Thursday, May 9.
Now all Muslims in France can start Ramadan on the same day.
Facing problems over Ramadan start every year, the French Muslim Council (CFCM) voted on Thursday to start using astronomical calculations to set the date rather than relying on the naked eye to sight the new crescent moon.
Ramadan traditionally begins the morning after the sighting, which has in the past been delayed by a day or even two by weather.
The CFCM President Mohammad Moussaoui said the old method played havoc with French Muslims' schedules for work, school and festivities.
"Now all this will be simplified," Moussaoui said.
Therefore, the CFCM announced that, the holy fasting month of Ramadan will start on Tuesday, July 9, based on astronomical calculations.
For over 1400 years, the first day of Ramadan and moon sighting have always been a controversial issue among Muslim countries, and even scholars seem at odds over the issue.
While one group of scholars sees that Muslims in other regions and countries are to follow the same moon sighting as long as these countries share one part of the night, another states that Muslims everywhere should abide by the lunar calendar of Saudi Arabia.
A third, however, disputes both views, arguing that the authority in charge of ascertaining the sighting of the moon in a given country announces the sighting of the new moon, then Muslims in the country should all abide by this.
This usually causes confusion among Muslims, particularly in the West, on observing the dawn-to-dusk fasting and celebrating the `Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of fasting.
The new rules allow Muslim to ask for their holidays to be included in the national calendar.
"It would be more important for us that they are taken into consideration, that's all," Moussaoui said.
France is not the first country in which Muslims have decided to turn to astronomical calculations.
Turkey began using scientific calculations to set the start of Ramadan decades ago.
Muslims in Germany, who are mostly of Turkish origin, and those in Bosnia also use this method.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe's largest.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to be closer to Allah through prayers, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.