Last Friday was Eid ul-Fitr holiday in Malawi. This a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. Wikipedia records that

Eid is an Arabic term meaning “festivity” or “celebration” while Fiṭr means “to break the fast” and can also mean “nature” from the word “fitrat” and therefore symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period.

Since its introduction in Malawi a couple of years ago, the Eid ul-Fitr holiday always comes with a lot of drama because it is decided by the sighting of the Crescent moon (hilal). For instance this year, the Muslim Association of Malawi issued a press release in which they said Eid ul-Fitr celebrations would take place on either 12 or 13 October depending on the appearance of the Crescent moon. And on Thursday night (11 October), it was announced that Friday (12 October) was Eid ul-Fitr holiday.After hearing this, I did not even bother to ask if the Crescent moon had been sighted. I was, however, surprised to learn that the local Muslim fraternity had their Eid ul-Fitr celebrations on Saturday 13 October 2007 as opposed to 12 October as suggested by announcement of the holiday. Well, that just shows the uncertainty associated with this day.This uncertainty has bad effects on business. For in stance on 12 October, I canceled a class, a meeting etc. Some people burn fuel in order to travel to businness meetings only to find that there is noone because of late night holiday announcement. As you can imagine, there are many other consequences.

The introduction of the Eid ul-Fitr holiday on the Malawian calendar was a fair decision. But the Muslim Association of Malawi must be giving better guidance on issues associated with this day. People must have exact knowledge as to when the Eid ul-Fitr holiday will take place. This will help business people to make proper plans. Maybe, the Muslim Association of Malawi must consider taking a look at some modified ways of sighting the moon (I found them after a short Google session):

  1. The Concept of international lunar date line (ILDL) developed by Professor Ilyas in Malaysia.
  2. The Mooncalc computer program, developed by Dr.Monzur Ahmed, which makes use of ILDL and creates world map to show where the crescent is likely to be seen for the first time. The position, age, phase, orientation, appearance and visibility of the moon for any date, time and location on earth can be find out making the use of ILDL.

Let me wind up by finding out how moon sighting is done in other countries where the Eid ul-Fitr holiday is commemorated at national level. Do you rely on human judgment as well?