By Abdul Wahab Saleem

When we use the term “#moonsighting” nowadays, nobody thinks about going out to the wilderness to sight, rather to the boardroom of a masjid for a fight. However, what's more unfortunate than a fight in the boardroom is the fact that this issue has become the cause of much disunity even within families in certain scenarios. A brother may be fasting on a Saturday, whilst his family may choose to fast on a Sunday.

At the crux of this disagreement lies the issue of whether we should establish Ramaḍān through astronomical calculations or through moon-sighting alone. Those who say we must establish it through moon-sighting will further disagree with one another about whether there should be a global sighting or a local sighting. And of course, they will disagree, yet again, about what exactly is meant by local sighting or what defines the term “local”. To the surprise of many, all of these issues are issues of discussion in the classical encyclopedias of Islamic law. However, disagreements of such nature in the past could easily be solved by some intervention of the Caliph.

After the disagreement is fully established, for some it is time to start dividing the Ummah in the name of the Sunnah. They feel that they must make tall claims about how this committee or that committee is opposing the Sunnah of our beloved Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The response to this in short is that these issues are not conclusive. Traces of discussions on astronomical calculations and moon-sighting have always been found in the encyclopedic works of Islamic law.

Many of the people who have supported astronomical calculations in modern times are some of the biggest proponents of the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). People who have dedicated their entire lives to the Sunnah have defended this idea. One scholar who particularly stands out, because of both his strong affiliation with ḥadīth studies and strong “unorthodox” position on astronomical calculations in establishing Ramadan is, Sh. Aḥmad Muḥammad Shākir (d. 1958). He is known to be the foremost Muḥaddith (traditionist) of his era. Sh. Aḥmad, despite his indispensable contributions to the Sunnah, strongly believed that establishing the month of Ramaḍān through calculations is a more accurate and better approach.

In fact, after explaining how the Muslims have went from the unlettered nation they once were to an educated and literate nation, he said, “If this is how the majority of them are [today] and the trait of illiteracy has remained no more, it is obligatory for them now to result to calculations.” In fact he went even further and said, “[They must] use calculations alone in establishing the [phases] of the moon. They should no longer use [the method of] sighting except when they are unable to establish it through calculations.” Sh. Ahmad believes this to be the most accurate of all positions and closest of them to the Sunnah. He says, “Indeed I find this position of mine to be the most just of all positions and the closest of them to a sound understand and accurate deduction from the traditions related to this subject.” [Awā'il al-Shuhūr al-`Arabiyyah]

This article is not to encourage an opinion over another. In fact, it is not even to establish my personal opinion on the subject. It is, rather, to instill humility within us and remind us of the fact that, like always, there is a deeper discussion about these issues among the scholarly class than what may surface in your casual family dinner a week before Ramadan.

Without a doubt this yearly fiasco has a major impact on the way Muslims view one another and the way non-Muslims view Muslims. On the one hand, those that feel that astronomical calculations are the way to go and moon-sighting is obsolete, anti-modern or at least unnecessary are viewed as progressive and unorthodox. On the other hand, those who staunchly believe that we must establish the month of Ramadan through moon-sighting alone are considered backwards, anti-modern and literalists.

For all of you who are confused on what to do this Ramadan, follow your local community mosque. If you have many community mosques which are local to you and each seems to have there own approach, follow the opinion which constitutes the majority view in your locality. The best way to put an end to this vicious debate is to implement this tradition of the Prophet -SAWS-:

(الصوم يوم تصومون والفطر يوم تفطرون والأضحى يوم تضحون)

“The fast should be [started] the day that all of you fast, `īd al-Fiṭr should be [celebrated] the day that all of you celebrate `īd al-Fiṭr and `īd al-Aḍḥā should be [celebrated] the day that all of you celebrate `īd al-Aḍḥā.” [Al-Tirmidhi]

Imam al-Tirmidhi said commenting on this tradition, “Some scholars have explained this tradition to mean that the fast and `id should be done with the community and the majority.” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) didn't leave anything good except that he guided us to it. This tradition is encouraging us to stick to the majority. Implementation of this tradition could very well be the long-lost solution for unity during the blessed month of Ramaḍān and other such occasions. If everyone sticks to the majority, slowly but surely the minority will cease to exist. I ask Allāh to empower us to implement the guidance of our beloved Messenger Muḥammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

May Allāh bless you and your families with the opportunity to make the most of this Ramaḍān! Ramaḍān Karīm and Ramaḍān Mubārak!

Related Articles:

Sh Yasir Qadhi on understanding the controversies regarding moonsighting

Sh Abu Aaliyah Shurkeel on Moonsighting Unity or Lunacy

Abdul Wahab Saleem is the Educational Director, Rahma Mosque, Edmonton, Founder & President, Salik Academy
Twitter: @wahab_saleem

18 Responses

    • Dar

      It looks like that for this issue, the majority defines what is “right”.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  1. Abu al-Harith

    I am curious as to your reference for Aḥmad Shākir’s position. I know that in his footnotes to Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khān’s al_Rawḍah al-Nadiyah he wrote in defense of using astronomy to determine prayer times, but that did not specifically mention the beginning and end of months.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Abdul Wahab Saleem

      Assalamu Alykum,

      The reference is given in the article. “Awā’il al-Shuhūr al-`Arabiyyah” is the work in which he detailed his stance on this subject.

      Abdul Wahab Saleem

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • Abu al-Harith

        Thanks, apparently I wasn’t reading very carefully.

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  2. M

    Salam

    JazakAllah Khair for this article. This sounds like is a great solution to the disunity problem. Another solution could be respect and acceptance. It should be understood by all that both the moon-sighting and the calculation method are part of the sunnah. So if we see someone starting Ramadan on a different day than we are, we should simply respect their opinion and get along instead of getting into heated arguments.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • M

      Ok, hold on, I am not sure if calculation would directly fall under the sunnah, because I don’t know how the scholars came to this conclusion. But even if it doesn’t, the disunity can caused by different reasons like some masjids following Saudia Arab etc. So whatever the reason, we should just respect the different opinions that exist.

      And if the disunity is within the family or the masjid board, it shouldn’t be made into a matter of the ego. It’s ok to follow the opinion of a different madhab to avoid disunity at such level.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  3. C.Passerini

    As a convert from Christianity, I fell this problem represent the importance the Ummah puts in the truth. Compare to Chrismas for exemple, where no one cares if it doesn’t fall on jesus birthday!! In a way, this search for authenticity is a proof of Islam as the true religion.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Sam

      Your comment is an eye-opener to every Muslim. Indeed, there is truth to the saying that “There is good in everything” and that “Disagreements is a mercy.” While Muslims see the debate on moon-sighting issue as a plague, other people (including you) perceive it as a light–that is, Islam puts so much premium on finding and following nothing but the truth.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  4. Muhammad

    I do not agree on astronomical calculations; It’s a bidah in itself to me. If the Messenger of Allah didn’t do it, nor his sahabah, or taabieen, how can it be part of Islam..?

    I do respect the opinions of others btw.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

    Reply
  5. Muhammad

    This is enough and more evidence that the sighting of the moon is the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم):

    Ibn’Umar (Allah be pleased with-both of them) reported Allah’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) as saying:

    The month of Ramadan may consist of twenty-nine days. So do not fast till you have sighted it (the new moon) and do not break fast, till you have sighted it (the new moon of Shawwal), and if the sky is cloudy for you, then calculate.

    sunnah.com/muslim/13

    Read this as well. islamqa.info/en/1602

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Kamal

      Jazakallah Khair Muhammad

      It does seem that preferring astronomical calculations over moon sightings seems to go against the hadeeth.

      besides, why is it that the date of calculations are different than the actual night of the moon being sighted

      For example here in Toronto, Ramadan begins on Sunday because the moon was not sighted

      But the astronomical calculations say that Ramadan begins on Saturday

      If the calculations are accurate how come it doesn’t match with the actual appearance of the new moon?

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • Muhammad

        That’s a thumbs up from me… Subhanallah, and there’s another reason against astronomical calculations…

        We didn’t sight the moon either, and had no news from SA as well, Sunday is Ramadan insha Allah;

        Ramadan Kareem world!!!

        May Allah forgive us and make us more sincere, make us better Muslims, give us all Jannathul Firdaus insha Allah… Ameen.

        Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      • Muhammed

        Really? How come nobody heard about this.. Subhanallah… Are you currently in Yemen, brother? If so could you clarify this, please. Jzk.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • A

        Asalaamu Alaykum Muhammed,

        That’s a good question. However, I believe that is precisely where a distinction needs to be made; the calculations are to indicate when the moon becomes “full”,”new”, or any other phase (the hilal is a waxing crescent), which occurs at a specific time (UTC). Whether or not the moon is actually view-able in a certain location is a different issue altogether and depends on a number of factors (i.e cloud cover, weather, smog, positioning). So even if we may not see the moon in our respective locations, the moon has most likely reached its phase (it’s usually the specific minutes that may vary from the calculations). In fact, unless I’m mistaken, this can often be verified in real time from specific observatories or satellites. Interestingly, it’s these types of calculations from which we determine the rising, setting, and other positions of the sun from which we draw our prayer schedules from, all of which can be verified by sight unless there is inclement weather. I suppose the point of the article, without going into the science or exploring Seerah case studies, is to show the importance of giving weight to both sides of the discussion and to humbly recognize that these are topics that are beyond many of us who are not versed in Islamic studies or the sciences. Of course, Allah always knows best and I apologize for any incorrect information I may (and probably have) posted.

        Jazakum Allahu Khairan

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Khizar

    How come we all are so opinionated when it comes to our faith while having no or very little knowledge of the subject. I cannot speak on behalf of all but for a majority that superficial knowledge does not give us the authority to challenge ISlamic opinions. Thorough research is the answer and understanding of all opinions is necessary before we make an opinion or decisions. Hence leave it to the scholars to guide us. I just try and understand things in light of the essence of our faith. It is based on one God(Allah SWT), one book, One Prophet, One Ummah, One Mecca and so on. Prophet SAW even eliminated the difference between colours and tribes etc to make us one ummah, then how come we are left to be divided when it comes to celebrations of Ramadan and Eidain. My parents live in Toronto and I live in Calgary. My parents mosque follows Halal committee and my mosque follows Mecca. Can we possibly have one Eid without one of us making up for a lost fast. I believe unity is the answer and why not use Mecca as the answer for moonlighting as the centre of our world. Again my opinion only not based on thorough understanding of the issue, merely an understanding of the essence of our faith as Allah(SWT) guided/preferred us to be united.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    Reply

Leave a Reply