Adopt Calculated Islamic Hijri Dates
Omar Afzal Ph.D. (1986, Revised 1998)
The Islamic month always
started from the sunset after a crescent moon was sighted on the 29th
or 30th day. The crescent moon’s universal visibility was easy
especially in dry climates. Though the “New Moon” calculation was known for
centuries a Hilal’s visibility computation remained elusive. For
centuries Muslim astronomers tried to improved on various criteria that
predicted the earliest visibility of the crescent moon but were not successful.
(See Moon’s Earliest Visibility Criteria).
Abdali (1978) suggested a criterion that could calculate
the probability of the ‘local’ sighting quite accurately for a broad region.
Ilyas suggested tri-zonal and bi-zonal visibility solutions. However, a Hijri
calendar, like any usable calendar cannot have two or more first dates of an
Afzal (1986:IIT Lunar Calendar Conference) suggested that
a global lunar Hijri calendar was possible to calculate if:
180E (International dateline) is also adopted as the International
the beginning of the Hijri month is calculated when the moon’s
earliest visibility occurs close to ILDL after the sunset.
A calculated global Hijri calendar has several advantages.
It conforms with the Qur’an (2:189), the Sunnah, and the Islamic tradition (Ru’yah);
has uniform fixed dates of Islamic occasions (Ramadan, Eidain and Hajj) for the
entire globe; allows use of Islamic dates for civil purposes, and makes easy
conversion to future solar dates possible.
If the calculations for the crescent moon’s earliest
visibility are so accurate, and easy, then why do the Muslims not adopt it? The
answer lies in our ignorance and ego.
Saudi/Egyptian calendar makers insist on their “Moonset after the
sunset” criterion to calculate the Islamic dates by the New Moon;
Many groups around the world insist on following Saudi/Egyptian dates;
Muslim astronomical experts are split about what is the minimum threshold
of moon’s local visibility and how to fix the date for a region (Sharing the
Muslim moon-watchers are on a mad chase of the “earliest visibility of
the crescent”, often contradicting all known visibility limits, and making
claims that could not be verified from places located west of the earliest
Muslim experts attest spurious claims by throwing all known norms out of
Local Imams succumb to the pressure of their congregations, or by calls
According to some, the Messenger (S) asked the Muslims not to rely on
calculation for the crescent (the ‘Ummiya’ Hadith.
(In N. America, ISNA Fiqh Council consists mainly of Imams
who have to lead their respective congregations on the dates announced by S.
Arabia/Egypt, irrespective of whether the crescent moon’s visibility could be
ascertained. Warith Deen’s group goes strictly by his fixed dates. ICNA worries
about unity of dates with ISNA FC. Local Imams are forced by congregations to
follow the decision by national organizations.)
Calculated Islamic dates in early Muslim History
If the Islamic month starts from the sighted
moon after the sunset on the 29th or 30th day and the
calculations predicting the crescent moon (Hilal) observation are fairly
accurate, then why have the Muslims not adopted it?
The answer is:
according to some Ulema, the Messenger (S) asked the Muslims not to rely on
calculation (Hisaab) for the crescent (the ‘Ummiya’ Hadith), and
2) for others,
Saudi or Egyptian calculations are more reliable.
It is not true that the Muslim Ummah was
unanimous in rejecting the “Hiasaab” (calculations) to determine the beginning
of an Islamic month despite the fact that the calculations for “Hilal” (the
earliest visible crescent moon) were far from accurate in their age.
Prominent Tabi’in like Mutraf b. Abdullah,
Muhadditheen like Ibn Qutaiba, Fuqaha like
Imam Shafi’i, Ibn Suraij, Ibn Daqiq al-Eid,
Daudi and others had permitted the use of calculations for determining the
Ramadan and Eidain dates. Imam Abu Hanifa is quoted in Qaniyah as saying: “There
is no harm in depending on the words of the astronomers (for determining the
month).” Ibn Muqatil went a step further. He says that there is nothing wrong in
depending on the words of the astronomers, and asking them about the dates if a
group of them agrees on the same.
The Muslim astronomer like Al-Biruni improved on
the calculations for the crescent observation. However, they were unable to
explain why a crescent is not always visible on a day predicted by their rules
for a moon’s visibility. The Ulema, for their fear of ‘the new and the unknown’,
continued to insist on ‘shahaada’ though it created far more confusion
everywhere than the ‘words of the Munajjim’.
Among the later Fuqaha, Subki, Shakir, etc.
strongly supported the need for using calculations to judge the accuracy of
‘Shahaada’ and avoid blunders. In recent years Ulema like Qaradawi go to the
extreme of discarding ‘ru'yah’ for the calculated New Moon.
Before refuting the “Ummiyah” argument let us
understand the background of this Hadith.
During the time of the Messenger (S) the Arabs
followed tribal lunar calendars with some form of ‘Nasi’ (adding a month every
three years to keep pace with the solar seasons). When he (S) reached Medina he
found the Jewish tribes following their fixed luni-solar calendar.
Circumstantial evidence shows that the Messenger (S) fasted the first ‘Ashura’
according to the Jewish calendar (Bukhari: The Messenger (S) saw the Jews of
Medina fasting the day of Ashura. He asked (them): What is it (that you are
celebrating)? They said: It is a good day - the day Banu Israel were emancipated
from their enemy (Fir’awn). Musa (A) fasted this day. He said: I am more
rightful of Musa than you. He (S) then fasted himself and asked other (Muslims)
to fast. (Sahih Muslim and others also have similar versions)
The Jews, like the Hindus, Babylonians, and the
Chinese were aware of the lunar calculations. The Jewish calendar committee used
to check the accuracy of moon-sighting claims by their calculations of the
conjunction at Jerusalem. As Spier (1988:p.2) mentions:
“In the 4th century C.E. ... the patriarch
Hillel II took an extraordinary step to preserve the unity of Israel. In order
to prevent the Jews scattered all over the surface of the earth from celebrating
their new Moons, festivals, and holidays at different times he made public
the system of calendar calculation which was upto then a closely guarded secret....
In accordance with this system, Hillel formally sanctified all months in
advance, and intercalated all future leap years until such time as a new
Sanhedrin would be established in Israel. This is the permanent calendar
according to which the New Moons and festivals are calculated and celebrated
today by the Jews all over the world.”
The Jews in Medina used the same fixed calendar
calculated by the New Moon in Jerusalem, whereas the Arab tribes made their
local calendars based on a visible crescent moon. The Muslims in Medina
continued to follow the sighted crescent moon. In the coming years, the Jews
became hostile to the Messenger (S) and belittled him for lacking such basic
“knowledge” that was commonly known to their Rabbis for centuries. Whenever the
Muslims were unable to see a crescent moon because of clouds or dust as was the
customary Arab method to start the month, the Jews slighted them by telling that
the new month had already started a day or two ago (Tabari:2:189).
The Messenger (S) had two choices: 1) Ask the
Muslims to follow the Jewish calendar, thus making them completely dependent on
the Jewish Rabbis for Ramadan, and Eidain dates, or 2) Ask them to follow the
customary obvious sign in the sky: a crescent moon which was always visible on
the 29th or 30th day. Later, the Qur’an abolished ‘Nasi’ and asked the Muslims
to follow the ‘Hilal’ (a crescent) to count all their 12 months, and for
determining the Hajj dates.
The Ummiya Hadith was not a standing command to
the Muslim Ummah to remain ‘Ummi’ for all the time to come till the end of time.
It was never meant to be a permanent injunction against the calculations, as
some Ulema have tried to argue in recent days.
How could the Messenger (S) forbid what the
Qur’an itself confirms? The Quran specifically mentions that the sun and the
moon are on a computed course (55:5). Allah used ‘Hisab’ and its derivatives in
the context of the moon in several Ayahs and mentions fixed ‘Manazil’ of the
moon. However, as the Muslims did not know the lunar calculations like the Jews
and Hindus, the Messenger (S) asked them to rely on the Hilal (a visible
crescent). In case the horizon was cloudy on the 29th day then wait another day
to complete 30 days of the lunar month, because a crescent moon is always
visible on 30th day.
Another prevailing misconception among the
Muslims is that they can stop fasting if they have completed 30 days of fasting,
even if the Shawwal crescent is not visible on a clear horizon. They quote the
same 29/30 days long month Hadith as their argument (For details see the books
The Hadith must be taken for its obvious
meaning: The lunar month is either 29 or 30 days long. Muslim must try to see a
crescent moon on the 29th evening. If it is not seen then they will
certainly see it on the 30th evening.
The Messenger (S) made it very clear that the
fasting has to begin by ‘ru'yah’(sighting), and end only after ‘ru'yah’,
except if the ‘matla’ is cloudy or dusty. In case the clouds and dust block the
visibility then complete the month 30 days. It is a fact that a crescent will
always be visible on the 30th day.
At present a major source of confusion about
Ramadan and Eidain dates are eye-witnesses, and the news from certain Muslim
countries. For example, in 1994, the Muslims in N. America celebrated Eid on 3
different days. A small group had Eid on Sat. Mar. 12 because 3 Muslims claimed
seeing a Shawwal crescent on Friday. Most of the Muslims had Eid on Sunday, Mar.
13 because 2 out of 3 in Los Angeles and 3 in Lodi, CA claimed a sighting. All
claims were rejected after careful evaluation by the experts. But arguments were
twisted for a Sunday Eid. The experts told the decision-makers that Eid on
Sunday might make Shawwal 31 days. All were unanimous that Shawwal crescent
cannot be seen on Sat. Mar. 12, 94.
As predicted by the experts, the D. Qada
crescent was not seen in L.A. on Apr. 11, and Shawwal became 31 and 32 days.
Similarly, in 1993 the Muslims started Ramadan on 3 days and celebrated Eid al-Fitr
on 4 dates. Saudi Majlis al-Qada-A’la confirmed moonsighting (?) on Feb. 21, 93
(Sunday). Some groups in NWP in Pakistan and Afghanistan, some Islamic centers
in Europe, and the Islamic Center Washington DC decided to accept the news of
sighting and started Ramadan on Monday. Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Turkey,
Algeria, Morocco, etc. started on Tuesday although a sighting was impossible in
Indonesia, and Malaysia. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan started on Wednesday
after seeing a crescent on Tuesday. S. Arabia and some Gulf sheikhdoms
celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Tuesday, Mar. 23, 1993. Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Morocco,
etc. confirmed non-sighting on Monday but celebrated Eid on Wednesday. From
Indonesia to Turkey it was celebrated on Thursday, and in S. Africa, etc. on
Friday. The Muslim communities in the US and Europe followed the news of their
choice, though the sighting was possible only on Wednesday. Which one of these
dates was correct?
Often it is argued that we should close our eyes and
accept every ‘shahaada’. How can we reject a claim of moon-sighting by a Muslim
when the Messenger (SAW) accepted it from an ‘A’raabi’?
There are several arguments to counter this
There is nothing in the Quran and the Sunnah that compels us to accept
false witnesses. The Quran forbids us from acting on the false
The Messenger (S) accepted the A’raabi’s account because:
1. There was no counter- evidence to prove that
his claim was false.
2. The Messenger (S)
wanted the Muslims to begin Ramadan, but they were reluctant.
Jewish lunar date was supporting his claim.
4. The A’raabi was one of the uncles of
Hadrat Anas (RA).
Messenger (S) questioned the A’raabi’s claim.
6. The Messenger (S) was deciding Ramadan for a town, not a
whole country, a continent or the whole world.
c) Later, The Khulafa and the
Companions rejected the news of sighting from other places if the crescent was
not clearly seen in their town on a clear horizon.
d) Earlier Fuqaha argued for the minimum number
of witnesses from a town. When false claims by eye-witnesses increased
dramatically Imam Abu Yusuf, as the Qadi of Bughdad required at least 50
witnesses. Later, he required ‘a group from every mosque’ in Baghdad. Khalaf
b. Ayyub required a minimum of 150, and the Qadi in Bukhara wanted a number as
large as 1500.
Every individual or committee which has been
assigned the task of evaluating the eye-witnesses anywhere in the world will
confirm that the Muslims claim the most odd and utterly unbelievable sightings
at all times and in every direction. There is a very simple rule:
IF A CRESCENT IS SEEN AT A PLACE THEN EVERY TOWN
WEST, NORTH/SOUTH-WEST OF IT WILL SEE IT.
If not, then the claim is FALSE. ‘Official’
eye-witnesses supporting a political decision on Eidain and Ramadan dates can
easily be proven false and rejected on the following grounds:
1. Shahaada is ‘Zann’.
Moon’s calculations are ‘Yaqeen’. They are accurate to the hundredth of a
3. Non-sighting in the same area, and areas west
of it are ‘yaqeen’. Yaqeen’
always takes precedence over ’zann’.
Many Ulema brush aside all arguments because for
them it is a matter of following a Fiqh position. You believe in Ikhtilaf-i
Matali’, and I believe in the whole world being one Matla’. Because of the
discovery of the ‘Visibility Separator Curve’ the whole discussion of Matali’
is now irrelevant. The world is a globe, not a flat field, and the crescent’s
viability extends westward in a parabola. Those who insist on Wahdat-i Matla’
are wrong because the crescent does not become visible instantly all over the
world. It takes 24 hours like the sun (or more) to be seen all over the globe.
It is wrong that ‘Ikhtilaf-i Matali’ means every town would see a crescent on
Often we worry about celebrating Eid on two days
because we forget that an Islamic day/date begins after sunset and a solar
day/date begins at midnight. Then there is the International Dateline. Two
islands only 100 yards apart will have two different dates if the IDL is passing
between them. There is no International Lunar Date Line (ILDL) because the
crescent becomes visible at a different place every month, and the cycle is not
repeated in centuries. If we decide that all the Muslims should celebrate on the
same solar date then we have to decide what to do with the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
If we decide to strictly abide by the lunar date then the Muslims will always
celebrate their Eids on two solar dates. If we ask all the Muslims to accept the
first visibility instantly then we face several problems. What about the
countries where a crescent was not and could never be seen that evening? How far
east, north/south- east will we extend the lunar date on a globe? In some
countries the sun may be coming out, and in others it would be mid-day. How will
the Islamic day / dates be fixed?
As a matter of fact, the whole world is one
Matla’, but in a 24 hours long Islamic day/date which will always be two solar
dates. We have to agree on certain traditions to accommodate the geophysical
Often the Ulema argue that how can they accept
‘calculations’ when the astronomers themselves do not agree among themselves?
The calculations do not differ. All astronomers will come up with the same
answer if they are asked to calculate the conjunction (New Moon), and the moon’s
position on a certain date. Where they differ is: When the Moon will be visible
as a crescent? Even this disagreement has narrowed down in the last decade.
They agree that the Moon CANNOT BE SEEN before the New Moon phase, that the Moon
CANNOT BE SEEN immediately after the New Moon’s birth, that there is a zone of
improbable visibility. They disagree only where will it be seen the earliest, as
discussed earlier. When will the crescent be certainly visible? is a question
which we are facing for the last 3,000 years. The Committee for Crescent
Observation has come to the conclusion that as a rule of thumb the crescent will
be visible at every location where its angle is 12+ degrees and the altitude
exceeds 10 degrees at sunset. In some rare cases, a crescent may be seen a
little early by expert observers through binoculars and telescopes, but not very
29 / 30 Days
For years Saudi Arabian authorities have used
the 29/30 days Hadith to justify some of their dates. Obviously, 30 days must be
counted from the last crescent, not from the Conjunction (New Moon). The Moon
will always be visible on the 30th day in Saudi Arabia. It is extremely unlikely
that the whole kingdom would be cloudy after the sunset. If a crescent is not
visible on a clear horizon then it is certainly not the 30th day. It is
self-contradictory to claim that ‘30 days are complete but the crescent was not
seen anywhere in the kingdom’.
News From Anywhere
We have mentioned that the lunar visibility is
within a parabola. The crescent will be certainly visible within the visibility
parabola. The news coming from within the visibility curve is useless for the
areas outside the curve. A crescent cannot be seen there. They should continue
their month for another day. The news is useful only for those areas within the
curve where the crescent’s visibility is blocked by clouds or
The Qur’an confirms the accuracy of the
calculations for the rotation of the sun and the moon (55:5). However, in the
early period of the Islamic history those calculations were not known to the
Muslim Ummah. The Messenger (SAW) asked the Muslims to depend on their eyes, and
use the simple count of the days of the month. If the crescent is not visible on
the 29th, then it will certainly be visible on the 30th day.
The Jews in Medina used their lunar calendar for
determining the beginning of their lunar month. It was usually a day or two
ahead of the visible crescent. Their computation was fairly accurate, but the
Messenger (SAW) did not want the Muslims to rely on the Jews for the observance
of Islamic occasions.
No lunar calendar could be made solely on the
basis of the New Moon (Conjunction) as it occurs at any time of the day or night
without repeating the cycle for centuries.
The Islamic day begins after sunset. The Islamic
month begins after a crescent is visible on the 29th or 30th day. If a crescent
is not visible on the 30th day then the count of the days is wrong.
or more than 2,000 years various calculations
were used to predict the earliest visibility of the crescent. However, no
criterion is ‘absolutely accurate, and universally applicable’. Moon’s
visibility depends on several factors, some of which can be accurately
calculated. However, atmospheric conditions are beyond human control. Some
Tabi’in, Muhadditheen, and Fuqaha accepted the calculations for determining the
beginning of an Islamic month.
The astronomical calculations for the moon,
including its conjunction, and lunar eclipses, etc. are accurate to the fraction
of a second.
The astronomers differ only in predicting the
earliest visibility of the crescent. Once the Muslim governments which are using
different criteria unify and define what they want the astronomers to calculate
then most of the confusion will dissipate. Despite drawbacks, the human
knowledge has reached the stage where the astronomical calculations can
determine WHEN THE CRESCENT WILL CERTAINLY BE VISIBLE AT ANY PLACE. To overcome
the present confusion the Committee for Crescent Observation
EIDAIN DATES SHOULD BE FIXED ACCORDING TO THE
CERTAINLY VISIBLE CRESCENT.
If, for any reason a crescent is seen a day
earlier, which would seldom happen, then the Muslims should not fast the next
day, but the Eid prayers should be performed on the date fixed
The present obsession with
the ‘UNITY’ of the Islamic dates has forced many well-meaning people to neglect
the basic issues of the lunar Islamic calendar. The Ulema and the experts must
sit down and agree on some basic principles. The earliest it is done the better
the chances are that the present chaos will disappear.