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«1 An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah In the year 2006, the Fiqh Council of North America took the position that the ...»

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An Analysis of Moon Sighting Arguments

Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah

In the year 2006, the Fiqh Council of North America took the position that the scientifically

authenticated astronomical calculations are a valid Islamic source of confirming or negating an

Islamic month. Subsequently, a number of papers appeared refuting the Fiqh Council’s position.

Some of these papers insinuated that such a position was nothing short of deliberately opposing

the “infallible” (mutawatir) commandments of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and was equal to following the pitfall of the Children of Israel all the way to their lizard hole.

The main arguments of these papers could be summarized in the following points:

1: The Noble Qur’an (in view of this group) categorically requires physical Moon sighting (with the naked eye) to confirm the beginning and ending of the Islamic months such as Ramadan and Zil-Hajjah. The act of “witnessing the month of Ramadan”, as stated in the Qur’an, means sighting the new Moon of Ramadan with the naked human eye. The Qur’anic term for the Crescent Moon is al-Hilal which, they argue, means “the sighted Moon.” 2: The Prophetic traditions, which reach to the level of infallibility, also require unconditional commitment to the physical sighting of the new Moon by the naked eyes. There are only two definitive methods of confirming or negating the Islamic months which are approved by the Prophetic injunctions, i.e., the Moon sighting by the naked eye or the completion of 30 days.

3: Muslim scholarship over the centuries has accepted these two categorical methods as normative in nature. The classical jurists have roundly rejected all efforts aimed at utilizing these mathematically computed astronomical calculations regarding Ramadan. They have vehemently opposed those Muslim scholars who employed calculations, including some known jurists, in part or in total. Some of these scholars such as Mutarrif bin Abdillah (a successor, Taba’ee), Abu al-Abbas Ahamd bin Umar Ibn Suryj (D 306 AH),and Taqi al-Din Ali al-Subki (683-756 AH) were otherwise given tremendous respect for their knowledge and piety. Rejection of the astronomical calculations has been an established norm in all the known schools of Islamic jurisprudence including the Ja’afari school of thought.

4: Deployment of the astronomical calculations has not been accepted but by a small minority of jurists based upon their weak interpretations of Ahadith. Even this minority opinion does not permit bypassing the physical sighting altogether. They only allow the use of calculations in cases of obscurities such as clouds.

5: Physical eye sighting of the crescent moon has been the universal Prophetic practice. The Jewish people were also required to follow the same method in determining their lunar months, and they were known to hav

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6: That the pre-Islamic Arabs as well as Muslims of the first generation were quite capable of employing astronomical calculations in determining their lunar months. The Muslims emphatically rejected the calculation method due to crystal clear Prophetic prohibitions against it. The science of astronomy in the past had reached its climax among the Muslim scholars due to their special interest in monitoring the motions of celestial bodies such as the Sun, Moon and other stars. Some of the known Muslim jurists such as Imam al-Qarrafi, Imam Ibn al-Arabi and many others were also astronomers of the high caliber who could establish precise calendars for lunation, recognize conjunctions, and predict possible sight ability of the new moon. In spite of that, these jurists did not resort to deployment of astronomical calculations in regards to Ramadan and other Islamic months. The science of observational astronomy had not developed much over the past centuries. Consequently, current dependence of the Fiqh Council upon the scientifically proven astronomical calculations to fix an Islamic calendar is not progression, but rather it is sheer backwardness.

I would like to state from the onset that all of these vehemently propounded and popularly supported arguments do not stand ground against an in depth analysis. The Qur’an never required physical Moon sighting as the legal cause (sabab) for fasting. The Qura’n’s required legal cause for fasting is “witnessing the month”. It is an agreed upon fact among all the Qur’anic exegetes that the Qur’anic phrase “whoever witnessed the month” means whoever is present in his residential place and gets to know about Ramadan’s arrival through any kind of knowledge, including sighting but not confined to sighting, should fast. The Prophetic reports apparently asking for sighting to begin or end Ramadan, in reality, require “certainty of knowledge” vis-à-vis arrival and end of the month of Ramadan. The pre-Prophetic Arabs of Jahiliyyah, following the Jewish lead, were arbitrarily intercalating their lunar calendar so that Hajj and other religious acts could fall in specific seasons and not in extreme cold or hot seasons.

They used to add a thirteenth month to a 12 months lunar year to realize this goal. Their arbitrary methodology of intercalation changed the actual Hajj timings from the month of Zil Hajjah to other lunar months such as Muharram or Safar. The Prophet (PBUH) brought the sacred times back to their divinely defined timings by connecting the lunar months with the actual new Moons. The physical sighting of the new Moon was prescribed as a mean to achieve that certainty. The actual Moon sighting was the only available method during those times to attain certainty. Actual Moon sighting has never been the objective of fasting but what it proves i.e.,

the month of Ramadan, as the famous classical Hanafi jurist Sa’ad al-Din Mas’ud bin U’mar alTaftazani describes:

◌ِ ‫م‬࿮‫اﻟﺴﻼ‬࿨‫و‬࿮ ‫ة‬࿩‫اﻟﺼﻼ‬࿨ ‫ﮫ‬࿮‫ﯿ‬࿯‫ﮫُ ﻋﻠ‬࿮ُ‫ﯾﻀًﺎ ﻗَﻮْ ﻟ‬࿯َ‫أ‬࿨‫و‬࿮ ‫د ﻋﻠﱠﺔ‬࿪‫ﮭُﻮ‬࿮‫ﮭﺮ ﻓَﺎﻟﺸ‬࿮‫اﻟﺸ‬࿨ ‫هُ ﺷَﺎ¬ ྺھَﺪ‬࿮‫ﮭﺮ { ﻣﻌﻨَﺎ‬࿮‫اﻟﺸ‬࿨ ‫ﮭﺪ ﻣﻨﻜﻢ‬࿮‫ﮫ ﺗﻌﺎﻟﻰ } ﻓَﻤﻦ ﺷ‬࿮‫ن ﻗﻮﻟ‬࿮َ‫أ‬࿨{ {‫ﮫ‬࿮ِ‫ﯾَﺘ‬࿯‫ؤ‬࿨ُ‫ا ﻟِﺮ‬࿨‫ﺻُﻮﻣﻮ‬ َْ ِ ُ ‫ﱡ‬ َْ‫َ ﱠ‬ َْ َ ْ ‫َ ْ َ َِ ُِْْ ﱠ‬ ‫ﱠ‬ ِْ ُ ‫اﻟﺸﱠ‬࿨ ‫د‬࿪‫ﮭُﻮ‬࿮‫و¬ ྺھُﻮ ﺷ‬࿮ ‫ﮭَﺎ‬࿮ِ‫ﯾَﺜﺒُﺖ ﺑ‬࿯ ‫إﺟْ ﻤﺎﻋًﺎ ﺑَﻞْ ﻣﺎ‬࿨ ‫ﯾَﺔ‬࿯‫ؤ‬࿨ ‫اﻟﺮﱡ‬࿨ َ‫ﯿﻘَﺔ‬࿯ِ‫د ﺣﻘ‬࿪‫ا‬࿨‫ا ْﻟﻤﺮ‬࿨ ‫ﯿْﺲ‬࿯َ‫ذ ﻟ‬࿪‫إ‬࿨ ‫ذﻟِﻚ‬࿪ ‫لﱡ ﻋﻠَﻰ‬࿭ُ‫ﯾَﺪ‬࿯] َُْ ََْ َ ََُ َ ِْ 2]‫ﮭْﺮ‬࿮ ُ َ ُ َُ َ ِ “The meanings of the Qura’nic verse “whosoever witnesses the month” means (person) witnessing the month (being present in the month). Consequently, witnessing the month is a cause “’illah” (of fasting) and the Prophetic statement “fast by sighting it” proves that. All the Muslim jurists agree that the actual sighting is not meant here (meaning it is not the objective) but (the objective is) what the sighting proves and that is the witnessing (coming of) the month.”

The modern jurist late Dr. Mustafa al-Zarqa puts the point in a nutshell: 3

‫ﯿﻠﺔ‬࿯‫اﻟﻮﺳ‬࿨ ‫وﻛﺎﻧﺖ‬࿮ ،f‫اﻟﻮﻗﺖ‬࿨ ‫ﯿﻠﺔ ﻟﻤﻌﺮﻓﺔ‬࿯‫وﺳ‬࿮ ‫إﻧﻤﺎ ¬ ྺھﻲ‬࿨ ‫و‬࿮ ،f‫م‬࿮‫اﻹﺳﻼ‬࿨ ‫ة ﻓﻰ‬࿩‫د‬࿪‫ﮭﺎ ﻋﺒﺎ‬࿮‫اﺗ‬࿨‫ذ‬࿪ ‫ﯿﺴﺖ ﻓﻰ‬࿯‫ﯾﺪ ﻟ‬࿯‫اﻟﺠﺪ‬࿨ ‫ل‬࿭‫ﮭﻼ‬࿮‫اﻟ‬࿨ ‫ﯾﺔ‬࿯‫ؤ‬࿨‫ر‬࿪ ‫ن‬࿮‫أ‬࿨ ‫ت‬࿩‫ﮭﺎ‬࿮‫ﯾ‬࿯‫اﻟﺒﺪ‬࿨ ‫م ﻣﻦ‬࿮‫ا‬࿨‫د‬࿪ ‫وﻣﺎ‬࿮ ‫ذﻟﻚ ﺑﻨﺺ‬࿪‫و‬࿮ ،f‫ة‬࿩‫اﻟﺒﺎﺻﺮ‬࿨ ‫ﯿﻦ‬࿯‫اﻟﻌ‬࿨ ‫د ﻋﻠﻰ‬࿪‫اﻷﻣﺮ ﺑﺎﻻﻋﺘﻤﺎ‬࿨ ‫اﻟﻌﻠﺔ ﻓﻰ‬࿨ ‫ﮭﺎ ¬ ྺھﻲ‬࿮‫ﯿﺘ‬࿯‫أﻣ‬࿨ ‫و ﻛﺎﻧﺖ‬࿮ ،f‫وﻻ ﺗﺤﺴﺐ‬࿮ ‫ﯿﺔ ﻻ ﺗﻜﺘﺐ‬࿯‫أﻣ‬࿨ ‫أﻣﺔ‬࿨ ‫اﻟﻤﻤﻜﻨﺔ ﻓﻰ‬࿨ ‫ة‬࿩‫ﯿﺪ‬࿯‫اﻟﻮﺣ‬࿨ 3]‫اﻟﺤﻜﻢ‬࿨ ‫ر‬࿪‫ي ﻣﺼﺪ‬࿯‫اﻟﻨﺒﻮ‬࿨ ‫ﯾﺚ‬࿯‫اﻟﺤﺪ‬࿨] “It is an established fact that sighting the new Moon in itself is not an act of worship “Ibadah. It is just a mean to know the time. It was the only way available to a nation which knew not how to write or calculate. Its unlettered status was the sole reason for it to be dependent upon the naked eye. This is precisely what the text of the Hadith, which is the original source of this ruling (fast by sighting it), states.” It is traditionally argued that actual sighting of the new Moon is a prelude to fasting. Physical sighting is the legal (Islamic) cause (sabab) and Ramadan cannot be determined except through this cause i.e., actual sighting. It is also argued that the Prophetic reports establish only two methods to confirm or negate the month of Ramadan namely through sighting the crescent Moon or through completing thirty days (ikmaal). The question arises whether the actual Moon sighting is a precondition for starting the month on the 29th day of Sh’abaan only or, it is also a requirement on the 30th day of the month?

It is an agreed upon fact among all the jurists that actual Moon sighting is not required to confirm Ramadan on the 30th day of Sha’abaan. In fact many Muslim countries announce Ramadan in advance to be on the next Islamic day (31 day of the month) if the new Moon was not sighted on the 29th day of the month. Nobody is asked to look for the actual Moon on the 30th day except as a Sunnah and, not as an act of obligation. The fact of the matter is that this entire debate vis-àvis actual Moon sighting as a prerequisite to fasting or breaking the fast, is related only to the 29th day of the month. Consequently, the actual sighting could be a legal reason for starting fasting of Ramadan only after the 29th day of the month and not after the 30th day of the month, as the cause and the effect go hand in hand. The Prophetic Ahadith requiring thirty day’s completion would come into effect only if it was cloudy because the Prophet (PBUH) said, “complete thirty days if it was cloudy”. The conditional clause “if it was cloudy” would be applicable only in case of obscurities and not if the horizon was clear on the 29th day’s evening.

Moreover, these Prophetic reports do not ask Muslims not to see the new Moon on the 30th day of the month if it was not cloudy. Now, if the actual Moon sighting was the sole legal cause of starting or ending the month of Ramadan, then this cause (sabab) would have been required not only on the 29th day but also on the 30th day of the month. Once we know that sighting as a cause is not required on the 30th day, we can conclude that it is not the actual sighting but the certainty about arrival of the month of Ramadan, which is a precondition to fasting the month. It can also be surmised that the Prophetic traditions (both positive and negative clauses) that require actual Moon sighting are also concerned primarily with starting or ending the month on the 29th day of the lunar month. Had they been connected with the start of fasting after the 30th day of Sha’abaan, then sighting the new Moon would have been required even on the 30th day’s evening. Many of us seem to overlook this fact.

–  –  –

sight the crescent…,” uses the strongest, most unequivocal language that sighting and only sighting is the means of ascertaining the beginning of the month.” The question is that why the Prophet (PBUH) would insist upon requiring the actual Moon sighting (as the condition for fasting) only on the 29th day’s evening and not on the 30th day’s evening? It is an interestingly important fact to ponder upon. Had the physical moon sighting been intrinsically obligatory to start or end the month of Ramadan, it would have been required both on the 29th as well as 30th day of the month. A binding legal cause (sabab) of any act of worship cannot be established as a prerequisite exclusively for one day of the month and not for the other days. The cause and effect go hand in hand in all situations, as the encyclopedic jurist Imam Abu Isha’q al-Sha’tibi has stated.

ً‫ا‬࿨‫أﺑﺪ‬࿨ ،fً‫ﺳﺒﺒﺎ‬ 5]...‫ﯾﺮﺗﻔﻊ‬࿯ ‫ﻻ‬ ‫ﺳﺒﺐ‬ ‫ﮭﻮ‬࿮‫ﻓ‬ ‫أﺛﺒﺖ‬࿨ ‫]ﻣﺎ‬ “The established (legal) cause always remains the cause and never changes”.

The modern Jurist Abd al-Karim Zaydan defines the legal cause (al-sabab al-shara’i) as follows:

“6]”.”‫ﮫ‬࿮‫م ﻋﻨﺪ ﻋﺪﻣ‬࿮‫ﯾﻨﻌﺪ‬࿯ ‫و‬࿮ ‫ه‬࿮‫د‬࿪‫وﺟﻮ‬࿮ ‫اﻟﺤﻜﻢ ﻋﻨﺪ‬࿨ ‫ا‬࿨‫ﯾﻮﺟﺪ ¬ ྺھﺬ‬࿯ ‫ﯿﺚ‬࿯‫ع ﻣﻌﺮﻓﺎ ً ﻟﺤﻜﻢ ﺷﺮﻋﻲ, ﺑﺤ‬࿬‫ر‬࿪‫اﻟﺸﺎ‬࿨ ‫ﮫ‬࿮‫]ﻣﺎ ﺟﻌﻠ‬ “The cause is what the Lawgiver has established to define the legal ruling in such a way that this specific ruling exists with its existence and disappears with its absence.” How could Moon sighting be the sole binding legal cause of fasting if the month of fasting can be started either by sighting or by completion or by mere estimation? It seems that many scholars had gotten mixed up between al-hukm al-takli’fi and al-hukm al-wada’i. According to Islamic Jurisprudence, Al-hukm al-takli’fi denotes a divinely commissioned ruling that requires the Muslims to either act upon something or refrain from it, or gives a choice between doing an act or not doing it. This kind of hukm includes almost all the categories like mandatory, recommended, permitted, disliked and impermissible (haram) acts.

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