Moon sightings and the quest for Muslim solidarities in twentieth century Natal.
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This article examines local contestations over Ramadan moon sightings among Muslims in twentieth century Natal, South Africa, as a window to debates about authority, identity and Muslim unification. The issue was the question of whether – in terms of the rulings in the Qur’an and the practices established by the Prophet Muhammad – the basis for determining the beginning of the lunar month should be vested in local physical sighting of the moon crescent or in astronomical calculations. While sighting the moon with the naked eye has historically been the practice of most Muslims, some have considered the project of Muslim unity served by knowledge derived from astronomy. The “moon controversy” provides a lens through which to examine the broader debate in Islamic societies around the role of science and technology in Islam, “traditionalism” versus “modernity”, authority in Islam, and Muslim unity.