Ramadan begins with moon spotting

11:01 am on 7 June 2016

Muslims around New Zealand headed to high ground last night to spot the new crescent moon which offically marks the start of Ramadan.

The waning crescent moon rising over Christchurch signals the beginning of Ramadan.

The waning crescent moon rising over Christchurch signals the beginning of Ramadan. Photo: SUPPLIED

Mohamed Jaballah frantically checked his phone and iPad as we drove west, and barely looked up the entire time.

The international business postgraduate student and community organiser has been tasked with making sure the 4000 members of his Facebook page find out if Ramadan - the Muslim month of fasting - starts today.

He and a group of friends have headed out to Muriwai beach in Auckland to see if they could spot the new moon, but the time window for spying it was short - and it was overcast.

Nearly 2 billion Muslims around the world observe Ramadan every year, abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset for the month.

It is an intensely spiritual time, when many try and reconnect with their faith and their community through prayer, charity and recitation of the Quran.

As the Muslim calendar relies on the lunar cycle, each month begins and ends with the sighting of the waxing crescent, marking the beginning of the next cycle.

Ramadan is the ninth month in the calendar, and Muslims believe it is the month when passages of the Quran were revealed to the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over his life.

In Auckland, Mr Jaballah and a group of his friends were heading to Muriwai beach to spot the crescent which marks the beginning of Ramadan.

The group use an IPad to pinpoint the location of the rising moon among the clouds at Māori Bay at Muriwai Beach, Auckland. Photo: RNZ/Mohamed Hassan

According to Mr Jaballah's astronomical calculations, the new moon would only be visible for just over an hour.

"We're still not even there. Minute by minute it's looking even more impossible.

"But the folks in Wellington and Christchurch have much better visibility," he said.

He barely finished his sentence when he received a notification on his phone. Someone in Christchurch had spotted the crescent, meaning tomorrow would be the start of Ramadan.

"We actually still have to try and see it here, to try and confirm it, so we have multiple sightings.

"But we start fasting tomorrow."

In Auckland, Mr Jaballah and a group of his friends were heading to Muriwai beach to spot the crescent which marks the beginning of Ramadan.

Waiting for the moon. Photo: RNZ/Mohamed Hassan

A few minutes later, we arrive at Muriwai, and meet the rest of the group: Bilel Ragued, a civil engineer; Khalil Shehadeh, also an engineer; Mohammed Abdullatif, a tutor at Massey University and Ameen, who works for the council.

They made their way up the hill towards a lookout over Māori Bay. It had gotten darker, and time was running out.

"We're just trying to find somewhere that's a high location and looks out to the west.

"We should be able to see something really small, but we only have a few minutes," Mr Ragued said.

We reach the top and stand above a colony of gannets trying to hold their ground in the cold.

Below, the sea pounded against the base of the cliffs, and stretched out into the horizon, where the new moon was meant to be.

Except it wasn't.

"If I check online, it'll tell me exactly where the location of the crescent is right now."

"It's 2.1 percent illumination, it's about 300 degrees, which is West-North-West, and the altitude is about six degree above the horizon."

All of this meant we were staring straight at the moon.

"Unfortunately it's right where those clouds are."

Muslims in Christchurch are the first in the country to sight the new moon.

Muslims in Christchurch are the first in the country to sight the new moon. Photo: SUPPLIED

Mr Ragued sounded disappointed. He knew the calculations were right, because others in Christchurch and Wellington had already seen it tonight.

"In a couple of years now I've been doing this, we've seen it only twice.

"And again, we were very lucky, because the clouds had parted and we managed to see it."

As they waited for the unseen moon to dip back down below the horizon, the clouds did not part, and their hopes of seeing the symbolic start of Ramadan faded.

Tonight would not be one of those nights.

They took turns hugging each other and exchanged greetings to celebrate the start of fasting.

Mr Jaballah updated the Facebook page and sent out a mass text to thousands of Muslims across the region, wishing them a blessed month.

Before making their way back, Mr Abdullatif, the Massey tutor, performed an athan, or a call to prayer, and they stood shoulder to shoulder and prayed.

We then drove the long and windy road back to the heart of the city, where the group headed to their local mosque in Mount Roskill to greet the rest of the community.

They would return to Muriwai beach in a month's time to do it all over again - this time, to mark the end of Ramadan.

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