Age-Old Moon Sighting Tradition Observed in Saudi Arabia as Ramadan Approaches

Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court Calls on Muslims to Sight Shawwal Crescent on Friday
Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court Calls on Muslims to Sight Shawwal Crescent on Friday

As Ramadan approaches every year in Saudi Arabia, families gather to share ancestral narratives about observing the crescent moon that marks the beginning of the holy month.

They transport listeners back to simpler times, before widespread astronomy and electronics dominated daily life. In those days, communities relied solely on the naked eye to search for the moon, and its sighting sparked immense joy and celebration.

The methods for spreading the news, as recounted by the elders, were diverse and traditional. In some villages, the sound of gunfire would echo through the valleys signaling the sighting.

Others relied on bonfires lit atop mountains, the smoke plumes acting as a message confirming the end of Sha'ban to neighboring communities. The booming of cannons positioned near village squares would be a definitive confirmation that Ramadan has arrived.

Abdul Jaber Al-Sheikh, a nearly 100-year-old Saudi citizen, shared his memories with the Saudi Press Agency.

"The tradition of searching for the crescent moon of Ramadan is deeply ingrained in our ancestors' memory and passed down through generations," he said.

"As children, our curiosity led us to join our grandparents as they recounted stories of moon sightings. Each year, before sunset, we would gather in a peaceful atmosphere atop village mountains or across vast plains.

Together, we eagerly awaited the appearance of the moon, witnessing the sun's descent, the twilight's blush, and the approaching dusk. These changing colors and picturesque scenes captivated us. We would then share these narratives with our mothers at home."

According to him, ancestors, “with their vast knowledge”, passed down the tradition of sighting the moon with the naked eye, a practice that predates modern observation techniques.

“We even witnessed some villagers with exceptional eyesight, a rare talent indeed. When the crescent moon was finally spotted, a wave of joy would wash over everyone. Faces would light up as we welcomed the blessed month in a spirit of unity and love, greetings and warm wishes exchanged amongst loved ones.”

Astronomer Mohammed Al-Thaqafi explained the evolution of moon sighting. Every year, on the 29th of Sha'ban, reliable astronomical observatories across Saudi Arabia start to search for the crescent moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan.

Gone are the days when people would rely solely on the naked eye. Today, specialized tools like telescopes, electronic cameras, and binoculars have significantly enhanced the accuracy and efficiency of sighting and confirmation methods.