Sighting of the moon
What is said about sighting the crescent in the Qur’an?
“They ask you about the crescents. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in the affairs of men and for pilgrimage.” (TMQ 2:189)
“Whoever witnesses the crescent of the month, he must fast the month.” (TMQ 2:185)
What is said about sighting the crescent in the Sunnah?
Abu Hurayrah narrates that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: Observe fast on sighting it (the moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (the new moon). If sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of thirty). (TMH Sahih Muslim, 2379)
Abu Hurayrah narrates that Allah’s Messenger said: Observe fast on sighting it (the new moon) and break it on sighting it. But if (due to clouds) position of the month is concealed from you, you should then count thirty (days). (Shih Muslim, 2380)
Abdullah Ibn Umar narrates that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) once mentioned Ramadhan and said: Do not begin the fast until you see the moon, and do not break the fast (at the end of Ramadhan) until you see it. If the new moon is concealed from you, then work out (when it should be. (TMH Al-Muwatta, 18.1.1)
Abdullah Ibn Abbas narrates that’ Allah’s Messenger (SAW) once mentioned Ramadhan and said: Do not start the fast or break it until you see the new moon. If the new moon is obscured from you, then complete a full thirty days. (TMH Al Muwatta, 18.1.3)
Abu Umayr Ibn Anas reported on the authority of some of his paternal uncles who were companions of the Prophet (SAW): Some men came riding to the Prophet (SAW) and testified that they had sighted the new moon on the previous day. He, therefore, commanded the people to break the fast and to their place of prayer in the morning. (TMH Abu Dawood, 1153)
Abdullah ibn Abbas narrates that a Bedouin came to the Prophet (SAW) and said: I have sighted the moon. Al-Hasan added in his version: that of Ramadhan. He asked: Do you testify that there is no good but Allah? He replied: Yes. He again asked: Do you testify that Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah? He replied: Yes. And he testified that he sighted the moon. He said: Bilal, announce to the people that they must fast tomorrow. (TMH Abu-Dawood, 2333)
Fasting: Through Moon Sighting or Calculations?
Before addressing the subject at hand, certain points must be made clear.
The sources of legislation are:
Qur’an, Sunnah, and Ijmaa Sahabah and Qiyas is an extension of a Shari’a rule from the original case to a new one because the latter has the same elective cause (Ellah) as the former.
Example: Prohibiting selling during the Friday prayer can be extended to include all activities that occupy Muslims from performing Juma’a prayer. However, in Ibadat, qiyas cannot be used since no rule is presented by an ellah. Ibadat are taken only by the text. Thus, The Qur’an, Sunnah and Ijmaa Sahabah are the only sources in this issue.
Moon Sighting or Calculations?
All Hadiths mention the sighting of the Moon.
“If you sight the new moon, observe fast, and if you sight it (new moon of shawwal), break fast, but if you are clouded over, then observe the 30 days.”
“Observe fast on sighting it (the new moon, the crescent) and break it on sighting it” ‘
“Do not fast until you see the new moon or complete the period (referring to Shaban)”’
“Do not fast till you see the new moon, and do not breakfast till you see it, but if the weather is cloudy, calculate for it.”’
The above Hadiths are very clear in connecting the fasting to the sighting of the moon. However, in the event we are clouded over, then we have to complete the 30 days of Shaban.
While the word Ra’a could mean knowledge, it is not correct to take this meaning here because linguistically speaking,
1. Ra’a, if it takes one object, it means to visualise that object through the eye. i.e. He saw the moon. However, if Ra’a takes two objects, then it could mean to know. i.e. He knew the right opinion
2. If Ra’a is used in reference to a tangible thing, then it means to visualise that thing by the eye. However, if it is used in reference to an idea or an abstract thing, then it could mean knowledge.
Therefore, since Ra’a is used in reference to a tangible thing, the moon, and the sentence,
grammatically speaking, has only one object, the moon, then it means to visualise/sight.
Omar (ra) reported that the Prophet said,
“We are unlettered (ummiyah) people, we neither write nor calculate. The month is this way and that, sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30. “
Those who calculate say that the command in this hadith, that is to sight the moon, is accompanied by a reason which justifies the command. The justification being that the Ummah was unlettered (“we neither write nor calculate”). The ruling, in terms of its validity, goes only as far as its justification. For if the Ummah has emerged from its unlettered state and is able to write and calculate, then it becomes essential that it rely on the calculations alone.
However, this argument is wrong due to the following:
1. The description of the Ummah in this hadith, that it is ‘Ummiyah’ does not imply “ellah”. The word ‘Ummiyah’ could mean Arab (see Surah 62:2).
‘We neither write (naktub) nor calculate (nahsib).’ The Arabic word ‘Nahsib’ in this Hadith carries many meanings. It could mean, we do not use astronomical calculations to determine the legal (Sharie) beginning and end of the month. It could also mean, we do not practice astrology (astrology requires calculations). This word in this Hadith, however, does not mean general calculations. This is due to the fact that the Muslim Ummah, then as well as now, uses calculations in Zakah, inheritance, and in many other matters. Therefore, claiming that this Hadith describes the situation of the Ummah at that time as unable to calculate is untrue. Consequently, claiming that this description is an “ellah” is absurd. Furthermore, assuming that the state of the Ummah is as such, then how, when and by which criteria can a Mujtahid determine that this state no longer exists!!
2. Ibn Hajar al Askalani, who was quoted in this regard, never mentioned that this rule is accompanied by “ellah. “
3. Ahmad Shaker who was quoted to have said that this description is ellah, later abandoned this interpretation. He wrote to another scholar saying that he had abandoned this interpretation. (refer to Arabic Fiqh al Nawazil by Baker Abu Zaid).
4. Assuming that this is ellah, the qiyas on this issue is invalid due to two reasons:
a) One of the important requirements to be considered in an issue is that the qiyas must not contradict another text of a hadith.
“Do not fast until you seethe moon” makes it very clear that we should not fast or break the fast until we see the moon. Therefore, if the moon is not sighted, even though according to the calculations, it should have been, we still do not fast due to the text.
b) The Qiyas is not a daleel in Ibadat.
If calculations are used in our prayers then why not in fasting?
This is not an accurate comparison because in prayers, we observe the solar movement and document the position of the sun during the year, which is fixed. However, assuming, if the sun did not set according to the set schedule, then obviously, the schedule must be ignored. So, scientifically speaking, Qiyas is invalid due to the differences between the solar and the lunar system. Legally speaking, Qiyas is not applicable here since it cannot be used in Ibadat which are taken by the daleel. A woman is not asked to make up the prayers missed during her menstruation. However, she is obligated to make up the days of Ramadhan she did not fast due to menstruation, simply because the text waived her from making up the prayers and not fasting. Therefore, astronomical calculations cannot be taken.
- Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet said, “Do not pre-set the month (meaning Ramadhan)”
- The Ahadith talked about sighting the moon, not the birth of the moon. The lunar month does not start legally with the birth of the moon but rather by the sighting. Although the birth can be determined by any means, the legal beginning of the month must be exclusively by sighting.
Claiming that sighting the moon is uncertain but the astronomical calculations are certain
It is not true that astronomical calculations are accurate. There are different schools in astronomical calculations and they vary in their results. This variation could be off by hours and this could mean a difference of a night! Besides, scientifically, results cannot be judged without experimentation and on this issue, the moon must be sighted to prove the validity of the results-this takes us back to the sighting of the moon. The sighting is the sabab or the legal reason for fasting, just as the sunset is the sabab (reason) for Salatul Maghrib or having a minimum amount of gold or silver for one year is the reason for paying Zakah.
The sabab or the legal reason for things, such as fasting, praying, paying Zakah, etc. is taken from the text and it cannot be changed. The sabab is part of “Al Hukm Al Wadi” (circumstantial command). It is important to mention that Hukm Shari, defined as the address of the Legislator, can be either commissioning commands (Hukm Taklifi), such as commanding us to pray, not to drink wine, etc. or they can be circumstantial commands (Hukm Wadi) such as considering sunset as a legal reason for Maghrib prayer. Circumstantial rules are as important as the commissioning rules and they both need a text; this is the abc of Usul Fiqh. The human intellect has nothing to do with them in terms of changing, abrogating, restricting or deleting the rule.
Therefore, the sabab for fasting is not the birth of the moon and it is not knowing that the moon is born. The sabab for fasting is the sighting of the moon and this sabab cannot be changed or replaced.
As for those who say that sighting is just a means and thus can be changed, it has to be pointed out that analysing the text shows it to be a sabab not a means; the hadith orders us not to fast if the moon is not sighted.
One Sighting is enough
The Hadiths of the prophet indicate that one sighting is enough for Muslims all over the world.
1-Sumu le-Ruaith (“Fast at the sighting of the moon.”)
The verb Sumu in plural form includes all Muslims. Ruayateh came in general form meaning any sighting, whether it was by the person himself or someone else, whether it occurred in his area or not.
2-Ibn Abbas reported that the Muslims did not begin fasting since they did not see the moon. Then a man came from outside of Madinah and told the Prophet that he saw the moon. The Prophet asked him if he was a Muslim to which the man answered in the affirmative. The Prophet then said, “Allahu Akbar, one is enough for all Muslims. “
The Prophet fasted and asked the people to stop eating and start fasting (Al Mabsout 3-52).
Numerous similar incidents occurred during the Prophet’s life.
However some take Ikhtilaf Matala’ for the following reasons:
1-They claim that in fact there are many Matala’ for the moon. This is incorrect because the moon is born one time and in one place.
2-Imam Muslim reported that Kuraib said, “Um Fadl sent me to Muawiyah in AI Sham. I accomplished the objective of my travel. Ramadhan came while I was there and the moon was seen on Friday night. At the end of the month I returned back to Madinah where Abbas asked me “when did you see the moon?” I answered, “Friday night.” Ibn Abbas further inquired, “did you see it with your eyes?” I replied, “Yes and also the people saw it. Thus the people and Muawiyah fasted.” Ibn Abbas said, ‘but we saw it on Saturday night and will keep fasting until we finish the 30 days or see the moon.’ I asked Ibn Abbas, “Don’t we follow Muawiyah’s sighting and fast?” Ibn Abbas replied, ‘No, this is how Rasul Allah commanded us.”(Reported by Muslim).Imam Shawkani (RA) said, in reference to Ibn Abbas’s statement,
“You should know that the acceptable evidence is in what Ibn Abbas reported explicitly from the Messenger (saw). It is not in his Ijtihad which people try to interpret” and to which he pointed by saying, “This is how Allah’s messenger commanded us.” –Since Ibn Abbas said, “No, this is how Rasul Allah commanded us,” people adopting Ikhtilaf al Matalea, believe that every location has its own sighting.
Many Imams have discussed this statement of Ibn Abbas and have concluded that the Muslims are asked to follow what the Prophet (saws) has said and not the understanding of what the Prophet (saws) said. In this incident, it is the understanding of Ibn Abbas of what the Prophet (saws) said. Despite this, some fatwas insist on different sightings without any justification.
The council of the Saudi Arabia Ulema issued the following fatwa on 8/29/1397 Hijri.
“Because of many considerations the council observed, and because of the differences in this issue, which has no significance in uniting all Muslims based on one sighting, the members of the council leave everything as is without reopening the subject again and leave to every Islamic State the right to choose what the state sees through its Ulema.”
It is true that all the regimes cannot be trusted but the people are the ones who see the moon. If a person presents a false testimony, then it is his crime. Notice that the Prophet accepted the testimony of just one person whom he did not know. Such testimony does not create certainty but we still have to take it. In other cases, Islam required two witnesses and in special cases, such as Zina, four witnesses are required, but in the issue of sighting the moon, one is enough.