Islamic View On Sighting Of The Moon To Start And End The Fast Of Ramadan

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By Imam Murtadha Gusau



In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the most Gracious


All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation, and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and all his Companions.


Dear brothers and sisters, know that the Islamic calendar is lunar-based, with each month coinciding with the phases of the moon and lasting either 29 or 30 days. Traditionally, one marks the beginning of an Islamic month by looking at the night sky and visibly sighting the slight crescent moon (Hilal) that marks the beginning of the next month. This is the method which is mentioned in the Qur’an and was followed by the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).


When it comes to Ramadan, Muslims like to be able to plan ahead, though. Waiting until the evening before in order to determine if the next day is the start of Ramadan (or Eid Al-Fitr), requires one to wait up until the last minute. In certain weather or locations, it may even be impossible to visibly sight the crescent moon, forcing people to rely on other methods. There are several possible problems with using the moon to signify the beginning of Ramadan as follows:


  1. What if people in one area sight the moon, but those in another area don’t? Is it okay for them to start and end the fast on different days?


  1. Should we follow the moon-sighting in Saudi Arabia (or any other area of the world), or should we sight it ourselves in our local community?


  1. What if our location is overcast and cloudy and the moon is not visible to us?


  1. Why do we even bother looking for the moon, when we can astronomically calculate when the new moon is born, and thus when the crescent should be visible? That eliminates human error, right?


Although these questions come up for every Islamic month, the debate takes on more urgency and significance when it comes time to calculate the beginning and end of the month of Ramadan. Sometimes people have conflicting opinions about it within a single community or even a single family.


Over the years, various scholars and communities have answered this question in different ways, each with support for their position. The debate is not resolved, as each of two strongly held opinions have supporters:


  1. The first prevailing opinion is that one should commit to a local moon-sighting, i.e. begin and end Ramadan based on the sighting of the moon in your local vicinity. Astronomical calculations can help us predict when the moon “should” be visible, but many Muslims still prefer to follow the traditional method of looking at the sky themselves to physically “sight” the moon.


  1. Another prevailing opinion is that with the technology we have at our disposal, one should calculate when the new moon is going to be born, and base the calendar on that. The advantage is that lunar phases can be measured quite precisely, making it easier to plan ahead and ensuring no mistakes.


Preferences for one method over the other are largely a matter of how you view tradition. Those devoted to traditional practice are likely to prefer the words of the Qur’an and more than a thousand years of tradition, while those of a more modern attitude are likely to base their choice on scientific calculation.


Yet, it is not uncommon to find different Muslim countries beginning and ending of Islamic months on varying days. Shaukat explains that this is because of the method they use to determine the month’s beginning and end. There are other main ways Muslims worldwide determine the Islamic dates:


Some countries go by actual physical sighting of the moon. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK, the United States, Canada, the West Indies and sometimes Nigeria uses this method.


Some countries calculate different things about the position of the moon. Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, for example, calculates when is the new moon is born and then follow these calculations when deciding when an Islamic month begins and ends.


Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and sometimes Nigeria determine Islamic events and dates by the calculation of the position of the moon at sunset in their country. If the moon is two degrees above the horizon and three degrees away from the sun then they consider that the new month has begun.


In Egypt, if the moon sets five minutes after sunset in their country, then they consider that the moon has been sighted. They do not require physical sighting.


Some countries follow the decisions of other Muslim countries. Syria, Turkey and Iraq often follow Egypt’s decision or Saudi Arabia’s. The Gulf countries, Nigeria and some European countries also follow Saudi Arabia’s decision.


Respected brothers and sisters, just as fasting the month of Ramadan is a pillar of Islam, the criteria that marks the start and end of Ramadan is set by Islam as well. The crescent moon marks the beginning of each lunar month in Islam, as Allah Almighty stated in the Qur’an that:


“They ask you [O Muhammad] about the crescent moons, Say, ‘They are measurements of time for the people and for hajj (pilgrimage).'” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 189]


Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:


“Fast after you have seen it [the new crescent] and end the fast [at the end of the month] when you see it. If it is hidden from you, then wait until the thirty days of Sha’aban have passed.” [Bukhari and Muslim]


In another version of the Hadith recorded by Imams Bukhari and Muslim, the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:


“Do not fast until you see it, and do not break fast until you see it, and if you could not see it, continue Sha’aban to thirty days.”


Abdullahi Ibn Umar (RA) related that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:


“The month is 29 days, so do not fast until you see it, and if you could not see it, complete the month; continue Sha’aban to thirty days.” [Muslim and Ahmad]


Aisha (RA) related that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) was very watchful to see the crescent of Sha’aban where he was not so for the other months, and he used to fast Ramadan when he saw the crescent, and if he could not, he would count thirty days and fast. [Daraqutni with authentic chain, according to Muslim’s condition]


Abdullahi Ibn Umar (RA) said:


“The people looked to see the crescent, so I told the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) that I have seen it, so the Prophet fasted and ordered the people to fast.” [Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban; Al-Hakim said: it is an authentic Hadith according to Muslim’s condition]


Ibn Abbas (RA) said:


“A Bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) and said: ‘I have seen the crescent of Ramadan,’ so the Prophet said: ‘Do you witness that there is no god but Allah?’ The Bedouin said: ‘Yes!’ Prophet said: ‘Do you witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?’ The Bedouin said: ‘Yes!’ Then the Prophet asked Bilal to inform the people to fast the next day.” [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Habban and Al-Hakim]


The summary of what those Hadiths have benefited is that the legitimate way in asserting the start of the month of Ramadan and Shawwal does not exceed two ways:


  1. The seeing of the new crescent.


  1. To complete the month to thirty days if we could not see it for any reason.


You should notice that the world “see it ” has been repeated in all the previous mentioned Hadiths which certifies that we fast and end the fast for the seeing of the new crescent and not for its existence. So the crescent might exist in reality, but we could not see it with the eye for any reason, so we do not fast or end the fast and this is what all the scholars agreed on.


  • The Shari’ah point of view to assert the start and end of the month depending on calculations


From what has been mentioned before, we find that this method is not legal to assert to the start and end of this month because of the following reasons:


  1. Because it disagrees with what has been stated in the authentic Hadiths of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) which is relying on two ways to assert the start and end of the month: Viewing and completing the month to 30 days.


  1. Because it is a specialised process that not all Muslims can do, so it is not possible that Allah Almighty asks the Muslims, who differ in their capabilities and educational levels, a worship whose way to assert its start and end is a specialised matter embraced within a group and not available to all of them.


  1. Because no matter how specific this process is, it can not be determinant, and error can occur as was informed by the scholars of this field, the field of Astronomy.


Muslim jurists (Fuqaha) have agreed that this way (of calculations) is not right. For example, the school of Imam Abu Hanifah says that:


“It can not be depended upon someone who works with calculations and fixed timing in asserting the month for because he is disagreeing with the way of the Prophet (Peace be upon him).” [See Al-Fiqhul-Islami wa adillatah, By Dr. Wahbah Az-Zuhaili, vol. 2, page 599]


Imam Malik says:


“The view of the crescent can not be asserted by the saying of someone who calculates the flow of the mood and its orbit neither for himself nor for someone else because Allah Almighty, the Legislator, made fasting and ending the fasting to rely on the view of the crescent not on its existence; this is even if the person who did the calculations is right. So the work with the astronomical observatories even if they were right is not allowed.” [See Al-Fiqhul-Islami wa adillatah, By Dr. Wahbah Az-Zuhaili, vol. 2, page 600]


Imam Ibn Hanbal says:


“We should not fast according to the stars and calculations even if they were right, for many times for they do not rely on legitimate basis.” [See Al-Fiqhul-Islami wa adillatah, By Dr. Wahbah Az-Zuhaili, vol. 2, page 602]


  • Is one sighting of the new crescent sufficient for the whole Muslim Ummah, or should each region depend on their own sighting?


Most of the Muslim jurists (Fuqaha) have adopted the opinion that any sighting of the new crescent, anywhere in the world, is considered valid and acceptable for determining the beginning and end of the month of Ramadan. These jurists include: Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. In other words, if the new crescent is seen anywhere in the world, it becomes obligatory for all Muslims to begin fasting, as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:


“Fast after you have seen it [the new crescent] and end the fast [at the end of the month] when you see it.”


They said this Hadith is a general address directed to the whole Muslim Ummah. That is, if anyone sees the new crescent in any place, then this will be a valid sighting for all Muslims.


  • The sayings of the Muslim jurists (Fuqaha) regarding this matter, is from the book Al-Fiqhul-Islami wa adillatah, By Dr. Wahbah Az-Zuhaili, vol.2, page 606:


The Hanafi Scholars said:


“The difference of the moon sighting in localities, and sighting the moon during the daytime whether before midday or after it are not considered in terms of determining the beginning or the end of the month. This is in accordance with the preponderant opinion in the Hanafi School. It is also the opinion viewed by most of the Hanafi scholars, and it is also the opinion followed in giving fatwas. Therefore, the people of the east are duty bound to follow the new moon sighting of the people of the west if it is proved that they have sighted the moon in a sound and binding way, such as when two men bear witness that they have sighted the new moon, or if they testify to the judgment of the Judge, or if the news of the sighting of the moon becomes well-known to everyone. This does not apply to the case when one reports that the people of such and such city have sighted the new moon, for this is considered a reported speech.


The Maliki scholars said:


“If the crescent is sighted somewhere, people should fast everywhere, whether they live close or far away. People are not to consider in this regard the distance required for shortening the prayer nor the unity in sighting localities or its nonexistence. Hence, fasting is obligatory for everyone who is informed about the sighting of the crescent if this sighting is reported by two reliable witnesses or a big group of people.


The Hanbali scholars said:


“If the crescent has been sighted in a certain locality, be it near or far, all the people are obligated to fast. The ruling of the one who has not sighted the crescent is the same as that of the one who has sighted it.”


However Imam Shafi’i said that each locality should have their own sighting, and they are not obligated to adopt the sighting of another location. He used the following as evidence:


Once one of the companions, Kuraib narrated that Umm Fadl has sent him to visit Mu’awiyah in Sham (Syria). He said: ‘I went to Sham and accomplished the purpose of my visit, and while I was there, Ramadan started; I had seen the crescent moon on Thursday night, and then went back to Madinah at the end of the month. Ibn Abbas mentioned the crescent moon asking, ‘When did you see the crescent moon?’ I replied: ‘We saw it on Thursday night.’ Ibn Abbas then asked: ‘Kuraib, did you see it?’ I answered: ‘Yes! And the people had seen it, and they fasted, and so did Mu’awiyah.’ So Ibn Abbas said: ‘But we had seen it Friday night, so we will fast until we complete thirty days or until we see the crescent moon. I then asked: ‘Aren’t you satisfied with Mu’awiyah’s sighting and his fasting?’ Ibn Abbas answered: ‘No, this is what the Messenger of Allah had ordered us to do. [Muslim and others]


Now we understand, Kuraib arrived Madinah at the very end of the month of Ramadan. This is important because Ibn Abbas and the Muslims in Madinah didn’t have the knowledge of Mu’awiyah’s sighting, and therefore, they had no choice but to continue their fast based on their own sightings. However, in today’s society, communication is highly advanced and fast. News of sightings in any place in the world can reach us before fajr time, right before we begin our fast. Nobody can claim today that had Ibn Abbas been informed of a sighting before fajr that he would not have followed it and fasted along with the people of Sham. With that said, this previous Hadith is not applicable to today’s society, because rapid communication did not exist at that time as it does today.


The followers of Imam Shafi’I further specified the exact distance between locations saying:


“If the crescent is seen in a certain place, then the areas within this region are obliged to accept this sighting, however, the places outside of this region are not obliged. Anyone who lives within an area spanning 133.056 km from the original sighting location is obliged to follow that area’s sighting. This distance was calculated by multiplying twenty-four units of distance by 5544 meters, which is the equivalent of 133.056 km. In other words, all those who live within this 133 km span, are required to follow the sighting.”


According to the information in our hand, the Saudi Arabia Supreme Court has already asked its citizens to look for new crescent on both Sunday and Monday! This is because Sunday is 29th of Sha’aban according to Ummul Qura calendar and Monday is 29th of Sha’aban according to Hijri Calendar. Our count in Nigeria is in line with the Hijri Calendar. If you only and totally rely on Saudi counting, you are on your own, because where circumstances demand, they can adjust and do the right thing.


And in Nigeria, nobody has an authority or power to determine the start and ending of the Ramadan but the Islamic leader, in person of Sultan of Sokoto, and according to the Nigeria Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), under the able leadership of the Sultan of Sokoto, Amirul Mu’minina, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the coming Monday is 29th of Sha’aban 1442 AH (April 12, 2021) and hence the first day to look for Ramadan 1442 AH crescent.


Please kindly endeavour to look for the crescent on that Monday or ask someone to do so on your behalf and then share the results to the legitimate authority for the announcement to the public.


Dear brothers and sisters, after hearing this information about determining the beginning and ending of Ramadan, I ask Allah Almighty to give us the health, strength, and Iman (faith) to take advantage of the opportunities to worship during the month of Ramadan and that He Almighty accept all of our righteous deeds.


I ask Allah Almighty to protect us against the misdoings and bestow unto us sincerity in speech and action, ameen.


Please for more information about the sighting of the moon, see for example the following books: Ad-Durrul-Mukhtar wa Raddul-Muhtar, Maraqi Al-Falah, Ash-Sharhul-Kabir, Bidayatul-Mujtahid, Al-Qawanin Al-Fiqhiyyah and Kashshaful-Qinah.


And all praises and thanks are due to Allah alone, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.


Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected] or +2348038289761.

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