Establishing the Sighting of the Crescent
by Mufti Rafi Usmani
In there are various opinions regarding the commencement of Islamic months, in particular Ramadan and Shawwal. Generally, we find the following four opinions:
1. Follow local sighting of the moon for commencing the Islamic months including Ramadan & Eidain.
2. Follow Saudi Arabia’s announcement.
3. Follow another country’s announcement (such as Morocco)
4. Follow pre calculated dates based on astronomical data.
In light of the above, there can be a lot of confusion amongst the general public. Some argue of unity. Others stress on local sighting. What would you deem as correct according to the Shariah?
For Eid Al Adha, would we celebrate Eid based on the wuqoof (standing) at Arafah in Saudi Arabia or in accordance to the 10th of Dhul Hijjah, determined by local sighting of the hilal (new crescent)? If we follow individual local regional sighting of the moon, how should we determine our “Matla” (horizon – sighting region)? Would every city have their own ‘matla’ (sighting region) or would the ‘matla’ (sighting region) extend to the everyone?
There are two fundamental issues here:
The first issue: What is the religious standard for sighting the crescent?
The second issue: Is the plurality of horizons (multiple regional sighting locations) valid or not in accordance to the shariah (legal Islamic law)?
The First Matter: The Religious Standard for Establishing the Sighting of the Crescent
There are two issues in this matter:
The first issue: Establishing the sighting of the crescent when seeing it with the naked eye (through observing it)
The second issue: Establishing the crescent sighting relying on astronomical calculations, even though it is not seen with the naked eye.
Sighting With the Eye
As for the first issue, that is to establish the crescent sighting by seeing it with the eye (i.e. physical sighting). The honourable Islamic jurists have unanimously agreed that sighting with the eye, physically is what establishes the ruling of ‘crescent sighting’ due to the saying of the Messenger (pbuh), “Fast by seeing it and end your fast by seeing it. If it is hidden for you than count thirty (for the month)” (Sunan of Tirmidhi, Book of Fasting, Chapter on What has Been Said ‘Do not advance the month with fasting’)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) has regulated the ruling of fasting and ending the fasting with seeing, and this sighting is the sighting in a physical sense, by seeing with the naked eye. Hence this is what is considered in accordance to the Islamic legal law, without any angle of a difference amongst the Islamic legal jurists.
Deciding with Only Astronomical Calculations
As for the second matter, which is to establish the crescent sighting by relying on astronomical calculations even though it is not sighted with the naked eye, has no consideration, according to the jamhoor (majority of) jurists. The four imams of Islamic jurisprudence have also agreed upon this, due to the saying of the Messenger (pbuh) “Do not fast until you see the crescent and do not end the fasting period until you see it. If it is obscured upon you, then count it (as thirty days)” (Saheeh Al Bukhari, Book of Fasting, Chapter of the Prophet’s saying, “When you see the crescent, fast’. Hadith number 1909, Saheeh Muslim, Book of Fasting, Chapter on the Necessity of Fasting Ramadan Upon Seeing the Cresent, Hadith number 2568).
By contemplating over these blessed hadiths and also those similar to them, the ruling is that it is not permissible to determine the sighting of the crescent by only relying on astronomical calculations, according to the four great imams of jurisprudence.
The Hanafi jurist, Allamah Al Shaami (r) states in “Rad Al Muhtaar” “There is no consideration of the sayings of the time keepers (muwaqqiteen) in other words, in the matter of declaring the fasting upon people, in fact in the matter of determining ‘Al-Meraj’ their statements are not considered with consensus. It is not permissible for an astronomer to act on his own calculations (to begin Islamic acts that are based on dates). In ‘Al Nahr’, it is mentioned, “… it does not become binding, with the statements of the time keepers, that the crescent is in the sky on such and such a night, even though they (time keepers) may be upright (responsible people) in accordance to the correct view as stated in ‘Al Iidhaah’” (Book of Fasting, The meaning of ‘No consideration of the time keepers’ statements regarding fasting)
A Look at the Evidence by Those Who Agree with Astronomical Calculations without Physical Sighting
Yes, some jurists have gone towards the position of relying on the astronomical calculations, substantiating the position from the words of the Messenger (pbuh) ‘Compute it’ and have stated the meaning of this word is ‘Compute it with the calculations of the moon phases’, however majority jurists rejected this interpretation.
Hence in Sharh Al Nawawi on Saheeh Muslim, it is mentioned, “The scholars differed in the meaning ‘Faqduroo lah’ (count it). Imam Ibn Suraij along with Imam Mutarrif ibn Abdullah, Imam Ibn Qutaibah and others stated: the meaning is to compute it with the phases of the moon. Imam Maalik, Imam Shafie, Imam Abu Hanifah and the majority of the predecessors and successors have taken the position that its meaning is ‘compute it by the completion of thirty days’ (Book of Fasting, Chapter of the Establishing of Fasting the Month of Ramadan In Result of Seeing the Crescent’ )
In Fath Al Baari of Imam Haafiz Ibn Hajr (r), it is recorded that the meaning of the Prophet’s (pbuh) words ‘faqduroo lahu’ is: to look at the beginning of the month, and count the completion of thirty of the previous month (if the crescent is not sighted). This interpretation is given preference substantiated by numerous clear narrations in this specific meaning. That is what has already been mentioned of the Prophet’s (pbuh) words ‘Complete the number as thirty’ and others. The preferred method to understand hadiths is to obtain the explanation of the hadith by another hadith. (Book of Fasting, Chapter of the Prophet’s Statement, ‘When you see the crescent, begin fasting’).
Local or Global Sighting?
The Second Issue: Is the Plurality of Horizons (individual local regional sighting) Valid or Not, in Accordance to the Shariah (Islamic law)?
The explanation of this subject matter is to look at the question ‘If the crescent is seen in one region, even though it may be at the furthest corner of the world, would this sighting be proof for other regions of the world, despite the difference in the timings of sunset and sunrise due to the difference of region?’
The Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools have declared that there is absolutely no consideration for multiple horizons (local individual regional sighting). It is waajib (necessary) upon all Muslims in the entire world to act on a single sighting that has been established in accordance to the shari (religious legal) method, wherever it may have been spotted in any part of the world.
In Fath Al Qadir of Imam Ibn Al Hummam Al Hanafi (r) it is stated, “And when it is established in a city, it will be mandatory upon all people. Thus the people of the eastern hemisphere must adhere to the sighting of the western hemisphere, in accordance to the clear opinion of the school” (Book of Fasting, Chapter of Sighting of the Crescent)
The Proofs of the Majority Jurists (Jamhoor) on Global Sighting
As for the majority jurists who do not consider plurality of horizons, their proofs have been mentioned by Ibn Qudaamah (r) in his valuable book, “Almughni”, thus he says, “We have the verse “Who so ever witnesses amongst you the month, must fast” and the statement of the Prophet – peace and blessings upon him – to the Bedouin when he said to him: Is it Allah who instructed you to fast this month of the year? He said “Yes”. And his saying to another person, when it was asked: What has Allah made mandatory upon me, regarding the fasts? He said the month of Ramadan. It is the consensus of the Muslims that the fasting of the month of Ramadan is mandatory, and certainly the first day of the month is established with the testimony of reliable people where after it’s fasting becomes necessary upon all Muslims. And also that the month of Ramadan is in between two crescents, and it is also established that the first day of it will be considered a specific day for everyone regarding all rulings (ahkaam) such as the deadline of debt, and execution of divorce, freeing the slave, the implementation of vows and others such rulings (there cannot be multiple days for the execution of rulings/ ahkaam specified with dates), hence its fasting is mandatory through the nass (clear source text of Quran & Hadith) and also consensus & togetherness. Also that the reliable evidence (to begin the month), is witnessed by the sighting of the crescent, so the fasting becomes mandatory just like the closeness of two cities”.
The Crescent & Eid in the Modern World & Our Current Situation
The preponderant opinion by us, is the agreed statement of the majority (jamhoor), that is not to consider multiple horizons, looking at the stated evidences that were just discussed above, and also for the following reasons:
1. The Muslims are residents of all lands of the globe. The world in today’s day and age has become similar to a small village, and this is due to the advantage of the numerous means of communication and media along with other such advancements. This situation demands that the celebration of both the Eids be shared by Muslims and it’s joy, on the very same day.
2. In today’s day and age, the followers of the four imams of fiqh reside in every region of international lands, to the extent that you will see in one township of the regions of Japan, for example, adjacent side by side, some of them followers of the Maliki fiqh, and beside them, followers of the Shafie fiqh. So the followers of the Maliki fiqh do not consider individual local sighting and will celebrate Eid every time the crescent is seen in the far west for example. While the Shafie fiqh followers will not celebrate Eid, relying on the position of individual local sighting. This action (of multiple Eids), in today’s day and age leads to the humiliation and defamation by the disbelievers. It is also a means of confusion to understand the situation of Muslims, as it is witnessed every year. This matter in Non-Muslim countries also becomes a means of disarray in determining the days of for Eid.
Conclusion and Suggestions
Hence the answers to the questions, in light of what we have mentioned, regarding the two fundamental matters, is as found below:
1. It would be appropriate to form a special committee for sighting the crescent. This committee is to comprise of distinguished scholars from the people of religion. Alternatively, separate individual committees may also be formed. This committee is to establish and declare the news regarding the sighting of the new crescent, according to the religious conditions laid down by the Shariah (Islamic law) such as testimony and reliable news accordingly, based on sighting with the human eye, as is the position of the majority jurists (jamhoor).
2. If it is not possible to form such a committee, it would be appropriate to unanimously agree on following that which is declared by one of two governments, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Morocco, regarding the matter of crescent sighting, in accordance to the religious legal conditions. It would be permissible to begin fasting, end fasting and celebrate Eid Al Fitr adhering to the sighting of one of the two countries. In a similar fashion, it would be permissible to celebrate Eid Al Adha after the wuqoof at Arafah in Saudi Arabia, when the scholars have agreed upon taking the crescent sighting of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As for those who only rely on astronomical calculations, would it even be permissible to take their statement in this day and age? This requires a cordial international session of expert Islamic legal jurists, who take the responsibility to research and ponder in the matter. As for anything prior to that, it would not be permissible.
And Allah Knows Best, For Indeed His Knowledge is Perfect