The festival of Eid al-Fitr brings the holy month of Ramadan to the end, and marks one of the highlights of the Islamic calendar for the 1.6 billion people across the world who observe it.
Like the start of Ramadan, the date of Eid is traditionally dependent on the sighting of the moon, meaning it cannot be predicted precisely.
As Muslims in coronavirus lockdown across the globe prepare for an Eid al-Fitr like no other, here’s how the moon sighting works and when the celebration is predicted to fall.
Eid al-Fitr 2020 moon sighting explained
Traditionally, Ramadan begins with the sighting of the crescent moon, which generally appears one night after the new moon, meaning the start date cannot be precisely predicted.
Eid al-Fitr works in exactly the same way, with the sighting of the new crescent moon which brings the end of Ramadanand the onset of the month of Shawwal, the tenth of the Islamic Hijri calendar.
There is some debate as to whether the idea of a moon sighting should refer to you physically witnessing the moon in your region, which could be hampered by factors such as weather conditions, or whether to defer to sightings in Saudi Arabia or other regions.
If it is spotted successfully, then Eid al-Fitr will follow on Saturday 23 May – if not, then it will be celebrated a day later.
In Saudi Arabia, Eid will be the occasion for a four-day holiday for private sector employees, which the government predicts will last from Saturday 23 May – Tuesday 26 May. Again, this is contingent on the moon sighting taking place on Friday evening.
Some people argue that technological advancements in astronomy mean that the rising of the new moon can be calculated with unprecedented accuracy, meaning that a standardised start date can be used for all Muslims around the world, rather than having variations.
Because the festival of Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, the month’s position in the more widely used Gregorian calendar varies.
As the charity Muslim Aid explained before Ramadan began: “The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and as a result of this, the Holy month of Ramadan rotates by approximately 10 days each year.
“This year’s Ramadan start date is expected to fall on Thursday 23 April 2020, subject to the sighting of the moon, and is expected to conclude on Saturday 23rd May 2020.”
What is Eid al-Fitr?
Eid al-Fitr is celebrated on the first day ofthe month of Shawwal, which follows Ramadan as the 10th month of the lunar-based Islamic calendar.
Its name comes from an Arabic term which translates as the “feast of breaking the fast” and, although not a public holiday in the UK, it is for many Muslim countries.
In normal years, it is traditional for Muslims to gather together in a park to celebrate breaking their fast together, with large-scale events and festival food (particularly sweet treats), prayer and stalls.
However, due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in place around the world, the communal aspect of Eid will not be possible for most people this year, with worshippers encouraged to observe the occasion from home.
The aim of the celebration is to promote peace and bring yourself back to the normal course of life after the long month of self-restraint and religious devotion of Ramadan.
However, after Eid some Muslims decide to fast for the six days that follow. This stems from the Islamic belief that a good deed in Islam is rewarded 10 times, thus fasting for 30 days during Ramadan and six days during Shawwal creates a year’s worth of goodwill.
With input from agencies.