Our disunity as a Muslim Ummah is painfully apparent every Ramadan. We cannot agree on when to begin fasting and when to celebrate Eid. This reality is pointed out with glee by the enemies of Islam. Even countries which are neighbours announce the beginning and end of Ramadan on different days. It seems that when it comes to this issue (among a vast array of others), we are still suffering from the historical decisions of the colonial powers which divided our lands (as was the case with the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which partitioned the Ottoman Caliphate). This chaos and fitna is further compounded by the announcements of the ignoble regime in Arabia, which in the past has declared that the moon has been seen when in fact its sighting would have been impossible.
And this disunity is especially apparent for Muslims in the West, where even members of the same family celebrate Eid on different days. Mosques within a stone’s throw of each other will disagree on the dates. They will either “follow Saudi”, rely on calculations or come up with some other formula which only serves to consolidate our disunity.
The solution to this predicament is the same as the solution to so many of the problems facing the Ummah, namely the Caliphate.
Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani mentions in his commentary on Bukhari that the contemporary of Imam Malik (and Mufti of Madina), Ibn al-Majishun (d. 212H), said that if the sighting of the crescent of Ramadan “is established by the Caliph [al-Imām al-A‘ẓam], in such a case all the people are obliged [to fast], because all the towns with respect to him (the Caliph) are as one town, since his verdict is binding upon everyone.” [Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4/158]
And the well-known Shari‘ah principle states:
“The command of the Imam puts an end to disagreement” [amr al-imām yarfa‘ al-khilāf]
So if there is a difference of opinion regarding how the moon should be sighted, the Caliph’s decision is binding.
The following hadith, related by both Bukhari and Muslim, is narrated by Abu Hurayrah, ‘Aisha, ‘Adiy bin Hatim, Hudhayfah, Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, Jabir bin ‘Abdullah and other Sahabah (May Allah be Pleased with them all):
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Fast when you see the crescent; if it is obscure to you, then complete thirty days in the count of Sha‘ban. And break your fast when you see the crescent; if it is obscure to you, then fast thirty days.”
And the following report from the Prophet ﷺ is narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn ‘Umar (r) and related by Bukhari, Muslim and others:
“Do not fast until you see the crescent; and do not break your fast until you see it again. If the crescent is obscure to you then count thirty days.”
Discussing the issue of moonsighting in his Fiqh us-Sunnah, Sayyid Sabiq writes:
“According to the majority of scholars, it does not matter if the new moon has been sighted in a different location; in other words, after the new moon has been sighted anywhere in the world, it becomes obligatory for Muslims to begin fasting (Ramadan), as the Prophet ﷺ said, ‘Fast due to its sighting, and break [the] fast due to its sighting.’ (Al-Bukhari and Muslim) This hadith is a general address directed to the whole Muslim world – that is, ‘If any of you sees the crescent in any place, then that will be a sighting for all people’. ” [Fiqh us-Sunnah, 3/112 of English translation]
In fact, this is the relied upon position* of the Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools of jurisprudence. The Shafi‘i school is split between those who follow the ‘local sighting’ opinion and those who do not. Imam Nawawi states:
“Some of our [Shafi‘i] companions say that a universal sighting in any place applies to all people on the earth, and that is their practice.” [Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim]
Imam Nawawi stated the above in his commentary of Kurayb’s narration related by Muslim, which is cited by those who follow the ‘local sighting’ opinion:
Kurayb reported that Umm al-Fadl Bint al-Harith sent him on a mission to Mu‘awiyah (r) in Damascus. He accomplished his mission and was still in al-Sham when Ramadan started. He saw the new crescent on the night preceding Friday (Thursday evening). He then returned to Madina, arriving there near the end of the month.
He met Ibn ‘Abbas (r), who asked him when the crescent of Ramadan was sighted in al-Sham. Kurayb said, “We saw it on the night preceding Friday.” Ibn ‘Abbas inquired, “Did you see it yourself?” Kurayb replied, “Yes I saw it; and the people did too. Therefore they fasted, and Mu‘awiyah fasted as well.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “But we saw it on the night preceding Saturday; we shall continue to fast until we complete thirty days or see it [the crescent of Shawwal].” Kurayb asked, “Wouldn’t you follow Mu‘awiyah’s sighting and fasting,” Ibn ‘Abbas answered, “No! This is how Allah’s Messenger commanded us.”
The important point to note here is that the people of al-Sham started their fast on Friday after seeing the crescent on Thursday night. The people of Madina started fasting on Saturday following their sighting of the crescent. They were not informed of the sighting of al-Sham early enough, and that is the reason they did not begin fasting on Friday. The meaning of the narration is NOT that the Prophet ﷺ instructed us to reject a testimony from another area.
Imam al-Shawkani comments on Kurayb’s narration:
“You should know that the acceptable evidence is in what Ibn ‘Abbas (r) reported explicitly from the Messenger ﷺ. It is not in his ijtihād which people tried to interpret, and to which he pointed by saying, ‘This is how Allah’s Messenger commanded us.’ His direct report from the Prophet ﷺ is what Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others related as:
‘Do not fast until you see the crescent, and do not end your fast until you see it …’
This does not apply to any particular location, but is a general address to all applicable Muslims. Thus it is obviously an evidence that a sighting in one location is binding on people in other locations. When the people in a particular location see it, this means that all Muslims have seen it. Thus what applies to them (those who saw it) applies to others (in other locations).” [Nayl al-Awṭār, 4/268]
The following narration is also mentioned by scholars when discussing this topic:
“Abu Umayr bin Anas bin Malik said, my paternal uncles who were among the Ansar from the Companions of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ informed me saying: ‘The new crescent of Shawwal was not visible to us, so we fasted the next day. Then some riders arrived at the end of the day and testified to the Prophet ﷺ that they had seen the new crescent moon yesterday. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ commanded them (the Sahabah) to break their fast and to go out to offer the Eid prayer the following day.’ ” (Ibn Maja 1653, Ṣaḥīḥ)
So this shows that the Prophet ﷺ accepted the testimony of Muslims who were some distance away and did not insist on a local sighting in Madina and its outskirts.
Visibility Maps and Calculations
The remarkable achievements of Muslim astronomers, who produced visibility maps indicating when and where the crescent could be sighted, cannot be ignored. However, these were used as an aid to sighting. They never replaced seeing the crescent with the naked eye.
Calculations can be used as an aid to sighting as well. This is because conjunction (the ‘birth’ of the new crescent moon) and moonset as well as sunset can now be calculated accurately, and are considered qaṭ‘ī (definite). So if anyone claims to have seen the moon before conjunction for example, this can be rejected as it contradicts something which is clear-cut.
Imam al-Subki was unequivocal when addressing a case where fiqh and falak (astronomy) appeared to be in conflict: “if one or two witnessed sighting the crescent, whereas the judgement of computation is that it is impossible to sight the crescent”; he says: “this testimony is not accepted, since astronomical computation [ḥisāb] is definite [qaṭ‘ī] while testimony and report are probable [ẓann] and [there is the fiqh rule of] ‘the probable cannot contradict the definite’ [al-ẓannu la yu‘āridu al-qaṭ‘a]” [Fatāwa al-Subkī, 1:226]
However, the estimations of when the crescent will be seen and the conclusions reached by viewing visibility maps are not definite.
The University of Utrecht in the Netherlands hosts visibility maps and other relevant data for the Islamic months on their website. Under the heading: A Cautionary Note on Using the Global Lunar Crescent Visibility Maps, the website states the following:
“Note that these world maps are only indicative and assume average observing conditions near sea-level. In rare cases of exceptional atmospheric transparency, such as can be found in dry desert-like regions and at high altitudes, it may be possible to view the lunar crescent outside the nominal visibility zones.
Also note that these maps are based on the Yallop algorithm and may differ from similar maps found on other websites when they use different visibility criteria.”
On the same page, it states that “Yallop’s algorithm is not reliable at very high latitudes” [See here and click on ‘Global lunar visibility maps based on Yallop’s method’ on the left].
The Oxford-based scholar Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti states in his article on moonsighting:
“From a fiqh perspective, therefore, it is vital to distinguish between the two kinds of hisabs: (1) ḥisāb qat‘ī and (2) ḥisāb ẓannī. The former ḥisāb, hisab-of-the-factual-kind (such as the astronomical data of moonset and conjunction), has been used—and continues to be used today by our religious scholars—as a useful tool to facilitate the process of establishing a ‘positive’ ru’ya, with yaqīn (analogous to the legal ruling of using instruments in medieval times such as the computation using the trigonometrical (specifically, Sine) quadrant [rub‘ mujayyab] to fix the prayer times or to determine the exact direction of the Qibla); whereas the latter—for example, computational predictions of visibility—can only be used to estimate, but not by itself, to establish the new lunar month, even when nine out of ten times they have been proved to be correct.”
In the distant past, it was not possible to quickly ascertain if the moon had been seen in another part of the world. In the present day, however, groups of experienced moon sighters around the globe communicate when they have seen the crescent instantaneously and this enables us to draw the appropriate conclusions and makes it theoretically possible to be united in our observance of Ramadan and Eid. The reality of fake geographical boundaries, however, and the fact that we are ruled by more than fifty illegitimate regimes is a barrier to any real unity.
Let us work to re-institute the Caliphate on the Prophetic model which will unify our lands and ensure we observe our fasting and celebrate Eid as we should do, which is as one unified Ummah.
*See for Hanbali school: Muwaffaq al-Din and Shams al-Din ibn Qudama, al-Mughni (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, n.d.), 3/10-13
See for the Hanafi school: Ibn ‘Abidin, Hashiya Radd al-Muhtar (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1415/1995), 2/432-433
See for the Maliki school: Mubarak bin ‘Ali al-Ahsa’i, Tashil al-Masalik ila Hidaya al-Salik ila Madhhab al-Imam Malik, ‘Abdul Hamid bin Mubarak, ed. (Riyadh: Maktaba al-Imam al-Shafi‘i, 1416/1995), 3/783