The Fiqh Council of North America has issued an statement on August 13, 2006, that it has decided to adopt astronomical calculations (“The new Islamic Lunar month begins at sunset of the day when the conjunction occurs before 12:00 Noon GMT”) to start an Islamic month. It was also announced that ISNA has endorsed their decision.
The Hilal Sighting Committee of North America, however, finds that the decision is flawed. Following is a refutation, written by Br. Zaheer Uddin, Coordinator for Hilal Sighting Committee of North America who is also President of the Internet Islamic University, and approved by the great Ulema of the Shura of the Hilal Sighting Committee of N. A. and others. It is acknowledge that some of the text has been used from the Al-Ghazali Center’s article.
The Hilal Sighting Committee of North America (HSC) is a platform of Ulema (scholars) from all walks of life in North America, including Sunni, Shi’a, Deubandi, and Barailvi schools of thought, considers that the sighting of the Hilal (crescent moon) as an important and integral responsibility upon Muslims, Fardal-Kifaya, in establishing fasting in the blessed month of Ramadan. We also affirm that to begin Ramadan and other Islamic months, sighting of the Hilal is a must and Muslims cannot depend nor can it be permitted to predetermined Ramadan or any Islamic month on the basis of astronomical calculations alone or “Conjunction occurs before 12 GMT” or at/after “New Moon” (New Moon is an astronomical term and it is black and non-visible moon from earth).
We make the following statements of fact:
1. One of the unfortunate issues plaguing Muslim community in North America is the issue of beginning of Islamic months. HSC holds to the revival and transmission of traditional Islamic knowledge as a universally applicable system. We also recognize the validity of local Hilal sighting within a country (based on Ikhtilaful Matali’). Therefore HSC recognizes the naked-eye Hilal sighting from anywhere in the contiguous US and Canada confirmed by credible Muslim witnesses.
2. We acknowledge that astronomical calculations cannot be used as valid means for
determining our Islamic dates. However, we do feel that scientific astronomical calculations, based on Islamic stipulated conditions, can act as a beneficial guide as to when it is possible, or impossible, to sight the Hilal.
EOLOGY BEHIND ESTABLISHING THE MONTH OF RAMADHAN
Theology behind establishing the month of Ramadan
The argument on the matter is simply twofold: sighting the Hilal physically or to use predetermined astronomical calculations to determine the months, and so indeed Ramadan. The argument for scientific pre-determination often is reduced to the assertion that because Allah has Willed the ability of humans to calculate such matters, using science, we should accept this proposition. This statement is usually backed by another assertion that observation was the best methodology at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) and that they did not have the knowledge or ability as humans have now.
The Hilal Sighting Committee of North America holds a different view, supported by a majority of traditional scholars and contemporary Ulema throughout the world who reject pre-determined calculations. We do not aim to cause any conflict in the community, however, we do not back away from the clear evidences available that pre-determination of the first day of Ramadan or any Islamic month was never intended in the first place, neither by Allah, The Creator, nor His Messenger (s).
The Qur’anic Evidence
The first evidence we rely on is based on the Qur’an.
The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home, witnessing the crescent), he must observe Saum (fasts) that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Saum (fasts) must be made up] from other days. Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Him for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him. (Qur’an 2:185)
The critical term in this verse is “faman shahida minkum as-shahara”, which means to the effect “those from you who have witnessed the month”. This verse has also been suggested to mean “those who are present at their home”. The meaning is still pointed towards presence and witnessing the month.
The argument is usually used to suggest that this “witnessing” can occur via pre-determined calculations, given that we have technologically advanced to calculate the phases of the moon. It will be articulated later, why this is incorrect in seeking to understand the objective of this verse.
The root meaning of the critical term “shahida” refers to a witnessing which takes part in a physical form, as a form of proof. Scholars of Arabic grammar agree on this by unanimous consensus. Ibn Abbas (r), who was the first man to collect Arabic words and elaborate its meaning, also clearly holds this view. Khalil, who used ibn Abbas’s collection to formulate the world’s first dictionary in any language (this of course being in Arabic), published this fact in his works, “ ‘Ayn”. Scholars who study grammar consider this work to be the most authoritative in understanding the depths of meaning of Arabic words. “Shahada” cannot happen in a simulated environment. It has to occur in a physical form as a form of proof. Of course, the result of “shahida”, i.e., the witnessing can be recorded, and this should not be misunderstood with the witnessing itself.
Therefore, it is clear in this verse, that some form of witnessing is required to establish the presence of the month of Ramadan (and this also applies to all lunar months for Muslims, which HSC undertakes and records on a monthly basis). Having established that a form of witnessing is required to establish fasting, it is important to eliminate the possibility of the acceptance of calculation as a means to establish it.
The Qur’an is the Word of Allah. Allah is All-Aware of the progresses human beings will undertake, including the ability to pre-determine moon phases. In other words, it is not the moon phases that Islamic tradition calls for, but for the observation of the Hilal.
The pre-determination is based on calculations. And the fact is that Allah, the Wise, has used the term “to calculate” in the Qur’an. This specific information is paramount and essential to come to a holistic understanding and acceptance of the fact that if Allah, the Wise, wanted calculated pre-determination as a means to establish fasting or other months, this would have been clearly stated in the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions, by the use of the term referring to calculation. It was nothing new, nor anything impossible for Allah to have revealed it to His Messenger of Allah (s).
Allah revealed in the Qur’an:
The sun and the moon run on their fixed courses, calculated with measured out stages for each. (Qur’an 55:5)
The key term in this verse is “bihusbaan”, its root extraction from “hasaba”. This word is of particular significance, since it means “to calculate”. This alone is clear evidence that Allah revealed to His Messenger (s), the concept of astronomical calculations, yet Allah limited the method of establishing the commencement of fasting through observation of the crescent as proof.
Furthermore, Allah has revealed quantitative calculations in the Qur’an. An example of this is the laws of inheritance. History is clear that such calculations were not only new for the people of Arabia, but an unknown territory for the world. Numerals with fractions, as well as the quantum zero, were established or refined from the laws of inheritance revealed in the Qur’an itself.
Allah is the Creator of heavens and earth, and all that exists in it. If the phases of the moon or “New Moon” (conjunction) were of importance and the determining factor, and if there was no requirement to sight or observe the actual Hilal, the Qur’an is evidence that such a directive would have been revealed for Muslims to fulfill their obligations to Allah. The language of the Qur’an on this matter is literal, and there is no room for the possibility of metaphorical interpretations. In fact, it would be counter to a very basic principle of Islamic law and methodology, that the literal meaning must be given precedence unless there is clear evidence to suggest a metaphorical meaning. To do so would be what is referred to in Fiqh as “shaadh” or “odd” of that person. Allah has not left ambiguity or interpretative injunctions on Muslims as a method to perfect their Deen.
Evidence from the Prophetic Tradition
Whilst the Qur’anic evidence should suffice, it is always helpful to see how the Messenger of Allah (s), actually manifested those injunctions in reality.
Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated, “I heard Allah’s Messenger (s) saying: “When you see the Hilal (of Ramadan), start fasting, and when you see the Hilal (of the month of Shawwal), stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast (and you cannot see it) then regard the month of Ramadan as of 30 day”. (Sahih Bukhari)
Abdullah bin Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated, “Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “The month (can be) 29 nights and do not fast till you see the Hilal, and if the sky is overcast, then complete Sha’ban as 30 days”. (Sahih Bukhari)
The two Ahadeeth as quoted above are sufficient evidence to confirm the Qur’anic evidence. The critical words in these Ahadeeth are “ra’aitum” or its derivates, which specifically mean “to look” or “to observe”. As a side note, this word is very different from another common word denoting watching- “nadhara” or “to see”. To look or observe, “ra’aitum”, means to pay attention in the observation. To see something, “nadhara”, as the root derivative, means that one sees something in passing or can decipher something.
In addition, “ra’aitum” has no synonymous meaning with calculation. It has clear relevance to the concept of observation. Further, and most importantly, the Hadeeth does not allude to the ‘birth” of the Hilal, normally referred to as “New Moon” or “conjunction”. In fact it suggests that these two days of uncertainty can be left out from the establishment of the month. If the accuracy of the moon phase or “New Moon (conjunction)” was of any importance, it is quite clear, knowing the complex nature of some of Islamic rulings, this would have been clearly mentioned. To the contrary, the Messenger of Allah (s) mentioned the earliest possible observation of the Hilal (crescent moon) itself. The calendars however indicate information of the birth of the New Moon, which is entirely different in meaning as well as to the statement of the Messenger of Allah (s).
The Arabic word referred to in the Ahadeeth is “Hilal”. It refers particularly to the crescent, not the “conjunction”. The Hadeeth requires of us to sight the Hilal, not the New Moon which is invisible. Calendars and pre-determined statements can only refer to the New Moon with any accuracy, not the Hilal. It is clear from this matter alone, that the Hilal must be observed, and not pre-determined using the “conjunction occurs before 12:00 Noon GMT”.TH OCTOBER AND ITS INACCURACY
What the Prominent past Fuqaha (Islamic Jurists) have said?
The Fiqh Council in its statement claims that the view of acceptance of astronomical calculation is that of “some Fuqaha”. In this is the concession that the Jamhoor Fuqaha (the overwhelming majority of Islamic Jurists) does not accept this view. Since when the opinion of a small minority of jurists is being promoted as the Ijma’ (consensus)? If you follow this rule then Riba (interest) should be Halal too because some of the scholars have allowed it.
Let’s see what the past Fuqaha have said on this issue:
** Following is the opinion of Imams, Abu Hanifa, Shafai’, Maalik, and Ahmad bin Hambal:
The statement of the astronomers is of no consideration. Therefore, fasting is not incumbent on people by the calculation of the astronomers, nor on a person who has confidence on their statement, because Rasul Allah (s) has based fasting (of Ramadan) on such solid grounds which will never change, and that is the sighting of Hilal or completion of the number, i.e. thirty days (when sighting has not been confirmed). (Kitaab al-Fiqh alal Madhahibil Ar’b’ah)
** Imam Nawawi states: Fasting (of Ramadan) does not become incumbent by the calculations of the astronomer, neither on him nor on others. (Raudhatut Talibeen)
** Imam Nawawi while discussing the Hadith pertaining to enumeration of Sha’ban, states: It is not valid (to say) that the meaning (of the Hadith) is the calculation of the astronomers. (Sharhul Muslim)
** Imam Ibn Taimiyah states: There is no doubt in the fact that the Sunnah and the consensus of the Sahabah confirm that it is not permissible to place reliance on the calculations of astronomy as has been confirmed in the Sahih Bukhari and Muslim …. The one who relies on (astronomical) calculations is like one who has deviated in the Shari’ah. He is an innovator in the Deen. He is mentally deranged. (Majmu' Fatawa Ibn Taimiyah)
** Shaikh Muhammad Ileesh says: Allah did not make the emergence of the Hilal from the sun’s rays the sabab (cause) of Saum. On the contrary, He fixed the rooyah (sighting) of the Hilal the sabab. Thus, when ru’yah has not been acquired, then the Shar’i sabab too has not been acquired. And so, the ruling (confirming the Saum) is not established. The statement of Rasul Allah (s), viz., “Fast at its sighting and end the fasting at its sighting”, indicates this fact. (Fathul Alil Malik)
** Shaikh Ibn Daqeequl Eid said: Calculation… Reliance on it is not permissible for fasting. (Fatawa Allamah Shamsuddind Ramli)
** Shaikh Muhammad Sharbeeni Al-Khateeb states: Fasting does not become incumbent with the statement of the astronomer. It is nor permissible. (Kitaab Al-Khateeb)
** Shaikh Ibn Ahmad Dardeer states: The Hilal is not confirmed with a statement of an astronomer, neither in regard to himself nor in regard to another because the Rasul Allah (s) has hinged Saum, Fitr and Hajj on the sighting of the Hilal, not on its presence. (Sharhus Sagheer)
Contemporary Fuqaha on this issue
Numerous Fatawa are available from highly respected Arab and non-Arab Muftis and Fuqaha of our time and recent past. In fact, volumes have been written on this and related topic of Hilal sighting. The conclusion of all these arguments and verdicts is a consensus that confirmed Hilal sighting is a must to begin an Islamic month including Ramadan and astronomical calculations are not the substitute or alternative to Hilal sighting for any reason including “Muslim unity”.
Following are just few samples due to space constraint:
** The former grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baaz in one of many Fatawa on this issue says:
The Ulema of Ummah from the beginning of Islamic era have established a consensus that only Ru’yah (Hilal sighting) is acceptable for the starting of an Islamic month and not astronomical calculation. It is not known any of them reverse his opinion about it. (Albasal Islami, 1399 AH)
** Another great scholar from Saudi Arabia, Shaikh Ahmad bin Abdur-Razzaq ad-Dawaish says:
The Prophet (s) made the beginning of the fast conditional upon the confirmed sighting of the Hilal of Ramadan, and the ending of the fast conditional upon the confirmed sighting of the Hilal of Shawwal; he did not connect this to calculations of the movements of stars or other heavenly bodies. This is how it was done at the time of the Prophet (s), during the rule of the Khulafa’ al-Raashidoon, at the time of the four Imaams, and during the three centuries which the Prophet (s) said was the best. Referring to calculations of the lunar months to start and end periods of worship, instead of actually sighting the Hilal, is a bid’ah (reprehensible innovation) that has no good in it and has no basis in Shari’ah. The best of all is to follow the Salaf in religious matters, and the worst of all is to follow newly-invented innovations in religion. (Fatawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah)
** Mufti Taqi Usmani of Pakistan not only gave Fatwa against following astronomical calculations moreover he described the following:
….. Finally, I would like to inform you that the question of sighting the moon for each lunar month including Ramadan and Zul-Hijjah was thoroughly discussed at the annual sessions of the Islamic Fiqh Academy (held in Jordan, October 11-16, 1986) attended by more than a hundred outstanding scholars of Shari'ah. The academy adopted the resolution and recommended that all Muslim countries should determine all the lunar months including Ramadan and Zul-Hijjah on the same basis for both Eid al-Fitr as well as Eid al-Adha. This resolution represents the consensus of Muslim jurists throughout the world. (Contemporary Fatawa)
Following are just few great books as point of reference where we find many Fatawa on this issue and all are agreed there is no base in the Shari’ah to follow the astronomical calculations instead of the Hilal sighting for an Islamic month:
** Fatawa Razvia, Vol.4: Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan of Baraily
** Ahsan al-Fatawa: Shaykh Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhyanwi
** Imdad al-Fatawa: Mawlana Ashraf Ali al-Tahanawi
** Fatawa Islamia: Shaikh Muhammah Uthaimeen
** Fatawa of Dar al-Uloom Deoband: Mufti Azizur Rahman
** Jawahir al-Fiqh: Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani
** Jadid Fiqhi Mabahis: Qadhi Mujahid al-Islam al-Qasmi
** Al-Sharq al Awsat #3789 April 13, 1989: Shaikh Ali Tantawi
** Haiat Kibar al-Ulema, Saudi Arabia (Apr. 4, 1989)
** Al-Riyaaz #7612 April 26, 1989: Shaikh Salih Al-Lahidan
(Quotes Ibn Taimiyah: “Who relies on calculation is a lost deviant in Shari’ah”)
(Quotes Ibn al-Muflih: “Those who fast by stars or calculations will not be counted (as fast of Ramadan) even if they are correct)”.
** Taudheeul Masaael: Grand Ayatullah Ali Seestani
** Ulema Imamiya: Jami Abbasi Panj Babi
** Fatawa Islamia: Shaikh Abdullah Al-Jibreen
** Darul Ifta Jordan: “Wa la ibrata bi-qauli-l munuajjimeen fi ithbaat al-Ahiallah wa la yajibus--Saumu bihisaabihim...”
** Tanqhihaat, Vol. 4: Mawlana Syed Abul A’la Maududi
** Every day Fiqh: Mawlana Yusuf Islahi
** Darul-Ifta Nadwatul Ulema: Mawlana Muhammad Rabi Nadvi
** Permanent Committee for Scientific Research and Legal Opinions (UK): “Astronomical science cannot be relied on in establishing the beginning of Ramadan or Eidul Fitr”.
More Fatawa are available on our web site (in process): www.hilalsighting.org
The salient points in the aforementioned references of the Fuqaha of Islam are as follows:
1) The statements, views and calculations of the astronomers pertaining to the presence, birth and possible visibility or non-visibility of the Hilal are of no significance whatsoever for establishing and confirming and ending of the Islamic months including Ramadan and both Eids.
2) The obscure and weak narrations that are mentioned in the Fiqh Council statement are in conflict with the rulings of the Jamhoor Fuqaha of all four Madahib and Shi’i school of Fiqh.
3) It is highly improper for the Fiqh Council to cite obscure and weak views in substantiation of a proposed practice which violates the unanimous practice of the Ummah, a practice which has been existed in Islam for more than fourteen centuries.
Calculations! What Calculations?
The criterion for the astronomical calculations (“The new Islamic Lunar month begins at sunset of the day when the conjunction occurs before 12:00 Noon GMT”) decided upon by the Fiqh Council of North America and the lunar calendar produced according to this criterion is outrageous. For the 12 month period from this Rajab 1427 to Jumada al-Thani 1428, the Hilal CANNOT be seen for at least five months (Rajab, Ramadan, Shawwal, Dhul Qa’adah, and Rabi al-Thani) in North America on the date the Fiqh Council claims to be the “first” of the month. In other words, the followers of the Fiqh Council will be obliged to begin the Islamic month one day earlier, including Ramadan 1427. What is the Daleel or in what Fiqh it is recommended that it permitted to have such a false start for Ramadan and other Islamic months?
There is one more angle to the Fiqh Council’s decision. Taking no consideration of Hilal sighting particularly in North America where all of the Fiqh Council members live, there is much similarity with Jewish calendar. Centuries ago liberal Jews have discarded sighting and adopted their calendar on the “Conjunction or New Moon” basis.
There is yet another superficial argument: How come we pray five times without watching the sun rather we go with our calculations and watches, then why not the same for Ramadan and Islamic months? The answer is very simple: As it is mentioned in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and discussed above, Ramadan and Islamic months begin with Hilal sighting. Unlike prayer timings, Islamic months have nothing to do with sun. Therefore, for Islamic months we have to stick to Hilal sighting.
The decision by ISNA and Fiqh Council of North America is in total disagreement with the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (s) and with the Shari'ah position recognized throughout the centuries. This is an unprecedented view, which has never been adopted by any of the renowned Muslim jurists during the past 1426 years, and it has a number of intrinsic defects and anomalies, some of which are summarized in this statement.
We would like to emphasize that such unprecedented proposals can never advance the cause of Muslim unity. Rather, they may create a new point of disunity and dissention among Muslims.
May Allah keep us on His Path and accept our efforts for His Deen. Ameen.
We the following Ulema agree that the findings stated above are true whereby: “The Islamic month begins after crescent moon (called Hilal) becomes visible after the sunset on the 29th (in absence we complete 30 days) of the previous month. It is NOT permissible to begin Ramadan or any Islamic month on the basis of astronomical calculations”.
And Allah Subhanuhu Ta'ala Knows Best.
Mawlana Muhammad G. Nadvi, Ph.D
North American Ulema Council, CA
Mufti Hidayatullah Farooqi
Jamat Ahle Sunnat of America, Chicago, IL
Mawlana Abdullah Kapodrawee Jami’atul ‘Ulama Canada, Toronto, Canada
Mufti Muhammad Jamaluddin
Darul ‘Uloom/Baitul Hamd, New York, NY
Mufti Ruhul Amin
Shari’ah Board of New York, NY
Mawlana Mohammad Tayyab Qasmi
Islamic Shari’ah Council of B.C., Canada
Mufti Mumtaz Qasmi
Islamic Shari’ah Council of California, CA
Mufti Noman Vazir
Shari’ah Board of New York, NY
Mawlana Muhibur Rahman
Ulama Council of America, NY
Shaikh Syed Muhammad Rizvi
Shi’a Association of America, Toledo, OH
Imam Ashrafuz Zaman Khan
Ulama Council of America, NY
Mawlana Khaleel Ahmad
Hilal Committee of Metropolitan Toronto