French Muslim groups dispute start of Ramadan

French Muslim groups dispute start of Ramadan
The Grande Mosque in Paris. Photo: Chris Yunker
The date of the start of Ramadan in France was thrown into confusion on Tuesday after the Paris Mosque released a last minute statement saying the month long fast will begin on Wednesday. However another Muslim group had insisted the fast must begin on Tuesday.

Just as Muslims in France had begun their month long fast to commemorate Ramadan the start date for the holy festival was thrown into confusion at the last minute.

The country's top Muslim body The French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) had originally fixed the date for Tuesday, July 9 (today) but that has been disputed by the Grand Mosque in Paris.

In an 11th hour statement sent out on Tuesday the Theological Council of the Grand Mosque said that fasting must start on Wednesday, which would have come as a shock to those who had already begun their fasting.

The dispute represents the divisions in France’s Muslim groups over how to determine the start of Ramadan.

Traditionally the holy month, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, begins with the sighting of the new moon, which varies from country to country.

In May the CFCM had settled on Tuesday as the start of Ramadan based on the expected arrival of the new moon, but theologians gathered Monday night at the Paris mosque put off the start by a day, saying the new moon had not been sighted.

"Mosques were calling us yesterday until 1:00 am, the imams were in disarray," said Djelloul Seddiki, the head of the mosque's theological council.

Dalil Boubakeur, who is both the president of the CFCM and the rector of the Paris mosque, said the change in date had followed an outcry in the community that Ramadan was not starting in France on the same day as in many Muslim countries.

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"The calculation was not in theory wrong, but we did not take into account the community dimension — the community had decided it would follow the Muslim countries," Boubakeur told AFP.

He said the confusion had been "a lesson" for French Islamic leaders and that it would be legitimate to start observing Ramadan on either day.

During Ramadan, Muslims are also required to abstain from drinking liquids, smoking and having sex from dawn until dusk. The fasting is one of the five main religious obligations under Islam.

With Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries around the world starting the annual fast on Wednesday the CFCM finally relented on Tuesday and agreed that fasting will start on Wednesday as the Grand Mosque of Paris had decided.

According to a poll approximately 70 percent of French Muslims observed the fast of Ramadan in 2009, compared to 60 percent 20 years ago. France is believed to have around 5 million Muslims among its population.

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