Allah (Subhnahu wa ta`ala) has set crescent
sighting as the only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions
such as `Ids and Hajj. He says:
"They ask you [Muhammad] concerning
the new moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for
men and for Hajj (pilgrimage)".
In particular, the Messenger (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam) emphasized that crescent sighting is required in determining
the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadhan. A large number of sahabah
(Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) reported that the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) said:
[Al-Baqarah (2) 189]
Fast (Muslims) 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.
The Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
took great care to determine precisely the beginning of Sha`ban, because
one can then count twenty nine days and watch for the crescent of Ramadhan
or complete thirty days before starting to fast. `Aishah (Radiya 'Llahu
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) used to be more concerned about [determining the beginning of]
Sha`ban than about other months. Then he used to fast at the sighting of
[the crescent of] Ramadhan. If it were obscure, he would count thirty days
[of Sha`ban] and then fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and
Witnesses Needed to Establish the Sighting
The `Ulama agree that two trustworthy Muslim
witnesses are sufficient to establish moon sighting. This is based on reports
by a number of the Sahabah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) that the Messenger (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
If two just Muslim witnesses testify
[that they saw it] then fast or break your fast.
Many ulam further believe that only one trustworthy
person's testimony may be accepted as a basis for determining the beginning
of the Month. The basis for this is that Ibn `Umar (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum)
[Authentic; narrated by Ahmad, an-Nassa'i
People were looking out for the crescent
[of Ramadhan]. I informed the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
that I saw it. So he fasted [on the following day] and ordered people to
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and
Some people suggest using astronomical computations
either exclusively or partially for determining the visibility and preciseness
of crescent sightings. This is not a new suggestion, as it was raised at
the earliest times of Islam and the Prophet salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
rejected it. Ibn `Umar (Radiya 'Llahu `anhuma) reported that the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
Abu Dawud's narration adds further:
We are an illiterate nation. We do
not use astronomical writing or computation [in our fasting]. A month is
so and so and so (and he pointed with his hands three times, folding the
thumb on the third time, meaning twenty nine days) or so and so and so
(and he pointed with his hands three times, meaning thirty days).
[Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and
Thus Ibn `Umar used to end his fasting
with the rest of people without relying on those computations.
This shows that the Messenger (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam) wanted to keep this worship simple and at the level
of common people, away from the influence or control of specialized scientific
knowledge (whether sound or doubtful). This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyyah
(Raimahu 'Llah) said, that the description of this nation here as being
illiterate is a praise to it in that it is independent of any complicated
means in performing its basic worships.
Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep
the ijma` (consensus) of the worthy `ulama, would be attempting to spoil
the beauty and simplicity of this Din, and, worst of all, would be bluntly
disobeying the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam).
Misconception: the True Beginning of a Month
A very common misconception and a great concern
for many people is that if we do not make our utmost best to confirm the
testimonies of those who claim moon sighting (by astronomical evidence
and other means) then we might be risking nullifying some of our worship
by fasting on wrong days. This approach is rejected in Islam on several
a. It involves casting doubts about the
truthfulness of just Muslims (`udul). This is forbidden in the texts of
the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
b. It conflicts with the practice of the
Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) who accepted the sighting of
people without delay and without comparing it with astronomical evidence.
c. It resembles the behavior of the Jews
who tightened the Laws on themselves; and Allah punished them by making
them even tighter. The Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
Beware of [going to the extreme of]
over-exaggeration in Din. Indeed, those before you were destroyed because
of their over-exaggeration in Din.
[Authentic: narrated by An-Nasa'i and
d. It shows ignorance of when an Islamic
month really begins. This point is explained by Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu
Many people think that once the new
moon rises in the skies, that night would be the first of the month, regardless
of whether people see it or not. This is not correct! It should appear
to people and they should see it to start a month. That is why the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said: "[True] fasting starts on the day
that you start fasting ..." Which means: this is the day that you know
it as being the time to fast, etc. If you did not know it, then it would
carry no value for you.
This view is further clarified by this narration.
Abu al- Bukhturi said:
[Al- Fatawa, volume 5, page 203]
We went to `Umrah and saw the crescent
of Ramadhan at Dthatu `Irq. It seemed to have been two or three nights
old. Later, we met Ibn `Abbas and mentioned this to him. Ibn `Abbas (Radiya
'Llahu `anhuma) informed us that Allah's Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) said: Allah has set crescent sighting as indication of Ramadhan.
Thus Ramadhan starts on the night that you see it. If it is obscure to
you, then complete the count.
[Narrated by Muslim]
But what if those who claimed sighting
of the new moon were lying or mistaken? As long as they are apparently
acceptable and trustworthy Muslims then we must follow their testimony
and fast (or end the fasting). We have absolutely no right to reject that
without a definite proof (applying means which conform with the Sunnah,
as outlined above.) If they happen to be indeed lying then the sin will
be theirs only, and we would still be (in sha'a 'Llah) rewarded for sticking
to the Sunnah.
Unification of Sighting Locations
The above hadiths carry a general command
to all Muslims to abide by crescent sighting. In the same spirit, Abu Hurayrah,
`Aishah and others (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) reported that the Messenger (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
Thus when the moon is sighted anywhere on
earth, by at least one trustworthy Muslim, this means that the whole Ummah
has sighted it. Based on this, as the above hadiths indicate, all members
of the Ummah are required to observe the new month as long as the information
reaches them in a reasonable amount of time to be able to act upon it.
[True] fasting starts on the day that
you start fasting; [true] Fitr [`Id] is on the day that you end your fasting;
[true] Adha [`Id] is on the day that you offer your sacrifice.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud,
at-Tirmidthi and others]
Misconception: Different Matla`s
A large number of people misinterpret the
following narration by Kurayb.
Kurayb reported that Umm al-Fadhl Bint
Al-rith sent him on a mission to Mu`awiyah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) in Damascus.
He accomplished his mission and was still in ash-Sham when Ramadhan started.
He saw the new moon on Friday evening. He then returned to al-Madinah,
arriving therein near the end of the month. He met Ibn `Abbas who asked
him when was the new moon of Ramadhan sighted in ash-Sham. Kurayb said,
We saw it on the night of Friday. Ibn Abbas inquired, Did you see it yourself?
Kurayb replied, Yes I saw it; and People did too. Based on that, they fasted
and Mu`awiyah fasted as well. Whereupon Ibn Abbas said, But we saw it on
the night of Saturday; and we shall continue to fast until we complete
thirty days or see it [the new moon of Shawwal]. Kurayb asked, Wouldn't
you accept Mu`awiyah's sighting and fasting. Ibn Abbas answered: No! This
is how Allah's Messenger commanded us.
[Narrated by Muslim]
After discussing this narration, Shayk
ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu 'Llah) concluded:
Imam Ash-Shawkani (Rahimahu 'Llah) cited this
narration by Kurayb and mentioned the different conclusions that the `ulama
have reached based on it. He then commented as follows:
To summarize: a person who learns about
the sighting of the moon in good time to be able to utilize it for fasting,
for ending his fast, or for sacrifice, he must definitely do so. The texts
[of Islam] and the reports about the Salaf point to this. To limit this
to a certain distance or country would contradict both the reason and the
Shar` (Islamic law).
[Al-Fatawa, volume 5, page 111]
You should know that the acceptable
evidence is in what Ibn Abbas (Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) reported explicitly
from the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam). It is not in his ijtihad
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
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) is what Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others
narrated 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 to people in other
locations. This is so because when [Muslim] people in a particular location
see it, this means that all Muslims have seen it. Thus what applies to
them [those who saw it] would apply to others [in other locations] Despite
that ash-Sham was not far enough from al-Madinah to warrant different matlas
(moon rising positions), Ibn Abbas refused to follow the sighting of its
people. This tells that his behavior was based on his ijtihad, and is not,
therefore, an acceptable evidence [in this case].
Siddiq Hassan Khan, one of the greatest ulam
of the Indian Sub- continent ever (Raimahu 'Llah), said:
[Nayl ul- Awtar, volume 4, page 268]
If the crescent is seen by people in
one location, people in other locations must abide by their sighting. This
is based on the hadiths that declare the beginning and the end of fasting
at the sighting of the crescent. These hadiths address the whole Muslim
Ummah: when one Muslim sees the crescent anywhere, his sighting would be
a sighting for all Muslims. It would not be correct to challenge this with
the hadith of Kurayb (in sahih Muslim), because Ibn `Abbas did not declare
in it that the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) commanded them
not to follow sightings of other locations.
[ar-Rawdhat un-Nadiyyah, volume 1,
In this regard also, Muhammad Nasir
ud-Din al-Albani, one of the top hadith specialists, said:
Matla`s are relative. They have no
definite boundaries which people can distinguish and to which they can
refer. Most `ulama give no weight to differences in matlas. This is based
on the general meaning of the authentic hadith: Fast upon seeing it; and
break your fast upon seeing it. This is the truth, and none else can be
accepted. One may not dispute this with the hadith of Ibn Abbas ... It
may be even better to say that the hadith of Ibn Abbas concerns those who
follow their locality's sighting and later during Ramadhan learn that the
crescent was sighted elsewhere one day earlier. In such case, they would
continue to fast with their countrymen until they complete thirty days
or see their own crescent. This removes the confusion and leaves the above
hadith applicable in general to all those who receive the news of seeing
the crescent from any location. It is well known that this matter is very
easy to accomplish nowadays.
[Tamam ul- Minnah, page 398]
The above discussion may be summarized in
the following points:
a. The beginning of an Islamic month may
be determined (for purposes of fasting, Hajj, and other Islamic occasions)
only through naked-eye sighting of the new crescents.
b. Astronomical evidence may not be used
to establish moon sighting or to verify or revoke the sighting of trustworthy
c. Once the new moon is sighted anywhere
on earth, people in all other places who learn about the sighting in a
reasonable amount of time to be able to use it must do so.
d. A month starts when the new moon is
seen regardless of whether this occurred before, after or at the actual
We ask Allah to show us the truth, and to
enable us to follow the Sunnah always. And let our final call be: Al-hamdu
li 'Llahi rabbil 'alamin.