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Crescent Moon Observation - Some Common Questions

Dr. Omar Afzal (Revised Mar. 1999)

I participated in a seminar on the Moon-sighting on Feb. 27, 1999 evening. I was amazed that even after many presentations since 1981 in NYC area most of the 'Imams' and a lot of the Muslims who attended the seminar did not understand basic facts. This short note is to refresh the memory of inquisitive observers.

a.             A crescent moon cannot be seen before the birth of the New Moon.

b.             The earth is not a flat field, but a globe. A moon seen first at a place X (Makka, Cairo, Lagos, Istanbul, Washington DC, Houston, etc. will not be immediately visible everywhere on the globe. A town only a few miles east of the first visibility will see it next evening after 24 hours.

c.             If a moon is actually seen at any place (Makka, Cairo, etc.) it will be seen everywhere west of it in same evening (within a parabola, on a clear sky). Most of the world will see it within 24 hours as we see the sun in 24 hours though in some cases a crescent moon will take 3-5 days to be seen all over the globe.

d.             Some Muslims argue that the Hadith: "Sumu li-ru'yatih..." and "La tasumu hatta tara-wul-Hilal..." require that once a claim comes from anywhere any where in the world all Muslims are obligated to fast on receiving the news. Some say that for moonsighting even false claims must be accepted.

e.             Some use "29/30 days" Hadith to stop fasting after 30 days. Here are a few points to ponder for all intelligent Muslims who are interested in comprehending the "moonsighting" issues (even for those who reject any consideration of moon's calculations).

The Ahadith cannot be interpreted for an "instant, global" beginning of Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr. The Hadith also contains the phrase: Fa In Ghumma 'alaikum... (If your horizon is cloudy…) The horizon everywhere on the globe will not be cloudy exactly after sunset. This phrase by itself means that the Messenger (S) meant sighting on the "local Matla'".

Un-verifiable Sighting Claims

Where do they find in the Qur’an and the Sunnah that we must accept FALSE claims?                                      

Kuraib's Hadith (found in Sahih Muslim, and four other Sihah): "...I saw Ramadan crescent in Syria...on Friday night. Then I reached Medina by the end of the month. Ibn Abbas (R) inquired about it...When?...We saw it Friday night. "Did you see it Friday night? Yes, I did, and so did people (in Syria /Damascus). They fasted, and also Mu'awiya (R) (the then ruler)... But we (in Medina) saw it Saturday night. We will continue to fast till we either complete 30 days or we see it (here in Medina)...Is Mu'awiya's sighting and fasting not enough... No. This is the way the Messenger (S) ordered us (to do).

It explains the following points:

1. In Syria Ramadan crescent was seen on Friday, but in Medina on Saturday. (Medina is east of Syria, and outside the visibility parabola for that evening. Hence the moon could not be seen there on Friday, the day everyone saw it in Syria)

2. Ibn Abbas (R) received the news (it was also an eyewitness account, a decision by the Qadi/ruler, etc. before the end of the month. But he (or anybody else in Medina) did not accept it as binding on those who did not see it on a clear sky.      

3. On Ramadan 29 (which was Ramadan 30 for Kuraib, and everybody in Syria) Shawwal crescent WAS NOT VISIBLE in Medina.

4. Ibn Abbas (R) (and everybody else in Medina) insisted on "A VISIBLE HILAL ON MEDINA (LOCAL) HORIZON". They did it because this is what the Messenger (S)  instructed them to do. Another Hadith in Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaiba also confirms this. 'Ikrama and Salim asked the people in Medina to ignore the sighting in a nearby place hardly 20 miles away because it was not visible in Medina.

5. The Muslims in Medina did not celebrate Eid the next day although 30 days of Ramadan were completed according to a confirmed sighting in Syria. Instead they kept on fasting.                            

6. Ibn Abbas (R) forced Kuraib to fast 31st day. (Subul as-Salaam)

7. He rejected Friday's sighting in Syria to be UNIVERSAL and/or BINDING on all Muslims everywhere in the world.

8. He also rejected that after completing 30 days of Ramadan a person can celebrate Eid even if Shawwal crescent is not seen on a clear sky where he is present.

9. He affirmed that the Muslims should begin fasting and celebrate Eid only if a crescent is VISIBLE in the sky at their place. There is no justification to celebrate Eid if a crescent is NOT SEEN on the local horizon, even for someone who had seen it by his own eyes somewhere else at the beginning of the month.

10. He rejected the pleas: a) The witness himself saw it; b) Everybody at...saw it. c) The Muslim ruler saw it and fasted.

11. Ibn Abbas (R) did this by asserting: Fa la nazalu nasumu... "We will keep on fasting until we complete 30 days (by our sighting in Medina) or SEE it...LA. Hakadha amarana..."BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT THE MESSENGER (S) ORDERED US TO DO.

Shaukani and others argued to reject Kuraib’s Hadith on the following grounds:

                1. Ibn Abbas (R) did not quote the actual words of the Messenger (S).

                (Strange: There are several versions of the Hadith "La tasumu…", quoted above.)

                2. He required a testimony of at least two witnesses.

                (Strange: The question was not of the number of witnesses. It was "Visibility".)

                3. It was his Ijtihad, and his Ijtihad is not binding.

                (Strange: Why did he use the words: "Amarana..." The Messenger (S) ORDERED US…?

                4. Kuraib was not a reliable witness.

                (Strange: Ibn Abbas (R) did not say anything about Kuraib being unreliable.)

                5. Ibn Abbas (R) believed in Ikhtilaf-i Matali.

(Strange: He said nothing about it. He could say: "Li kulli ahli baladin ru'yatahum", as Tirmidhi adds, and reports from the "knowledgeable".)

                6. Kuraib's testimony was only NEWS, and not a Shahadah (eyewitness account).

                (Strange: If Ibn Abbas (R) took it as news only, then why did he continue asking questions?)

Obviously, none of these arguments is valid to disregard a Sahih Hadith collectively reported in five Sihah. It must be accepted especially now when the physical facts of moon's visibility confirm every aspect of it.

The conclusions are obvious:

* VISIBILITY OF THE MOON IS THE ONLY BASIS TO BEGIN AN ISLAMIC MONTH.

* MUSLIMS AT A PLACE X CANNOT ACT ON THE NEWS FROM A PLACE Y IF THEY CANNOT SEE A MOON ON A CLEAR HORIZON.

* WHEN THE NEWS FROM Y (MAKKA, HOUSTON, ETC.) IS NOT CONFIRMED BY THE VISIBILITY AT THEIR OWN TOWN THE MUSLIMS MUST DISREGARD IT.

* AFTER COMPLETING 30 DAYS OF RAMADAN ONE CANNOT DISCONTINUE FASTING IF A MOON IS NOT VISIBLE IN THE SKY. THE NEWS OR THE WITNESSES IN                 YOUR OWN TOWN WERE FALSE. A MOON WILL ALWAYS BE SEEN IF 30 DAYS ARE COMPLETED, AS THE MESSENGER (S) SAID.    

* THE WHOLE WORLD WILL SEE A CRESCENT IN 24 HOURS.

* MOON'S VISIBILITY CANNOT EXTEND EAST FROM THE INITIAL POINT. ETC.

This year Saudi dates of Ramadan and Eidain were BEFORE the New Moon. As a moon cannot be seen before its birth the Muslims must not be asked to follow Saudi announcements in the name of Muslim ‘Unity’. Unity on a wrong date against the guidelines of the Qura’n and the Sunnah is not unity but disobedience of Allah and His Rasul.