Islam Opinions

Muslim Moon Wars

Written by Kashif Hussain

Muslim Moon Wars

How moonsighting is established islamically
Using Modern equipment
Local vs Global
Problem with Saudi
Necessary to follow local mosque
Solutions
Misc

Intro

Muslim moon wars – Year after Year, Muslims vary on when to start fasting and celebrate Eid. There have been instances of 28 fasts in total and at other times protests in mosques. There are various approaches scholars take on moon sighting. The most prominent ones being a local sighting, following Saudi Arabia, a physical sighting anywhere in the World or using a predefined calculation.

A New Moon occurs where the moon has completed its cycle around the earth and is about to begin another cycle. During the New Moon phase, the moon is not visible from the earth. It’s only about 17-23 hours after a new moon, we are able to verify it, due to the thin crescent appearing. It is the sighting of this crescent that marks the new month.

Muslim moon wars

Determining the new month in Islam

Although the Qur’an does not directly relate the methods of how to sight the moon, it nevertheless highlights the importance of sighting the moon.

Allah ﷻ states:

The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast…Quran 2:185

The new moon is established by witnessing the crescent. This argument can be supported by the following verse.

The Sahaba asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ the following:

What is the state of the moon? (At first) it becomes apparent and rises thin as a thread; then it increases (in size) until it becomes large and it reaches its zenith; it then turns and begins to decrease and becomes small (in size) until it returns to how it was upon the first state?

Upon this question being asked, verse 189 of Surah al-Baqarah was revealed.

They ask you, (O dear Prophet Mohammed ﷺ), regarding the crescents; say, ‘They are indicators of time for mankind and for Hajj (the pilgrimage)’…Quran 2:189

The Sunnah further establishes the method of determining the month of fasting where sighting is difficult due to adverse conditions.

Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (Allah is pleased with him) that the Messenger ﷺ said: Observe fast on sighting it (i.e. the new moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (i.e month ends), but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of thirty).Sahih al-Muslim

This outlines the need to sight the crescent to determine the new month but also the end of the month. Where the crescent cannot be sighted, to complete fasting for 30 days.

In practical terms the method is to go out to witness the moon on the eve of the 29th day of the month of Shabaan, if the moon is sighted then Shabaan has been completed and Ramadan commences the next day. This means Monday 06 May 2019. But if the moon is not sighted, Shabaan is deemed to be 30 days long and Ramadan will start the day after on Tuesday 07 May 2019.

The Hanafi’s have established methods of sighting and confirming the month – See Moon Sighting in Accordance with Hanafi Fiqh.

Why aren’t there 28 days or 31 days in a month?

The moon revolves around the earth in an elliptical orbit, therefore, this cycle either takes 29 or 30 days to complete. This is why there is always only a dispute over 2 days, because no lunar month lasts more than 30 days or less than 28 days. However,  if say, Saudi confirm moon sighting on a Monday where there’s some doubt and 29 days later, it’s confirmed that Shawaal has started due to cler moon sighting, it means that those who started fasting on the Tuesday will have only fasted 28 days. I’m not sure what scholars advise in this situation, presumably to make up the fasts, but even then, the ego finds it difficult to accept mistake.

Another problem that may persist is the Night of Qadr, depending on when you class as the 1st of the month, the 27th night will fall on a different day, i.e the 27th odd night will be an even night for others. It begs the question whether its the 27th night from the beginning of the month determined, or a night set that can fall on various days. I suppose this supports the argument of pushing prayer to a fuirther level in the last 10 days of Ramadhan.

Naked Eye vs Modern Scientific Instruments

There are three positions here:

  1. Using the naked eye only
  2. Using the naked eye to establish but allowing the use of instruments like a telescope
  3. Using modern more accurate methods and calculations

Some jurists stick to the letter of the text whilst others try to implement the text in spirit.

Sayyiduna Abu Hurairah (Allah is pleased with him) that the Messenger ﷺ said: Observe fast on sighting it (i.e. the new moon) and break (fast) on sighting it (i.e month ends), but if the sky is cloudy for you, then complete the number (of thirty).Sahih al-Muslim

There is some disagreement among scholars in relation to this hadith. The Arabic word for sighting – mentioned in the hadith – is ru’yah. Some state that ru’yah here refers ru’yah basri, which is to sight the moon physically with the ‘naked eye’. Whereas other scholars state that ru’yah here refers to ru’yah ilmi, which is to have knowledge of the moon being above the horizon and visible, without the need to physically sight it.

The first set of scholars argue that in fact Muslims were capable of calculating the moon’s birth centuries ago to a highly accurate degree. They used sophisticated charts to determine when and where the moon could be sighted. The astronomer, mathematician, engineer, and jurist all had methods of calculation, yet the method of physical sighting took precedence. It is not befitting for this to change now.

Muslim moon wars

Ibn Hajar, said, ‘This (completing thirty days of Sha’bān) is an indication that we should not refer to calculations or astronomy. The Prophet guided us to completing thirty days of Sha’bān while he could have guided us to consider other means that enable us to know the beginning of the astronomical month’.

There is also a position that holds sighting is also worship since it is a means of establishing the month of fasting. It is classed as a declaratory law assigned by Allah to determine the beginning of Ramadan. The classical scholars were profoundly well-versed in science, especially geography and astronomy, and capable of making calculations of moon sightings but did not do so, as they considered it an abandonment of prophetic practice.

The latter set of scholars argue some earlier jurists literally applied the Prophetic words and connected the five times daily prayers with the poles, shadow and movements of the Sun. They categorically prohibited use of astronomically calculated clocks in determining prayer timings. Then clock timings were made of use and currently a norm. Likewise calculations were not permitted to determine Qiblah directions, i.e. the modern compass. So it is only a matter of time, when we establish scientific methods to determine the true beginning of the lunar month. That in fact the whole purpose of witnessing is by using the best means possible, as times have changed, the means have changed too, and so we would in fact be acting in accordance with Islamic doctrine.

Furthermore, although the use of astronimcal calculations are not used on the whole when determining the new month, it does not go to say they are incorrect. Where there are instances from labs and stations that moon visibility is impossible from the earth but have been confirmed by people, do we take the report of the expert in to account? Do we doubt the Muslim or do we continue with traditional methods? Is it not time we verify sight using modern technology to ensure the beginning of the month.

Muslim moon wars

Regardless of the arguments, most scholars resume the position of physical sighting but allow the use of telescopes to ease sighting, just as we wear glasses to ease seeing. Morroco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Muslim Majority states hold this opinion.

Unity – All on one day or not?

Unity does not equate to doing the same thing at the same time; those who present this argument only advocate dictatorship and control. Unity in the Muslim world will not come from starting Ramadhan or celebrating Eid on the same day across the entire planet. How can the whole world began Ramadhan on the same day when it is not even the same calendar day in every location on the earth? Unity comes from the members of the same family, Mosques in the same city, Muslims in the same country living in harmony and working for the common good. But yes there should be unity in looking to find a balance, looking to celebrate Eid together if in the same city. It is evident that when people in Saudi Arabia are performing their Fajr prayers, those in North America may still have not completed their Isha prayers of the previous day. Similarly, when Muslims in Los Angeles offer their Fajr prayers, those in India and Pakistan are offering their Maghrib or Isha prayer of the same day.

Should there be global Eid or local Eid

According to the majority of all four Madhhabs, with the exclusion of some Shafi scholars, the difference of the horizons is not considered between cities/countries. This therefore means that if a valid sighting of the moon is established in one city, the Judge of a second city can accept this ruling if the sighting can be established and confirmed in accordance with the Shari’ah (i.e. any one of the methods described previously). On the other hand can reject it, based on the hadith of Ibn Abbas.

Imam Ahmed Raza Khan (Allah shower His Mercy upon him) writes about a personal experience of a global moon sighting:

Here neither the crescent of Ramadan was sighted on Tuesday, nor the crescent of Eid on Thursday, as it was extremely cloudy. On Friday night (i.e. Thursday evening – Islamically the day begins after Maghrib, and the night thus comes before the day) I prayed Salah at-Traveeh, and decided to fast the next day. Then all a sudden the news of some people coming from Egypt reached me, and it was said that they saw the crescent of Ramadan on Tuesday night. They were called (to us), and they then testified (in accordance with the Shari’ah). After further investigation took place, Eid was announced at 1.00am.

This means a Global fast or Eid is possible however, does not negate the use of local sightings. Even if we depend on or can prove a sighting from another city or country, a local sighting (whether positive or negative) is a must.

As Saudi Arabia have declared the witnessing of the moon, many communities in the UK have accepted this and will fast on Monday 6th June. However some communities will take this in to account but also what other Islamic states declare, especially Morocco who use a local method, i.e. Morocco won’t follow the sighting of Saudi. Therefore Muslims in the UK may also take this position.

Saudis Recent Miscalculations

The Umm al-Qura calendar is the official lunar calendar system of Saudi Arabia and is used in the Middle East and by many Muslims across the world to establish the start of the Islamic month. Contrary to popular belief, the Umm al-Qura calendar system is not established on actual moon sighting but the certainty that the moon will be seen somewhere in the world within a given period.

In 2012, Ramadhan was announced by Saudi Arabia for Friday 20th July 2012 on the basis that Muslims in Chile would see the moon. According the all scientific data and subsequent observation reports, the moon was not visible anywhere else in the world. Independent reports and official announcements by Islamic organisations in Chile showed that the moon was not seen in Chile and the first official day of Ramadhan in Chile was Saturday 21st July 2012. The Umm al-Qura calendar had committed Muslims across the world to being Ramadhan on Friday 20th July when not a single Muslim in the world had seen the moon.

Eid al Fitr: Did Saudi Arabia Mistake Saturn for the Shawwal Moon?
Saturnine faces as astronomers query moon sighting over Saudi Arabia

Due to this large Muslims are reluctant to follow Saudi.

Do you have to follow your local mosque even if you disagree?

Much of the discussion above relates to Ramadhan/Eid occurring on different days due to differences in calculation and time zones however in the west, it is common to see Muslims in the same neighbourhood celebrating on different days.

The standard position of determining the months still stands in the UK, however due to our location, we are not able to see the crescent even with optical aids. So due to this, there are some who follow the verdict passed by the Saudi Government as they are the ‘centre of Islam.’ Others take on the Hanafi position of accepting the verdict of another judge, this being from the state of Morroco. As Morocco is the nearest Muslim country in distance and time zone, it is befitting that Muslims follow their verdict.

There is the principle of following the masses, a hadith metions:

The fast is the day you all fast; the breaking of fast is on the day that you all break fast; and the day of sacrifice is on the day that you all sacrifice.Al-Tirmidhi

Al-Tirmidhi says, ‘Some scholars explained this hadith to mean that fasting and breaking the fast should be done with the Muslim body [jama’ah] or the majority of people.’
This means that the lay man does not have his own sighting of the moon or follow his own decision. The matters of beginning Ramadān and confirming ‘Īd are not private affairs; they are decisions which affect the ummah and therefore have to be taken on that level. None can do this except the leader of the Muslims. When there is no leader then the majority of Muslims represent the opinion of the ummah.

So it will be incorrect for Muslims to celebrate alone, or where it is EID. It is important to remember the essence of the day is celebration, this is with one’s family and the Muslims, and so it would be inappropriate to be single oneself out due to one’s opinion.

Solutions

It is not possible to begin the fast on the same day across the world however I do believe it is important to do so in local communities. So in the UK an option is to set up an independent committee who determine and pass verdicts for the beginning of each Islamic month, just like we have committees who establish the Juma prayer in communities.
Or to appoint an official Qadi in Morroco who can relay the verdict of the Moroccon courts to the UK. This will help in starting the month on a single day in the UK, as we don’t have an issue of sighting, but of following an authority.

To summarise, we can employ one of two methods.

  • The first is to sight the moon with the eye. The basis for this doctrine is numerous Prophetic traditions [ahadith]; Abu Hurayrah relates that the Prophet, may Allāh praise and send peace and blessings upon him, said, ‘Fast when you see it (i.e., the moon) and cease fasting when you see it, and if it is hidden or cloudy, complete the counting of Sha’bān as thirty days.’ This hadith is agreed upon by Al-Bukhari and Muslim; similar authentic ahadith are also recorded.
  • The second principle applies only in the absence of the first, which is to complete thirty days for the month of Sha’bān. The basis for this is also the previous hadith and many other similar statements. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of scholars also agreed not to consider astronomy or calculations as a tool to confirm the beginning of Ramadān or ‘Īd.ā.

Misc

Importance of sighting

Pre Islam – The Jews and Makkan polytheists used to synchronize their lunar calendar with the civic solar calendar by arbitrary intercalations. The lunar year consisted of 354 days while the solar year was 365 days. The Hajj would fall sometimes in winter and on others times in spring or summer. The Polytheists wanted Hajj to fall during specific seasons for political and economic reasons. That is why they intercalated a thirteenth month after each three or four years to synchronize the lunar with the solar year. That changed the Hajj from its original sacred timing of Zil Hajjah to other months like Muharram, Safar or Rabi’ al-Awwal. The Qur’an abolished that practice and brought the time back to its original form. (Qur’an 9:36–37) The Prophet (PBUH) commanded Muslims to connect the sacred months of worship back to their original timings. The only mean available at that time to determine the month was either by physical moon sighting or completing 30 days in case of climatic obscurities such as clouds. That is why the Prophet (PBUH) emphasized either actual moon sighting or completion or counting.

Prayer calculations vs. moon-sighting calculations

It is allowed for us to rely on scientific facts that can provide accurate information in deciding the prayers times; we are allowed to use watches, computer programs and other technologies to decide these times. Why is this not the case for deciding the start and end of Ramadān?

There is a major Islamic difference between the prayer timings and the timings for the beginning and ending of Ramadān and the Hajj day. Allāh says in the Qur’ān, Establish the prayer from midday till the darkness of the night (i.e.. the Thuhr, ‘Asr, Maghrib and ‘Isha’ prayers)’16 and He also said, ‘So glorify Allāh , when you come up to the evening (i.e., offer the Maghrib and ‘Isha’ prayers), and when you enter the morning (i.e., offer the Fajr prayer).’17 Allāh has commanded us to pray in those specific times and hence we are commanded to determine the time by any means.

In contrast, Allāh never commanded us to begin Ramadān in a specific time or due to the birth of the new moon rather he commanded us to fast once we ‘witness’ the new moon. Therefore, our concern is not in the actual time or the birth of the new moon which is identified by the moon leaving the conjunction; rather we are concerned with ‘witnessing’ the new moon.

Timing of Sahoor in the UK

Over the last few years due to the Summer months in the UK, the timings of sahoor have varied from mosque to mosque. All have valid opinions. I ‘ll explain briefly.

The beginning time for the Fajr prayer is the start of the time for fasting according to all Muslim scholars. The basis of this consensus is the verse,

And eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your Saum (fast) till the nightfall.Quran 2:187

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) instructed the Companions,

The athān (call to prayer) of Bilāl should not prevent you from eating Sahūr (predawn meal) because he gives athān at night, therefore keep eating and drinking until you hear the athān of ʿAbdullāh b. Umm Makktum. He (ʿAbdullāh b. Umm Makktum) gives athān when the fajr comes out.Tirmidhi

The Fajr referred to in the ḥadīth is the true Fajr: al-Subh al-Sadiq. Samrah ibn Jundub related that the Prophet stated, “The vertical light (al-Fajr al-Mustateel which is the false Fajr) should not prevent you from eating (Sahoor). You can eat and drink until the light appears to spread (al-Fajr al-Mustateer – the true Fajr).

Scholars differ on what is the Subh Sadiq in the summer months. Generally, sahoor is established when the ‘white thread’ appears in the night sky, this is known as true dawn and is established when the Sun is between 12- 18 degrees below the horizon. However in the Summer as the night is so short, experts claim that the Sun does not set beyond 18 degrees and enter the period of ‘night’ i.e. where there is total darkeness.

As a result scholars have varied opinions on when the Subh  Sadiq shall occur. Some say we should estimate the time based on the last best known time of Subh Sdiq, i.e. follow the 18 degree principle. Others say, since there is no night, an estimation should be made on the typical length of the ‘night’ and Fajr begins during 12 degrees. This in reality is about a difference of about an hour. Finally some mosques in the north remain strict on their interpretation and hold the time for Fajr to be where the sun returns to rise. Typically this is 45 minutes before the more common 18  degree prciniple.

All opinions are valid and you are free to follow one and stick by it.

Muslim moon wars

7 Comments

    • No-one should blame an agenda or issue with another sect, especially when we all cannot sort our own houses out. if Wahaabi, Sunni, Shia or Salafi, it does not matter.

      We need to learn and evolve, we need grasp others knowledge, techniques and good-habits and bring in to our lives.

      Just like the prophet Muhammad S.A.W did, by following the laws of the lands where he travelled to and took the goodness and used it to their benefit.

      The prophet s.a.w never criticised or blamed any human, race or religion, they used to teach their ways and showed how their way was beneficial and convinced people. not argued, not blamed, not shouted or finger pointed.

      LETS ALL BE UNITED!!!!

  • I find it interesting that people just want a topic to argue about, i think it s aproblem in communities because theres a split. Like you say how can there possibly a 27th twice!

    • The 27th is not the issue, as the hadith teaches us to pray on the last ten night, it is any given night but there are more signs pointing towards the 27th, and one of the odd nights of the last 10, hence search the Qadr in itikaaf. the last 10 nights.

  • why comment and n something that you have limited knowledge to

    And a lot of your articles are the same

    It’s a pity because you seem to be a good writer but always negative and taking the Mick out haircuts hijabs restaurants foods

    Leave it out no place for critics in Islam

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