Crescent moon spotting: UAE astronomer calls for fatwa on astrophotography

If the Islamic world accepts this proposal, it has the potential to reshape the traditional method of determining the commencement of a new lunar month


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Wed 8 Nov 2023, 9:51 AM

Last updated: Thu 9 Nov 2023, 4:06 PM

A prominent astronomy expert in the UAE has proposed a fatwa (the issuance of a religious/Islamic decree) concerning astrophotography. If the Islamic world accepts this proposal, it has the potential to reshape the traditional method of determining the commencement of a new lunar month. Presently, the prevailing belief is that the crescent moon should be sighted by the naked eye to consider it the beginning of a new month.

Mohammad Shawkat Odeh, Director of the Abu Dhabi-based International Astronomy Center, proposed the fatwa while speaking at the second international conference of the UAE Council for Fatwa that kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“We are in dire need of a meeting like this to exchange knowledge,” said Odeh. “Astrophotography has been around since 2006, and now we want the Islamic community to consider it carefully and issue a fatwa.”

Astrophotography is a technology that facilitates the observation and photography of the crescent moon.

Astrophotography processes

Saying that the technology has been marred by misinformation, Odeh gave a detailed explanation of how astrophotography works. He explained that the photography method uses several tools, including an astronomical camera, filters and a computer, to get a clear picture of the crescent moon.

Odeh worked to dispel some of the many misinformation surrounding astrophotography. “Some people say that the image of the crescent moon is not real,” he said. “They say the image consists of electrical current when rays fall on them. However, I assure you that the cameras that we use to monitor the moon are no different from the phone cameras we carry in our pocket.”

He also addressed stacking, the process where several photographs are stacked on top of each other to give a clear picture. “Stacking is not the sequential assembly of the photos to form a crescent,” he said. “It is just several frames of the crescent taken in quick succession. The technology used in astrophotography is so strong that the crescent moon is visible even during the daytime.”

Significant Conference

In his opening speech at the conference, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, reiterated that this significant conference, featuring a distinguished assembly of religious scholars and experts in thought, science, and experience, is in alignment with the UAE’s commitment to supporting all constructive initiatives. It serves as a sincere response to the directives of UAE President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, reflecting a genuine dedication to upholding the tolerant teachings of Islam and promoting its noble values.

Titled ‘Towards Sharia Conceptualization of Scientific Developments: Civilizational Methodology, Real-World Applications, and Ethics of Sustainability’, the two-day conference will bring together more than 160 scholars, scientific and intellectual personalities, representing more than 50 countries, in addition to 71 Fatwa bodies from around the world. It will provide a platform for exchanging experiences and knowledge between Fatwa institutions.

Meanwhile, one participant underlined the need to issue new fatwas but cautioned against haste. “We need to have real rules to find solutions for the crises we are facing now,” Dr Qays Mohammed Al Shaik Mubarak, Professor in the department of Islamic Studies at King Faisal University. “However, people are giving fatwas but not following rules. Fatwas must be based on more than one school of thought of fiqh. We are looking at collective opinions and approaches."


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