Once again, Indonesian Muslims are divided on when the fasting month of Ramadan begins.
The government announced on Thursday that Ramadan would begin on Saturday, but Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization, had already told its members to start fasting on Friday.
“No witnesses in Indonesia have sighted the hilal [new moon]. This means that Ramadan 1, year 1433 Hijri, falls on Saturday, July 21, 2012,” Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said during a meeting in Jakarta on Thursday evening discussing when Ramadan should start.
He has said, however, that he believes these differences should be a source of neither “dispute nor debate.”
“Although astronomical experts’ statements are more valid,” he told the Indonesian news portal republika.co.id.
The Indonesian government uses the hilal-sighting method to determine the beginning and end of Ramadan, as well as the dates of major Islamic holidays Idul Fitri and Idul Adha. Government officials are stationed at strategic spots across the country to scan the skies for the new moon each night.
In years past, the government has held an annual gathering of astronomical experts and ulemas from Muslim organizations to discuss the results of the sightings, or lack thereof.
The majority of Indonesian Muslims now follow the government’s lead on when to begin and end their Ramadan fast.
But several organizations use different methods to determine the start and end of the fasting month, such as Muhammadiyah, which relies on astronomical calculations rather than eyewitness reports.
“We’ve decided days ago,” Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin said in Banjarmasin on Thursday.