Determining Lunar Months: Advice on how to establish Unity in Ramadhan/'Eids'

The month of Ramadhan, in which the Qur'an was revealed; as a guide to the people and clarities from the guidance and the Criterion. Whoever of you witnesses (shahida) the month, then let him fast it. And whoever is ill or traveling, then the same number from different days. God wants to bring you ease and not to bring you hardship; and so that you may complete the count, and magnify God for what He has guided you, that you may be thankful. [2:185]

The question here is: Since fasting is an obligation on all believers, why did Allah say only “Whoever of you” rather than address all believers? The answer is that the believers will not all see the crescent at the same time. This is due to geographical differences in location. The crescent will be seen by some before others. As a result, believers should start their fasting at different times as well.

{The month of Ramadaan in which was revealed the Qur’aan, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever witnesses the month should fast it…}, [part of 2:185].

This last sentence is a conditional sentence, and the ruling contained in a conditional sentence is established for whomever the condition applies to and it is annulled for anyone for whom the condition does not apply. So the sentence: «Whoever witnesses the month should fast it» implies that whoever does not witness it does not fast it.

It is well known amongst astronomers that the time the moon rises differs from place to place. The moon might be seen in one place and not in another. Therefore, according to the verse, whoever does not see it is not obliged to fast. Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen al-Aqalliyaat al-Muslimah – Page 84, Fatwa No.23

The policy of some organisations, Mosques, and even governments to proclaim the start of fasting in their countries in tune with the ‘Mecca’ timing, and before they witness the crescent, is thus contrary to the instructions in 2:185. Since they have not even made any attempts to witness the crescent in the very first place. [See 2:189]

Since the Quran was revealed in Mecca, perhaps as an exception or dispensation where tuning to Mecca’s timing can be justified is in locations where the sun does not set for 24 hours, or stays up for very long hours where it becomes a physical impossibility to fast. The example is in northern areas during the summer days. …God wants to bring you ease and not to bring you hardship; and so that you may complete the count… [Part of 2:185]

The Quran also tells us that the crescent (hilal) is the timer (2:189) which signals the beginnings of the Islamic months for us, like the month for Hajj, the month of Ramadan and all other months.

They ask thee, (O Muhammad), of new moons (ahilati), say: They are fixed seasons / indicators of periods (mawaqitu) for mankind and for the pilgrimage [2:189]

Hilal is usually associated with the 'appearance' of the new moon. This primary meaning of 'appearance' is also captured by classical lexicons. Refer to any dictionary on classical Arabic.

Therefore the best understanding of the word 'ahillah' in the above context is the sighting of the new moon.

This understanding of the word is indicated in the various Ahadith corpus and provides a fairly consistent understanding of how the term would have practically been understood. As an example, during the spread of Islam to far distant lands, many travellers would have made journeys of many months on camel backs, horses and ships to remote parts and delivered the message of the Quran to others. Many communities undoubtedly would have accepted the veracity of the message. As Ramadan approached, localised sightings of the moon would have determined the start of the month.

This has been the case until modern travel, technology and communication has made the world into a 'global village'. However, despite these advancements, the celestial bodies still run their course (10:5, 6:97, 17:12, and 36:38-40).  Albeit, it can be debated whether actual 'sighting' is now necessary with key advancements in scientific knowledge and technology, nevertheless, it is difficult to accept the proposition in light of the Quran  that one would not be expected to respect the local ability to sight a moon. (Although this may be at a regional level covering broad area of land or even continents). This principle is the same for all the lunar months including Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram and etc.

 

Taking practical steps in acheiving Unity:

There are great flexibility and ease in the ethics sanctioned by God, unfortunately, Man is ever quarrelsome and makes unnecessary difficulties. Muslims are advised to reduce the apparent division due to partisanship, sectarianism and nationalism, to a minimum and to free our-selves from the responsibility and the consequence of dividing the Muslim community by returning to the Furqan or Criterion (i.e Quran) and to take practical steps and not merely paying lip service towards unity.

Furthermore, if an adamant individual who commences/ends one’s Ramadhan or commences Shawwal before the vast majority of one’s immediate localised community one should defer publicising of it, in order to pray Eid Salah and celebrate with the locals. See: Majmoo‘ Fataawa al-Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen, 19/44.

Moreover (alternatively), regardless of the actual day, one chooses to (end his or her) fast. One may attend the celebrations of the community [communities] on the other days as well without compromise any fasting or acts of worship (however this may not be practical due to its festive nature). Engage in supererogatory prayers and glorification of God. As long as there are no violations of the set limits by God. This will encourage community spirit and unity.

O mankind! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you; surely God is Knowing, Aware (al-Hujurat 49:13).

This is in harmony with the Quran that seeks to bring the people together and unite their rank in opposing separation and disunity [10:19]. Although the Quran suffices, this unity is further endorsed in the Ahadith Corpus: Reportedly, Abû Hurayrah relates on the authority of the Prophet (peace be upon him): "The fast is on the day when they observe the fast, it ends on the day that they stop fasting, and `Id al-Adhâ is when the people observe it". [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (697)]. That is to fast with the locals.Fast when they observe the fast…'Sheikh Salman al-Oadah,http://en.islamtoday.net/artshow-428-3257.htm

Moreover, it remains an individual responsibility upon every Muslim to strive to understand and act upon the Quran’s guidance.

Those who listen to the Word [Quran] and follow the best meaning in it: those are the ones whom God has guided and those are the one's endowed with understanding (Albabi). [39:18].

 

And Allah knows best.

 

For Younger Readers

God teaches in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims that:

  • Various countries may start and End months on different days based on their sighting of the new crescent.

  • Unified date is not required for the whole world

  • Locally Muslims must unite in their decision to start and end Months

 

 

1438AH-summaryCalendarUK_UmmulQura

This calendar is based on predicted crescent visibility for United Kingdom. Compiled by Qamar Uddin (www.moonsighting.org.uk).