Moon Sighting: Between Sharee’ah and Astronomy - I

Moon Sighting: Between Sharee’ah and Astronomy - I
4472 0 664

Question: What is the Sharee’ah (Islamic legislation) ruling on confirming the beginning of the lunar month by means of astronomical calculations?


Answer: Depending on astronomical calculations to confirm the advent of the lunar month implies two grave mistakes.


First: It nullifies the Sharee’ah cause on which fasting and breaking the fast is contingent, which is sighting the crescent by the naked eye.


Second: Introducing a new cause for fasting and breaking the fast and considering it legitimate, although it is not prescribed by Allah The Almighty.

Regarding the first cause, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said:


   •   "When you sight it (the crescent), fast, and when you sight it (again) then break the fast. If you cannot sight it (the crescent), then complete thirty days (for the month of Sha‘baan)."


   •   "Do not begin the month (of Ramadan) unless you sight the crescent or complete thirty days (for the month of Sha’baan); and then fast until you sight the crescent (of Shawwaal) or complete thirty days (for the month of Ramadan)."


   •   "When you sight the crescent, fast, and when you sight it (again) then break the fast. If you cannot sight it (the crescent), then complete thirty days (for the month of Sha’baan)."


There are many Ahaadeeth (narrations) in this regard indicating that what counts in this regard is the sighting of the crescent or completing thirty days. Nonetheless, these Ahaadeeth do not mean that each one has to sight the crescent by himself; rather, the testimony of trustworthy witnesses is enough in this regard. It was narrated that Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them, said, "People sighted the crescent, and when I told the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) that I had sighted it, he fasted and ordered people to fast."


Depending on astronomical calculations to confirm the advent of the lunar month abolishes the Sharee’ah cause (sighting), nullifies both the authority of the Sharee’ah sighting and the judiciary authority of the ruling of the Sharee’ah courts, revives what is nullified by Sharee’ah, and contradicts the consensus of the prominent scholars of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and the leaders of the different schools of Fiqh who unanimously agreed that using astronomical calculations in confirming the crescent is impermissible.


When the astronomical calculations contradict the Sharee’ah sighting, this will result in:


1- Not fasting the first day of Ramadan, when the contradiction is at the beginning of the month.


2- Fasting the first day of ‘Eed, when the contradiction is at the end of the month.

Consequently, this violates the sanctity of the Quranic text, where Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it.} [Quran 2: 185] It also violates the sanctity of the text of the noble Sunnah (Prophetic tradition), where the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "When you sight it (the crescent), fast, and when you sight it (again) then break the fast."


Again, this violates the sanctity of fasting by preventing people from fasting the first day of Ramadan as well as the sanctity of ‘Eed by fasting that day. This actually nullifies the command of Allah The Almighty, leads to disturbances and disputes and promotes disunity and division among Muslims.


The second mistake is introducing a new cause for fasting and breaking the fast and considering it legitimate, although it is not prescribed by Allah The Almighty. This is clarified as follows:


Allah The Almighty has made the rulings contingent on Sharee’ah causes. When the Sharee’ah cause is there, the ruling of Allah is due; and when the Sharee’ah cause is not there, the ruling of Allah is not due. No one has the right to change or alter these causes.


It is confirmed by the Quran and the Sunnah that the cause of fasting and breaking the fast is sighting the crescent. The cause is not achieved when it is scientifically proved that the crescent is there in the sky but it is not seen by the eye. Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it.} [Quran 2: 185] The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "When you sight it (the crescent), fast, and when you sight it (again) then break the fast."


According to the texts of the Quran and the Sunnah, the obligation of fasting or breaking the fast is dependent on sighting the crescent by the naked eye, not on knowing that the crescent is astronomically present, but without sighting it. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) did not say "When the crescent is present, observe fasting" to include both astronomical calculations and sighting. Rather, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) said: "When you sight it (the crescent), fast."

Sighting is more specific than the presence itself. It is possible that the crescent is astronomically present but it cannot be seen due to many reasons. In this case, fasting is not due. Moreover, the last part of the Hadeeth decisively indicates that the presence of the crescent is not the cause; rather, the cause is achieved when the sighting is confirmed. According to the different narrations, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) added: "When you cannot sight it" and "When the sky is so cloudy to see it." This signifies that when the crescent is there but it could not be sighted because of clouds or any other reason, one must not fast and he has to complete the thirty days of Sha’baan. This decisively indicates that the cause is not merely the presence of the crescent; rather, it is more specific to demand confirmation of sighting by the naked eye.


As such, the wise Sharee’ah has abolished considering the scientific presence of the crescent a cause for fasting or breaking the fast. Rather, it has asserted that the tangible presence of the crescent which allows sighting is the cause. This is not because astronomical calculation in confirming the sighting is weaker in degree than sighting by witnesses or because the premises and theories of astronomy are invalid. Rather, it is because the mercy of Allah towards His slaves necessitates that He makes the acts of worship contingent on tangible matters, which are available for all those who are competent for religious obligations. This is to make people avoid any hardship or difficulty. When the causes of rulings are stable, tangible and general, they are easy to be realized by all those who are competent for religious obligations, with no hardship at all. Acts of worship should not be contingent on mental, scientific and intangible things which are not realized by all people or even by those who seek them. This makes the generality of the cause and easiness of realizing it in conformity with the generality of obligation and easiness of fulfilling it.

To be continued …
Moon Sighting: Between Sharee’ah and Astronomy - II

Related Articles

Prayer Times

Prayer times for Doha, Qatar Other?
  • Fajr
    04:43 AM
  • Dhuhr
    11:47 AM
  • Asr
    03:05 PM
  • Maghrib
    05:33 PM
  • Isha
    07:03 PM