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Ramadan 'ended early' as row over moon rages

WHEN is a moon not a moon? That is the question vexing Islamic astronomers after accusations that Saudi Arabia had jumped the gun in declaring the festival of Eid ul-Fitr because they mistook Saturn for the Moon.

The festival celebrates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. This year a row has erupted over whether the festival should have begun last Monday or Tuesday.

According to the instructions laid down by the Prophet Mohamed, Muslims can only break their fast when the crescent of a new moon is spotted above the horizon.

Last week Saudi scholars declared that the end of Ramadan began on Monday evening and gave the signal that Eid celebrations could start.

However, some astronomers in the Gulf suggested that the object the Saudis claim they saw in the sky on Monday night was in fact Saturn. The accusation has infuriated the Kingdom's notoriously authoritarian scholars.

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