updated 8/17/2007 2:51:06 PM ET 2007-08-17T18:51:06

Relying on astronomical calculations, a council of Islamic scholars has established Sept. 13 as the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan in North America, according to the Islamic Society of North America.

It’s the second year the Fiqh Council of North America has relied on scientific projections to pin down the start of the most important month on the Islamic calendar.

Before last year, the council followed Muslim tradition in using moon sightings to determine the start of Ramadan, a period of fasting, discipline and self-sacrifice.

The problem: not everyone agrees on the appearance of the new moon, resulting in a scattershot observance of Ramadan’s start.

Switching to astronomic projections was meant to lessen confusion and promote unity. The council’s decision is not binding — Muslims last year were urged to follow the lead of their respective mosques and imams, or spiritual leaders.

The council announced that the new moon will be visible in Australia, South Africa, South and North America on Sept. 12. Thus, Ramadan begins the next day (Ramadan starts the morning after the sighting of the new moon).

Using the same system, the council announced that Eid al-Fitr, the breaking of the fast that concludes Ramadan, will be celebrated on Oct. 12.

The size of America’s Muslim population is a matter of great debate, with most estimates ranging from 2 million to 6 million.

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