Moonsighting According To The Sunnah

One only has to mention Ramadan and you envisage many things. The first of them moon sighting, and then the altercations and the incessant squabbling that resound in the masajid and the communities throughout the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadan.

In the issue of moon sighting there are two roles. The first role is that of the eminent scholars who have always been the well-wishers of the ummah. They aspired to take out confrontation an sectarianism from the concept of moon sighting. They make efforts every year to bring this matter to a consensus and to unify the communities and masajid on one decision. We have seen, though, that their efforts have fallen on deaf ears with little to no difference on' the outcome of each coming Ramadan.

The second role is played by those who put aside intellect and judge matters based on their, emotions. The result: they remain stubborn on their personal opinion though it may clearly contradict the Qur'an and Sunnah.

This is why it is important to analyze this issue of moon sighting through the Qur'an and Sunnah once again as a reminder of our roles as Muslims. That way, every Muslim can establish his position according to the, Qur'an and Sunnah.

One thing we can all agree on is that the months of the Islamic calendar are based on the moon. The question here is: How do we determine the beginning and end of the month? The following are the various opinions of how and when to begin a new month:

 

Astronomical Calculations

1) Some people follow astronomical calculations. They say that the birth of the new moon determined by the astronomical calculations will determine the beginning of the new moon.

2) Some people are of the view that the moon sighted anywhere in the world will initiate the beginning of the month for all Muslims.

3) Some people follow the moon sighting of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, the moon sighted elsewhere, in their view, will not determine the beginning of the new month. This has created a nationalistic tendency amongst Muslims of different ethnic backgrounds.

4) Some people believe in following Saudi Arabia for the month of Dhul-Hijjah only and local moon sighting for the remaining eleven months.

5) Some people believe in local moon sighting which means that the new month will not begin in their area until the moon is sighted in their own or surrounding areas even if the moon is sighted elsewhere in the world.

 

Astronomical Calculations

Determining the beginning and the end of a new month through astronomical calculations is unfounded in the Qur'an and Sunnah. The standard in the shari'ah for discerning the beginning of a new month and the end of the last month is based on actual moon sighting, which means that if the moon is not sighted, the month will be completed with thirty days. The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) said: "Do not fast unless you see the moon, do not break your fast until you see the moon." (Bukhari) 

Meaning, that if you do not see the moon, then do not begin the month of Ramadan and likewise, do not celebrate the Eid until you sight the moon. In another hadith the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) clearly prohibited the use of calculations.

He said: "We are an illiterate nation. We do not write or calculate months." He said "it is like this, this, or this."So saying, the Blessed Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) lifted his hands three times with all fingers spread the first two times and the thumb hidden the third time to indicate 29 days.

Then he said the month is like this, this, and this and again lifted his hands three times, this time all fingers spread out each time to indicate 30 days." (Muslim)

In this hadith, The Blessed Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) certainly doesn't mean to say that this is an ummah of illiterates, but rather he is emphasising their simplicity of not being educated in the subject which we are discussing. The purpose behind this is to declare that we do not know calculations nor are we going to use this method to figure our months. This is a universal religion.

Anyone from anywhere can follow it wherever he may be. If the system was based on calculations, the decision of millions of people would be in the hands of the few who would decide when the month begins and when it ends. Instead. Islam based the lunar calendar on moon sighting so that even bedouins, who are out of touch with most modern sciences and technologies, could sight the moon and know when the month begins and ends.

 

2. Universal Moonsighting

The second opinion is that wherever the moon is sighted in the world, whether it be for the beginning or the end of the month, all Muslims are obligated to accept that moon sighting for the beginning (or end) of the new month. If we review the ahadith, we find it certainly accepts the possibility of this opinion. For example, it says in the ahadith:

"Upon seeing the moon, begin your fast and upon seeing the moon end your fast (meaning, make your next day the day of Eid)." (Bukhari)

It could be said that this means that wherever the moon is sighted, Muslims all over the world will begin or end the month. Thus, many people of this opinion use these type of ahadith to support their claim that wherever the moon is sighted, every Muslim around the world should begin the new month. But if we look at this practically and realistically we see that few actually act upon this opinion because those who do follow this opinion use it as back-up evidence to prove that we should only follow Saudi Arabia. When news of moon sighting reaches them from any other part of the world, they do not accept it.

Secondly, this opinion is very impractical. Who is going to keep constant watch on 200 + countries around the world, receive incoming reports of moon sighting, and filter the false reports from the true reports? For this reason, none of the Islamic countries follow this opinion. Even Saudi Arabia does not accept reports of moon sighting from other countries. Therefore. it is impractical for many reasons.

 

3. Following Saudi Arabia

The third opinion is that we should follow Saudi Arabia. From the Shari'ah point of view, there is no evidence for this in the Qur'an and Sunnah. There is only the emotional argument put up by some that: Since Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam or it is where the Blessed Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) lived therefore it should be recognized as the prime decision maker in such important matters.

Aside from having no basis in Shari'ah, this opinion is problematic in another way too. What if the moon is sighted elsewhere before it is sighted in Saudi Arabia? What are the Muslims of that region suppose to do? If they wait for the announcement to come in from Saudi Arabia, they would be violating the directives of the ahadith which clearly state that fasting and breaking the fast should begin from the moon sighting. On the other hand, if they follow their own moon sighting, they would then be ignoring Saudi Arabia, whether it is for Ramadan Eid-ul-Fitr or Eid-ul-Adha.

Therefore, to follow along with the moon sighting of Saudi Arabia is incorrect. Many of those who follow the moon sighting of Saudi Arabia also say that the Hajj takes place in Saudi Arabia; therefore, we should follow their moon sighting.

This type of argument has no evidence in the Shari'ah either. If somebody does base the body of their claim on this evidence then prays his salah according to the timings of Saudi Arabia, everyone would understand the extent of the waywardness of this daleel.

Again, the main problem that rises in this viewpoint is that if the moon is sighted elsewhere before it is seen in Saudi Arabia then what are they to do? The Saudi's for sure will not follow their moon sighing; therefore, that is completely out of the question.

This opinion is centered around the argument that the day of Arafah is followed by the day of Eid. Therefore, all Muslims of the world should celebrate the Eid following the day of Arafah in Saudi Arabia. This argument is not only bereft of any evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah but, in fact, evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah is to the contrary.

Eid-ul-Adha was established in Islam in the 2nd year of hijra and the first Hajj in the Islamic calendar was performed in the 9th year of hijra. This means that for nearly seven years the Sahabah celebrated Eid and slaughtered their animals even though the Hajj had not yet begun. If the day of Eid was associated, with the day of Arafah the way some think it is, then both would have been brought into the Shari'ah at the same time. Never in the history of Islam has any Islamic country tried to follow the moon sighting of Saudi Arabia based on the idea that their Eid should follow the day of Arafah, except only very recently.

 

4. Following Saudi for Dhul-Hijjah only

The fourth opinion is that we follow Saudi Arabia for the month of Dhul-Hijjah and local moon sighting for the remaining eleven months. The problems with this opinion are as mentioned above. In addition. this opinion has no evidence (daleel) from the Qur'an and Sunnah that some months should start in a certain way while the remainder months start in a different way.

 

5. Local Sighting for all Months

The fifth opinion is that we follow the local moon sighting alone. This was the predominant method in the time of the Blessed Prophet? and continued to be the only method used throughout the history of Islam. A narration of Ibn Abbas in Sahih Muslim indicates that this was the prevailing method in the time of the Blessed Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) and was a part of Blessed Prophet's (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) teaching to the Sahabah?:

 

Conclusion

In summary, of the five viewpoints that have just been mentioned, only two are compliant with the Shari'ah.

 

1) One is the viewpoint that wherever the moon is sighted in the world, it is compulsory on all the Muslims in the world to follow it. The only condition to this is that the moon sighting cannot be limited to anyone country. This is regardless of whether the country

is a Muslim or non-Muslim as long as those who sight the moon are Muslims. But as we "mentioned before, nobody in our times has put this viewpoint into practice.

 

2) The second viewpoint is that we follow local moon sighting. Not only is this way easy, but it is actually a continuation of the tradition of the Blessed Prophet? and of the people after him throughout the history of Islam.

 

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

 

 

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