Where Do We Differ and Why? Omar Afzal, Ph.D.
The Qur’an specifically mentions a ‘visible crescent’ (Ahilla) as “Mawaqeet” for determining the beginning lunar Islamic month (2:189). All agree that the Hadith :”Do not fast unless you see it…” (Bukhari, etc.) is how the Messenger (S) put this Qur’anic injunction into practice.
All the Fuqha agree that the sighting of a crescent (Hilal), or the completion of 30 days of the previous lunar month (29/30 days Hadith) determines the beginning of an Islamic month. However, they disagree on details.
The following is a summary of the chapter in Kitab Al-Fiqh Ala al-Madhaahib al-Arb’a with some modifications:
If it is cloudy on 29th evening at your place: If the sky is clear at your place:
Hanafi: At least two witnesses A large group (An acceptable number may be two or more from every mosque in the town to 500+ in a large city like Balkh)
Maliki: At least two A large number on a clear day.
Shafi’i: One for Ramadan /Two One for Eid al-Fitr if ‘Hakim’ accepts/Two
Hanbali: One Two
***For celebrating Eid al-Fitr after 30 days of fasting they also differ.***
If it is cloudy at your place on 30th evening: If the skies are clear on 30th at your place:
Ahnaf: Eid al-Fitr next day Fast 31st day, as it is actually 30th
Ahnaf: Eid al-Fitr next day Eid next day
Shafi’i: Eid next day Eid next day (30 days complete)
Maliki: Eid next day Eid next day
Hanbali: Eid next day
Eid only if Ramadan started by 2 witnesses
Fast 31 if Ramadan by 1 witness or
Sha’ban was only 29 days
Hanafi Fuqaha argue that if the sky is clear on the 30th evening and the crescent is not visible then non-visibility is exact proof that the month of Ramadan is not over. The beginning of Ramadan was a mistake as a crescent is alwa visible on a clear sky on 30th. The first day of Ramadan will be counted as the last day of Sha’ban and Ramadan will be completed to 30 days.
Ikhtilaf vs. Ittihad al-Matali:
If a crescent is sighted in one town but not at another place Muhadditheen, on the authority of the Kuraib’s Hadith (Sahih Muslim, Tirmidhi and 3 other Sihah) are unanimous that every town must follow it’s own sighting. Tirmidhi quotes consensus (Ijma’) on this position.
Earlier Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali Fuqaha say that all the Muslims who come to know about it must follow the earliest sighting for Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. This position was for towns in close proximity from each other (usually, for distances when one was not considered a traveler i.e. up to 48 miles). For longer distances all were unanimous that each town abides by its sighting.
Shafi’i and later Ahnaf say that each town must follow it’s sighting.
Those who hold “the whole world as one horizon” opinion argue that the Ahadith: “Sumu li-ru’yatih…”, “La tasumu hatta tara-wul-Hilal…” etc. are a ‘general order for all Muslims’ and require that once a crescent is seen anywhere in the world all Muslims must fast or celebrate Eid.
Both Ittihad and Ikhtilaf positions are now obsolete because:
a. The Ahadith “Sumu li ru’yatihi…” cannot be interpreted for an “instant, global” beginning of Ramadan or Eid al-Fitr for several reasons. They contain phrases like: “Fa in Ghumma ‘alaikum…(If your horizon is cloudy/hazy..). The horizon all over the globe will not be cloudy exactly at sunset. These phrases by themselves mean that the Messenger (S) meant “local Matla’ of each town as the Kuraib’s Hadith explains.
a. The earth is not a flat field, but a globe. It takes 24 hours for the moon to be visible over most of the earth. A moon first seen at a place X (for example, Makka] will not be visible immediately everywhere, especially east of X (for example, from Jakarta to Taif). A town only a few miles east of X (earliest sighting place) will see it after 24 hours.
b. If a moon is actually seen at any place then it will be seen everywhere west of it (within the parabola, on a clear sky).
“…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).
1. In Syria Ramadan crescent was seen on Friday, but in Medina it was seen next day on Saturday. (Medina is east of Syria, and was 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 theQadi/ruler, etc. before the end of the month. But he (or anybody else in Medina) did not accept it as binding on them as they did not see it on Friday on a clear sky.
3. On Ramadan 29 (which was 30 Ramadan for Kuraib, and for Muslims in Syria) Shawwal crescent WAS NOT VISIBLE in Medina on a clear sky.
4. Ibn Abbas (R) and people in Medin insisted on “A VISIBLE CRESCENT ON MEDINA HORIZON”. They asked for 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 told people to ignore the news of sighting in a place hardly 20 miles away because it was not visible in Medina on a clear sky.)
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 31 days. (It was 30th Ramadan in Medina.] (Subul as-Salaam)
7. He rejected Friday’s sighting in Syria to be UNIVERSAL and/or BINDING on all Muslims everywhere in the world. Non-Sighting on a clear sky in Medina meant Ramadan continues.
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 on a clear 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 and completed 30 days of fasting.
10. He rejected the pleas: a) The witness himself saw it; b) Everybody at… saw it. c) The Muslim ruler saw it and all the Muslim in Syria fasted. etc. as at was against a fact (non-sighting on their clear horizon).
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. Ha kadha amarana Rasulullah: “BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT THE MESSENGER (S) ORDERED US TO DO.
Shaukani and others have argued to reject this 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..”, as quoted and he refered to it.)
2. He required a testimony of at least two witnesses.
(Strange: The question was not of the number of witnesses. It was moon’s “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 al-Matali.
(Strange: He said nothing about it. He could say: “Li kulli ahli baladin ru’yatuhum”, etc.
6. Kuraib’s testimony was only a NEWS, and not a Shahadah (eye-witness account).
(Strange: If Ibn Abbas (R) took it as a 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. The physical facts of a moon’s visibility confirm every aspect of this Hadith.
For Eid al-Adha all Fuqha are unanimous that each town will follow its sighting.
All Fuqaha agree that if the news of a sighting is conveyed properly, after authentication by the authorities, all the Muslims who receive the news must act on it for fasting and for Eid al-Fitr.
(However, Ahadith (La Tasumu.. Bukhari) and Kuraib (Sahih Muslim) confirm that the Messenger (S) ordered us not to start a new month if a crescent is not seen on a clear sky even if 30 days count is complete by some testimony or news. There is nothing in the Qur’an and Sunnah which permits Muslims to start Ramadan or celebrate Eid because of the “news” from somewhere else when a crescent is not visible on a clear sky in their town, or it is cloudy on 29th day.)
Some use “a month is 29 or 30 days” Hadith to celebrate Eid al-Fitr after 30 days of Ramadan even when they do not see a crescent on a clear sky. Similarly, some start fasting because their calendar shows 30 days of Sh’aban are completed. This is another misconception
Why should we disregard the obvious meaning of this Hadith: The month is either 29 or 30 days. Try to see a crescent on the 29th evening. If it is not seen then you will certainly see it on the 30th if the horizon is clear. The Messenger (S) made it very clear that the fasting has to begin by ‘ru’yah’, and end only after ‘ru’yah’. The only exception is if the horizon is clouded. If clouds block the visibility then we complete 30 days of the month. It is a fact that a crescent will always be seen on the 30th evening.
Al-Jumuah (V.8:no.8, p.21-25) published an article on determining the first day of Ramadan. It quotes Ibn Taymiyah (Fatawa v.5): “..using calculations… is not allowed..” Earlier several articles like “Verifying the crescent of Ramadan” (Hudaa Jan. 1997) “Sighting: the correct method” (Muslim Creed), “Sighting versus Calculation” (Friday Report), “Unification of the day of fasting” (Ar-Raya), “Sighting of Ramadan crescent and Muslim unity” (Manar as-Sabeel), “Establishing Ramadhan and other Islamic dates” (Al-Quran and As-Sunnah Society of North America) etc. and shorter notes appeared on the issue of moonsighting . They tell the Muslims to rely only on ‘witnesses’ even if false, and not on calculations. Jibali’s claim that ‘False witnesses are not very relevant’ (Wall St. Journal 1/7/97) shows how blind these supporters of ‘witnesses only’ position are to the real problem? These writers pretend to know “moon’s astronomy” (?) and talk about “indisputable natural sign” (the crescent). According to them “the most perfect rule” is the testimony of “one Muslim” for establishing the Islamic date. All of them have some common arguments.
1. The Qur’an and Sunnah accept only ‘witnesses’. Calculations are unacceptable. (Ummiya Hadith)
2. All including false claims of sighting must be accepted because the Messenger (S) did so. (A’raabi Hadith)
3. The news of sighting anywhere is valid for the whole world, even if you do not see it on a clear sky. (Sumu Hadith)
4. After 30 days a new month begins, even if you do not see a crescent on a clear sky. (29/30 Hadith)
This is their interpretation of A’raabi, 29/30 days, Ummiya and Sumu Ahadith. Let us analyze their arguments:
A) From Khulafa al-Rashidun to Qadis in recent months all over the Muslim world evaluated testimonies rigorously by whatever means were available to them. From ‘Umar (R) who rejected the testimony of Anas (R) for a crescent (Anas mistook a white hair of his eyebrow for a crescent) till today Qadis have found strong reasons to reject eye-witnesses of Ramadan and Eidain crescents when they had doubts about these claims.
B) “Testimony”–an account of an event– is only a “Zann”, and not “Yaqeen”. It may be true or false. It has to be checked and verified before a judge accepts it as a valid evidence to establish a fact.
C) Their “most perfect rule” (Reliable Muslims’ testimony) is the real cause of confusion and disunity among the Muslims all over the world. For years Muslims have experienced chaos. They start Ramadan and celebrate Eidain on 2-3 different days in the same city because of false claims. Testimony by “Udul Shuhud” is often not the “most perfect rule” as these writers want us to believe. What happens to the crescent which “Udul Shuhud” (several reliable witnesses) testify to have seen at many places ? Why does it vanish from the sky for one or two days? These eye-witnesses fail both simple observational tests: 1) “SEEN” at any place must be seen at every place west of it the same evening, and 2) Seen by a few must be visible to everybody. Obviously, the testimony of these ‘Udul’ witnesses are not reliable but FALSE.
Every year we have a repetition of the same story. S. Arabia and some other states claim the first sightings of Ramadan and Eidain moons without fail, and the Muslims from Australia to Hawaii have to settle their “seen”: “not seen” differences by reasoning or fist-fights. The drama continues despite efforts to convince Saudi religious authorities that their blind acceptance of testimony by false witnesses is the real cause of the chaos.
E) “Wahdat al-Matali” is a “Fiqhi” position which is invalid for our earth –a “globe”, not a flat field. Similarly, determining Ramadan and Eidain on the basis of “Khabar” (news) from another country clashes with the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Ibn Abbas (RA) rejected the “Khabar” (news) and “Shahaadah” (eyewitness account) because a crescent was not seen on a clear Medina horizon saying: “This is what the Messenger (S) had ordered us.”
Their claim of “Ijma” on discarding “Hisab” shows their lack of knowledge.
Tabi’in and Fuqaha on calculations
The calculations for the ‘New Moon’ phases were known for thousands of years. But precise calculations for a crescent moon were unknown. By the ninth century the Muslim also learned how to calculate the New Moon phase. But for the next thousand years they were unable to find exactly when a crescent will always be visible. Almost all of them from Al-Biruni onwards wrote something on the topic of moonsighting. None of them was exact. For exact calculations they lacked the information about all the factors affecting the moon’s visibility from the surface of the earth. That is the reason the Fuqaha and Qudat continued to rely on witnesses instead of ‘Munajjimeen’, despite the fact that in many instances the witnesses were ‘false’ or mistaken.
Did the Messenger (S) really order the Muslims to remain “UMMI” (unlettered), and not use “Hisab” and “writing” till eternity? If not, then why should only moon’s calculations be ‘forbidden’? The Fuqaha who opposed calculations did it for obvious reason: the calculations in the last 14 hundred years were not very precise. The situation has drastically changed in the last two decades. Hundreds of observers from all over the world have confirmed the ‘accuracy of the calculated Islamic dates’ since 1980.
It is not true that the Muslim Ummah was unanimous in rejecting the calculations to determine the beginning of an Islamic month. 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 have permitted the use of calculations for determining the Ramadan and Eidain dates despite the fact that the calculations were not very accurate in their age. 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.
A crescent’s calculations are no longer “ignorant lying astrologers” estimations. During the last 15 years their accuracy is established by consistent observations. Muslim and non-Muslim both experts calculated that the Ramadan and Eidain crescents will be visible on such and such days in N. America and only on a day later in Asia, Africa etc. Those who carefully checked the sighting (including in S. Arabia, Egypt, etc.) confirmed that the Hilal was visible as the experts calculated, and not as the witnesses claimed from some ME places.
Those who doubt should form groups to observe the crescent every month on the conjunction date and the date confirmed by the calculations for its visibility in their area. They will be amazed to see how the calculations have confirmed what the Quran said 1400+ years ago: “The sun and the moon rotate on an exactly computed course (55:5)”, and what the Messenger (S) told us: “The month is 29 or 30 days”.
Why do we have 2, 3 or 4 Eids?
The Muslims CANNOT agree on a single date. Their Ulema insist on a ‘sighted crescent’ but follow their ‘official Islamic’ calendar blindly. A global lunar calendar based on “witnesses only” creates three major problems. If we rely only on witnesses then each town should have a different calendar, determined each month by the witnesses there and adjusted every month because of clouds, haze and other atmospheric factors which may hinder moon’s visibility. What about the situations when there are ‘no witnesses’, ‘cloudy evenings on 29’ or false witnesses. In ‘no witness’ case the Islamic month should be 30 days and an Islamic year may become 360 days. In case clouds hinder sighting on 29 when it was visible, the following month may be of 28 days only if the previous month was extended to 30 days. Then there are problems because the world is not a flat field but a globe. A crescent’s visibility starts from a new place every month and extends in a parabola. If the Muslims strictly follow the witnesses only then Ramadan must start on three different days/dates most of the years.
Hilal vs. New Moon
Except a few contemporary Ulema like Qaradawi and Shakir and a few Muslim astronomy experts nobody has ever suggested to replace the Qur’anic ‘Visible’ crescent (Ahilla) by the invisible New Moon (Conjunction). This group argues that relying on the witnesses (only Zann) creates a lot of dissension among the Ummah. Hence the Muslim should switch to the Conjunction which is common knowledge now and is ‘accurate’ (Qata’i). They did not realize the complications before proposing their solution. The Islamic month begins when a crescent moon first appears after sunset. How the New Moon will be used to determine the Islamic day/date as it occurs at all times of day and night? If we disregard the conjunction time and take only the NM date still the problems do not disappear. The conjunction occurs at a different place every month. etc.
For years the Muslims have experienced chaos because various groups insist on their narrow interpretations of Ahadith and Fiqh positions. The Muslims all over the world should and may start Ramadan and celebrate Eidain on one LUNAR date within 24 hours if we seriously take the Qur’an and the Sunnah. For any meaningful discussion we must keep in mind that the Fiqhi positions evolved hundreds of years ago for places where the Muslims moved, and at a time when means of communications were very limited. News from a place only 15-20 miles away could reach Medina or any major town one or two days later. There was no way to check the accuracy of a claim.
To solve global issues at the end of the 20th century when the news travels in seconds, human knowledge of the globe, and moon’s visibility have drastically changed, and confirmation of a claimed sighting is very easy to get in minutes from areas west of the initial ly claimed sighting we have to find solutions in the broader context of the “VISIBILITY” guideline.
Eyewitnesses and Calculations
We assume that all know the difference between a crescent (Hilal) and the New Moon (Conjunction),
actual sighting (Ru’yah) and claim of sighting , as well as local time/date and universal time/dateline.
Let us start from some basic facts:
1. A crescent (Hilal) cannot be seen before the New Moon (Conjunction) phase. (Quran: 36:39)
2. A crescent seen in Arabia or Egypt is visible to all who live to the west of these places the same evening.
3. A crescent is always visible in the evening of the 30th day. (29/30 days Hadith)
No Muslim disputes that a crescent (Hilal) determines the beginning of an Islamic month. However, keep in mind that some countries have changed the definition of Hilal. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Taqweem defines a crescent as the conjunction date. Egypt assumes that a crescent occurs if the moon is setting five minutes after the sunset. For Ramadan and Eidain one minute after sunset is good enough. Many other Muslim countries from Indonesia to Turkey officially use the first date after the conjunction as the first day of the Islamic month. All of them disregard moon’s visibility.
Some Muslims believe the NEWS FROM THEIR HOME COUNTRY. They fast or celebrate Eid when Saudi Arabia, Gulf States or Egypt claim a moon-sighting there. If the Muslims in Morocco, and N. America cannot see it 3-8 hours later the same evening then it is a fact that it was NOT SEEN in Saudi Arabia, Gulf States or Egypt.
Some governments force their calculated dates as if they are based on the Islamic criterion of a visible moon in their country . But they are not. A moon is never visible on those dates. But the Muslims living there and at many other places believe that Ramadan or Eid decision is based on reliable sightings. Fiqh positions are used to justify blatantly wrong decisions about these dates. The dissenters are called disobeying a binding decision of a Qadi and of a legitimate government. Remember what happened to Tantawi a decade ago when he wrote a note saying that the authorities must reject claims of sighting on a day of solar eclipse or a day earlier. “How could you hold in your lap a baby which is not born yet?”, he explained.
Some Muslims believe RELIABLE MUSLIMS SAW IT AT …… (in Middle East or N. America). They are willing to believe every claim of moonsighting made anywhere. If the Muslims in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle on the west coast (and Hawaii ) cannot see a crescent hours later when it was claimed from Middle Eastern countries, or New York, Florida, Atlanta, Michigan, Texas, Idaho, etc. then the claims are obviously false. Now the human knowledge has reached the stage when we can accurately calculate if a crescent is visible somewhere. We can easily check if the witnesses are true or they mistook something else for a crescent at any place by asking the Muslims west of them to report their sighting.
If we continue insisting that ‘1 or 2 witness(es) are enough’ despite obvious contradictions in their testimony or 30 days from 27th Rajab (for Ramadan) or from 28th Sha’ban (for Eid al-Fitr) then the present chaos will continue for ever.
You can see a crescent from your window. You do not have to climb a tower or a mountain to see it. Any place from where you may clearly see the lower parts of the western skies clearly is good enough. Don’t feel frustrated if you wear eye-glasses. Your vision with glasses may be better than those without glasses. If possible use a good binocular. Wait 15-35 minutes after sunset for the crescent. Once you see it move your eyes away, and look again. Be sure that what you see is a crescent, and not some other shiny object. Generally, a 29th day moon is very thin and very low on the horizon. A crescent after 30 days is brighter, and higher in the sky.
When there is an obvious contradiction between a claim and a known fact (the moon was not there where the witnesses claim to have seen it) then the witnesses must be rejected. They are claiming what did not exist at the time and the place.