News & AnalysisScience and Religion

When Is It Ramadan? An Arab Astronomer Has Answers

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Science  29 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6042, pp. 513
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6042.513

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Summary

Islamic religious officials rely on eye-witness observations of the phases of the moon to determine when the holy months in the Islamic calendar begin, which can vary by as much as 3 or 4 days. Nidhal Guessoum, an astrophysicist at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, is one of the most high-profile advocates of a scientific approach to the problem. Its adoption would not only help Muslims plan their lives but also be a sign that Muslim countries, once at the forefront of science, are again "able to integrate science into social and cultural life," he says.

  • * Edwin Cartlidge is a writer living in Rome.