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Sunday, June 25, 2017
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Observing Crescent:Scientific and Religious Complexities

Observing Crescent:Scientific and Religious Complexities.
Publish Date: 2013/07/31
 
Abstract

In this article, religious and scientific arguments presented by the proponents of calculations have been analyzed and fallacies of those arguments have been highlighted. The limitations of the astronomical calculations and difficulties associated with using those calculations for ascertaining the beginning of a new Lunar month have been shown. Allah created a natural celestial order between Sun, Earth and Moon when he created the Heavens and Earth. He associated certain religious practices of the mankind with the Lunar time count based on the rotation of the Moon around the Earth but mankind has been tempering with Allah’s order in this context. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) had restored that order more than 1400 years ago when he introduced the system of local Hilal (new moon) sighting and Muslims throughout the world have preserved it by following his directions and practices. Astronomical knowledge reveals that every month is 29 days in some parts of the Earth and 30 days in the remaining parts of the Earth, according to the natural celestial order of Allah. Allah’s celestial order is complicated due to (1) the fractional form of the time period (29 days + fraction) of the Moon’s cycle around the Earth, (2) spherical shape of the Earth surface, and (3) the rotation of the Earth about its own axis. The criteria of local Hilal sighting given to us by Allah and his prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the best to preserve the natural order created by Allah for the planet Earth. It is easy in its use and is universally applicable irrespective of the literacy or scientific ability of the mankind. Astronomical knowledge reveals that, according to celestial order of Allah, conjugation occurs any time during the day or night and the region of the Earth that faces the Moon at the time of conjugation keeps on changing. These realities pose difficulties regarding using conjugation data for ascertaining the beginning of the month, as it is not possible to fix a space or time on the Earth with the conjugation of the Moon, from where a month may begin. The myth of the definitiveness (Qati) of the conjugation calculations for ascertaining the Lunar month has been exposed. It has been shown that for ascertaining the beginning of the month, any use of conjugation data has far more uncertainty (Zann) than the use of eye sighting. Any form of the current calculation methods using conjugation data and an arbitrary criteria for the Hilal visibility (such as um ul Qura criteria) at the best point to the possibility (Imkan) of seeing the Hilal on a particular evening and do not warrant the visibility of Hilal with certainty, which is required by the Islamic Shariah. The current attempts to force the global sighting in lieu of local sighting and associating it with Mecca or using calculations to make any global declarations in absolute terms for the whole world have no basis in Shariah, thus are a modern innovation (bidah) and amount to tempering with celestial order that Allah created for the use of mankind. Consequently, Abadah of Muslims gets affected in some parts of the world, if not in the whole world, in the process.

Introduction

The Muslim society (Ummah) is divided on the issue of replacing the Islamic criteria of authenticating the beginning of the new month by sighting the Hilal on the eve of 30th night (Islamic month starts from the Sunset) with a method of calculation based on the conjugation calculations. The reason for the divide is the lack of understanding of the issue by the masses and the confusion between religious scholars and scientists. If it was not for preserving the sacredness of Allah’s months, following His prescribed plan, mankind would have had the liberty to make any choice to fix the duration of the month, year, and count of the time. However, Allah did not allow this liberty to the mankind, at least in religious matters, and associated his sacred time count with the Lunar cycle (a complete rotation of the Earth around the Sun in its orbit). Here are the relevant Quranic references.

It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory and the Moon to be a light (of beauty), and measured out stages for it; that you may know the number of years and the count (of time). Allah has not created this but in truth. (Thus) does He explain His signs in detail, for those who may understand. (10:5)”

“Surely the months with Allah are twelve in the book of Allah since the day He created the heavens and the Earth; four of them are sacred” (9:36).
Imam al-Nasafi explains the meaning of this verse: “This verse is to clarify that the legal rulings in Shariah are to be determined by Lunar months that are calculated by the crescent Moons irrespective of the Solar calendar.” [1].

From the above it is clear that Allah has been guiding to the mankind to follow the Lunar count and many societies of the world have been using the Lunar calendar in some form. Allah associated religious functions like Haj, Ramadan, and Eids with the Lunar count. Religious rituals of Jews, ancient Arabs, and others also have been associated with the Lunar calendar. In the time of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) Jews were using a calculated Lunar calendar and were making intercalations to match it with the Solar calendar and Arabs were using other intercalations to change the Haj dates according to their own desires. Allah disliked their actions, and equated it to the disbelief in him. Here is what Allah mentioned in this context in the Quran:

“Verily intercalation (nasi’) is an increase in disbelief: the disbelievers are led to wrong thereby: for they make it lawful one year, and forbidden it another year, in order to adjust the number of months forbidden by Allah and make such forbidden ones lawful. The evil of their course seems pleasing to them. But Allah guides not those who reject Faith. (9:37)”

Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) did not use the calculated Lunar calendar. The Jews of medina used to taunt him for not knowing and using calculations for ascertaining the month. If calculations were the preferred method, Allah would have taught Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and his companions the method of calculation, as it is easy for Him. If Allah wanted, he could have fixed the days of the month to 29 or 30 or any combination of them, just as he had fixed the 12 months in a year and such calculations would have been easy for everyone. For example, alternating the month with 29 days and 30 days would make the Lunar year 354 days which is the closest number of days for the 12 Lunar cycles (354 days + fraction). However, Allah and his messenger (peace be upon him) did not do so. If Allah did not require us to use such a simple method of calculation (counting to 29 and 30 for alternate months), would he require us to make complicated astronomical calculations for this purpose? Allah guided us to use the method of sighting the Hilal with our own eyes. We know from Quran that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him)does not say on his own but with Allah’s permission and guidance. So, we believe that Allah guided Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) to teach us that the month is sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30 days, and we need to confirm it by witnessing the Hilal through the sighting it with eyes on the 30th night (on the completion of the 29th day) whether the month will end on 29th day or will it be of 30 days. It is a more universal approach and is easy for everyone, illiterate, or learned, whether living in the city, in a forest, in a desert, or on a mountain or on the sea, and it includes Allah’s wisdom and conforms to his natural plan. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) talked against intercalations to the Lunar calendar and remarked in his Last Sermon as follows,

“Today, certainly the time has returned to its original form as Allah had created it to be at the time of creation of the Heavens and the Earth.”

Imam Fakhar ud Din Razi states that by doing so the Prophet (PBUH) brought the sacred months back to their original timings [2]. Muslims of the later generations have preserved this sacred order by sighting the Hilal locally every month and ascertaining each month based on this sighting and no altercations have been made in this time. Authentication of the new Moon on the completion of the 29th day (30th evening) of the month is a religious necessity. All scholars agree on this aspect. For confirmation purposes one, two, or more, eye witnesses are required depending on the weather conditions and the following of a particular Fiqhi school. Islamic states form official committees comprising of scholars and astronomers to witness the Hilal, and examine any individual Hilal sighting reports, and confirm or negate the Hilal sighting on the 30th evening of a Lunar month.

Relevant Astronomical Facts

(1)Earth, Moon and Sun move in their respective orbits and when all three are in a straight line with Moon in the middle, the state is called “conjugation” or Moon birth. At this stage, the Moon cannot be seen with naked eye from any place on the Earth, as all light from the Sun falling on the Moon is reflected backward towards Sun. At conjugation (Moon birth) the Moon appears to be a black disc as viewed from the Earth.

(2)The conjugation calculations depend on the orbital motion of the Moon around the Earth and time period from one conjugation to the next conjugation is fixed and can be calculated easily and exactly. However, there are 5 different ways to calculate the time period for the conjugation, and all 5 are precise but each method reveals a different value for the time perod varying from about 27 days + fraction to 29 days + fraction. None of them is of a complete number of days, 27, 28, 29, or 30. For details see www.Islamicmoon.com

[3]Due to the fractional nature of the Moon cycle around the Earth, each conjugation happens at a different time, i.e., any time during the day or night. The spinning of the Earth about its own axis has important consequences for the Moon sighting. This motion is not synchronized with the orbital motion of the Moon, consequently the region of the Earth that faces the Moon at the conjugation is different at each conjugation. Therefore, there is no fixed time of the day or night or a fixed place on Earth which could be associated with the occurrence of the conjugation. In other words, when conjugation occurs, it may be any time of the day or night and the section of Earth facing the Moon at the conjugation time is also different for each conjugation occurrence. Consequently, the region of Earth on which the Hilal (new Moon) becomes visible at first, keeps on changing every month, and, each month is 29 days on some portion of the Earth and 30 days on the remaining portion of the Earth.

(4)There are various criteria for Hilal (new Moon) visibility, as it must have a certain age, a degree of separation from the Sun, height on the horizon, time lag between Sunset and Moonset, etc. Visibility curves can be calculated with accuracy better than 80% in most cases, and serve as a guide for the Hilal visibility, however, the element of uncertainty in such visibility calculations makes them unusable for Islamic calendar causes.

(5)Due to the global nature (spherical or elliptical) of the Earth and its rotation about its own axis, Southern hemisphere and Equator regions of Earth are in the higher visibility areas than Northern hemisphere.

(Comments: the regions where visibility is very low (northern region) represent a special case. Scholars in those areas have resorted to various discourses. Any meaningful discussion in that context is beyond the scope of this article.)

(6)Once the Hilal becomes visible, it remains visible for adjacent areas towards the West and its visibility increases with the age, unless it is obscured for other reasons such as clouds, fog, dust, etc. For example, if a Hilal is sighted in Pakistan, it should be sighted in Saudi Arabia and rest of the Middle Eastern countries, as it keeps on growing in size with age and it must be seen in the USA, 9 -13 hours later.

Commentary on Astronomical Facts

The above stated astronomical facts have several implications for the Moon sighting issue.
(1)At conjugation the Moon is an invisible disc and al-ahillah the plural of al-hilal referred in the Quran is the reference to the visible light reflected from the Moon which is first observed on the Earth after the conjugation occurrence, not the Moon itself. So conjugation is not what is referred in the Quran.

(2)Since conjugation occurs any time during day or night, conjugation occurrence cannot be used as a start of the month; as Islamic month start at a fixed time (at the sunset).

(3)Since a different part of the Earth is facing the Moon when each conjugation occurs, therefore, there is no fixed point on the Earth from where the Lunar month may start using conjugation occurrence.

(4)There are five different ways to calculate time from one conjugation occurrence to the next conjugation occurrence and all are categorically correct (Qati) but each reveals a different time period ranging from (27+ fraction) days – (29 + fraction) days. The proponents of the calculations have made it a central point of their compaign that conjugation calculations are catagorically definite(Qati)and eye sighting is speculative (Zanni), but they fail to mention which of the 5 methods they will employee (or are employing) for the calculations in the absence of any injunction (nass) from the Quran and Sunnah. Do they know of which of the five methods is the best according to Allah’s plan for ascertaining the month? Would it not introduce element of speculation (Zann) in whatever method they use?

From the above, it is clear that even though conjugation occurrence may be calculated with precision, it may not be used as a starting point for the month due to the above complications, nor is it the al-ahillah of the Quran, so Allah did not require us to use conjugation for ascertaining the month. There is element of Zann in choosing one of the 5 conjugation calculation methods, thus any use of conjugation data combined with any other criteria, would be speculative (Zanni)too. There are other implications of the astronomical facts mentioned above and we will discuss them later.

Religious Aspect

Traditional scholars of Islam have reject the idea of using any astronomical calculation method, as the requirement for the Hilal sighting on the eve of 30th of a month is an agreed upon position among all the Jurist (Ijma) of the past 14 centuries and is based on the categorically authentic evidence from the Quran and Sunnah. Muslim Jurist of the past 14 centuries are also in consensus on rejecting any use of astronomical calculations for ascertaining the month, except that a small minority of them (only five scholars of repute) has argued for the use of astronomical calculations in the case of obscurities for observing the Halal on the eve of 30th night. However, none of them has argued to by-pass the requirement of eye sighting the Hilal on the eve of 30th night and are in agreement with the consensus of scholars for the necessity of sighting the Moon on the eve of 30th night [1]. Therefore, from the religious perspective it is not an issue of dispute and there is no basis in Shariah that calculations may be used to replace the existing criteria of Hilal sighting for the authentication of the month.

There is a social aspect related to this issue. Those who are advocating for abandoning the religious criteria of Hilal sighting and using the astronomical calculations to ascertain the month are largely Muslims living in the secular societies in the West. In the absence of traditionally qualified Islamic scholars in the U.S., community leaders who have some knowledge of religion are at the helm of the modernist approach. They are well educated, often have professional degrees from Western Institutions, and are very successful in their professional lives. The success in their professional life has given them the confidence of being self-righteous and they can articulate their thoughts and arguments in a convincing manner, and are trying to serve Islam and the Muslim Society according to their own understanding of Islam. Due to the continued media attack on Islam in those societies, they find themselves in the defensive position, and want to project that Islam is a progressive religion. They may not have the deep understanding of the religion but they feel that it needs modernization. Their arguments are based on their concerns related to difficulties involved in performing religious rituals like Ramadan and Eid and difficulties involving Halal sighting. Their reasoning is generally derived from the thoughts, concerns and norms of the society in which they are living, such as how unreasonable is it to not know about the Eid in advance? How can one plan about it? One needs to know in advance to tell at work for not coming or coming late. How difficult is it to sight the Hilal? How difficult is it to wait till midnight for the final decision of the masjid committee about the sighting of the Hilal? Having lived in the Western society for more than 3 decades, I have heard many such arguments and complaints and can testify that such feelings are quite common among the Muslims living in the West and those who want to modernize the religion have noble motives (according to them) and are doing what they are doing with utmost sincerity. I remember the joyous expressions on the face of the Chair of the Shura Council in Islamic Center of Tallahassee, Florida when he announced for the first time that they would let the community know in advance about the Eid day and time. It was a feeling of a great achievement for him. Muslims living in the secular communities genuinely want to show their non-muslim neighbors and colleagues that they are good people and Islam is a good and progressive religion. However, they often feel embarrassed to tell their friends that they are not certain about the start of Ramadan or Eid. They would feel more confident about the truthfulness of their religion, if those things are predetermined like they are done for the other religions. It looks more appropriate and professional that way (looking or appearing professional is something very important in the Western Society). The line of argument from the modernist is more or less summed up in this paragraph and they would stress the need for uniting the community on celebrating the Eid, Ramadan, etc. They would mention that unity is very important for the Ummah. It does not matter to them that any religious ritual is a day or two off from the actual schedule, as long as, it is announced in advance and brotherhood/sisterhood is together. They would talk about Allah’s mercy and would genuinely expect that He would have mercy on them and would adjust His schedule with their schedule for the night of power and other religious events if their calculations falter.

The above mentioned desires, concerns, and emotions may be genuine in their own right but religion has its own constraints. Due to the lack of proper Islamic education, many otherwise educated Muslims do not understand the basic Islamic principle that among the four sources of Islamic law, namely, (1) Quran, (2) Sunna, (3) Ijma (consensus of the Jurists) and (4) Qiyas (analogy and reasoning), the evidence from the Quran and Sunnah takes the precedence and when such evidence is unequivocal (clear) in its meaning then qiyas may not be applied [1]. The arguments given by the proponents of calculations fall in the category of qiyas and are practically irrelevant in the presence of clear evidence from the Quran and Sunnah in this case. Therefore, for anybody who understands the principles of Islamic Sharia, the argument should stop here. There is no basis in Islamic Sharia for replacing the Hilal sighting criteria with any calculation method. The alternative to the eye sighting that the proponents of calculations are proposing to implement or are implementing in their circle of influence has no basis (nass) in Shariah. It is against the Islamic scholarship of more than 14 centuries and may be classified as a modern innovation (reprehensible Biddah).

A comprehensive review of the religious perspective is given in references [1,4]. I would not discuss them here any further and would refer the interested reader for seeing the details in [1]. Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah has summarized the main arguments of the articles opposing use of calculations in his article “An Analysis of the Moon Sighting Arguments” available at www.moonsighting.com [2] and I have taken them as verbatim from his article.

“1: The Noble Qur’an (in view of the eye sighting 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 have followed this practice in history. Over time, they changed this divinely required Prophetic practice in an effort to synchronize their religious festivals with the solar civil calendars of secular authorities. Now, following a calculated calendar for Islamic months is nothing short of imitating the Jews in their utter misguidance.

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.”

An interested reader may look through the response of the Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah to above six points in his article [2] and determine whether he has academically countered any of the above six points in his response?

Use of Technology and Shariah

Being a physicist and academician by profession, I am for the use of technology in all spheres of life. According to my knowledge, there is nothing in the religion that prohibits the use of technology. However, use of technology has its limitations. Technology may be utilized where it is appropriate and necessary but it cannot replace the religious necessities and established criteria. Here, I give three examples to elaborate this aspect: (1) loud speaker is used to announce for the prayers (Azan) and Imam may use it for leading the prayers and people who are praying on different floors of a mosque may hear the Imam better through loudspeaker. However, can those who may hear the Imam from their houses pray behind the Imam for their obligatory prayers? Can playing a recorded tape relieve humans from calling Azan for 5 obligatory prayers? Technological advances today allow us displaying the 5 daily obligatory prayers as they are taking place in Masjid-e-Nabvi or in Haram Sharif on live television, so, if Muslims throughout the World want to join those prayers five times a day from their homes or from the mosques in their respective countries, would their obligatory prayers be considered performed by doing so? (2) We may use water for the Wadoo, and in the absence of water, we may use mud or sand for Tayammum, but can we use alcohol or acetone for the Wadoo? The latter are better cleansers and kill bacteria better than water and are routinely used for cleaning purposes in the laboratory settings. Since Shari’ah instructs us to use water for the Wadoo, we may not replace it with what we think is better, according to our own understanding. (3) Religious injunctions always do not fit to our logical criteria either. For example, when we discharge air from our back hole, the Wadoo is nullified and we have to do Wadoo again. We are not required to perform “Istanga” (cleaning the private parts with water) even though it would be more logical for us to perform Istanga and not the Wadoo, because while doing Istanga we would clean those parts from where air was discharged, not while performing the Wadoo. Thus, where a religious injunction (Nass) is available from Quran and Sunnah, logic or reasoning cannot be applied, as Quran and Sunnah take the precedence in usul ul Fiqah, and Islamic jurists are in agreement on this principle.
Proponents of calculations often use the argument that calculated times for prayers are being used by Muslims throughout the world rather than watching the movements of the Sun, even though in the past Sun movement was used. However, they forget or ignore the fact that calculations are made according to the movements of the Sun at a particular place using the criteria provided by Shariah. The calculations are not universally valid. If they were universally valid, then calculations made for one place on Earth would have been valid for all places on the Earth. Can calculations made for the 5 prayer times for the Haram Sharif, be used by the rest of the world for their obligatory prayers? Of course not, because prayer times change with the Sun movement and calculations made for Haram Sharif are valid in its nearby surroundings not everywhere. Prayer times are even different in the same time zone and from city to city. For example, New York and Tallahassee are in the same time Zone, however, there is up to 40 or 50 minutes difference in prayer times between them. Calculated prayer times are only available for the big cities and Muslims living in small towns and villages have to make their own adjustments according to the movement of the Sun. For example, if a villager gets calculated timings for prayers for the month of Ramadan for a nearby city and finds that Sun is still visible to him and the calculated Sunset time has passed, then what should he do? If he relies on the calculations and breaks his fast while he can still see the Sun, would his fast be valid? Of course not, because the criteria for breaking the fast is still the same, which was given by Allah and was told to us by Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and no calculations can change it and no human can alter it. One may understand the limitations of human knowledge that, even with all the advancements, it is not possible making precise calculations for prayer times for all places on the Earth and making them available to all individuals, especially to those, who are uneducated and/or live in remote places in deserts, or in forests or on the remote mountains, or on the seas (which cover two third of the Earth). On the other hand, criteria’s given by the law giver are such universal that they are equally accessible to learned, semi-learned, or illiterate, whether living in the cities, deserts, mountains, or seas, and would remain valid till the day of judgment.
Another difference between the prayer times and authentication of the month is that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) taught us to estimate the prayer times, whereas he taught us to authenticate the month by eye witnessing it, so a greater precision in the latter determination is envisioned. In other words, the methods proposed for the prayer time calculations by Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) were the means for estimating the five prayer times, and were flexible in time (there is a range of time of validity for each prayer). On the other hand, there is a well-known uncertainty of month being of 29 days or 30 days, and Rasool Allah (peace be upon him) has ordered us to authenticate the month by seeing the Hilal on the completion of 29th day of the month, which is the best form of authentication (Ain ul Yaqeen).

My personal belief is that the criteria’s given to the mankind by the lawgiver in the Noble Quran and explained by Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) through his Sunnah are the best and most universal and no human intelligence can rival them. The use of technology for implementing the religious criteria is an accepted practice in Islam, however, technology is complimentary or supplementary in its scope and may not be used to change or replace an Islamic criterion. Those who have kept themselves within the above bounds in the past have not gone astray and if we restrict ourselves to the above principle, we may not go wrong regarding the use of modern technology. I would like to examine the issue at hand in the light of the above principle.

Discussion

In the Quran, Allah has mentioned the terms Ilm ul Yaqeen (certainty through knowledge) and Ain ul Yaqeen (certainty by seeing with eyes). Both terms point to certainty but the latter is a higher form of certainty. For example, we know the existence of our Allah by Ilm ul Yaqeen, but we know the existence of Sun and Moon by Ain ul Yaqeen, i.e., seeing with our own eyes. The desire of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) to see Allah with his eyes points to the fact that seeing with the eyes or Ain ul Yaqeen is the higher or the highest degree of certainty. It was a common knowledge (Ilm ul Yaqeen) at the time of the prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) that the Lunar month at any place is 29 days or 30 days, not less, not more. The prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) also informed us about this Ilm ul Yaqeen when he told his companions that the month is 29 days and 30 days [4]. Therefore, there is no need to confirm it, on the completion of 28th day or 30th day; however, one needs to confirm it on the completion of 29th day, to make certain whether the month ends or it will extend for another day. Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) taught us to confirm the end of month by sighting the Hilal (new Moon) on the eve of the 30th night with our own eyes (ain ul Yaqeen), and he practiced it himself and his companions practiced it. He also taught us that confirmed eye sighting (ain ul Yaqeen) of a few Muslims may be sufficient for the Ilm ul Yaqeen of the rest of the Muslims.

Here we mention the arguments and claims of the proponents of the calculations lead by Zulfiqar Ali Shah [2] and then discuss them one by one.

(1)Modernist mention that eye sighting is for authentication purposes and not an act of Abadah, and the term “witnessing the month” mentioned in the Quran does not necessarily mean sighting with eyes (Roha’it bil Ain or Roha’it bil Basar), and one meaning of the Roha’it is calculation too.

(2)The proponents of the calculations claim that calculation method is categorical (Qati) and eye sighting is speculative (Zanni) and anything that is zanni cannot be equated or preferred over what is Qati according to the Islamic principles of the Jurisprudence (usul ul Fiqah).

(3)They also claimed that the calculation method adopted by them is more precise and thus, preserves Allah’s celestial order better than the eye sighting method.

(4)Proponents of calculations further claim that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) ordered sighting because the Muslim nation was unlettered and he could not place burden of knowing astronomical calculations on them to ascertain the month.

The main arguments and claims of the modernist are summarized in above 4 points. I would like to argue that against the categorical (Qati) evidence from the Quran and Sunnah, in the form of sayings and practices of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and against the consensus of the Islamic scholarship of the past 14 centuries, the proponents of calculations are short of any arguments in their favor and like to twist the words to cause the confusion. I may agree with them where the agreement is due and I agree with Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah [2] on the point that eye sighting of the new Moon is for the authentication or confirmation purposes and not an essential act of Abadah; however, it is not the point of contention here. Muslims practice eye sighting as a religious need for ascertaining the month and consider it as a Sunnah of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and expect reward from Allah for following the Sunnah (Itabah) of the prophet of Allah (peace be upon him).

(1) Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah [2] claims that in the noble Quran term “witnessing the month” is used and argues that witnessing does not necessarily mean an eye witness. Academically, I may agree with him as everyone is not required to personally sight the Hilal. Prophetic practice is that eye sighting of a few trustworthy Muslims (Ain ul yaqeen of a few trustworthy Muslims) may be used as a basis of confirmation (Ilm ul Yaqeen) for ascertaining the month for the rest of the Muslims. Thus all those who have not seen the Hilal personally are also within the class of those who are “witnessing the month”. However, eye witnessing is the higher form of confirmation (ain ul yaqeen). In the court of law, eye witnesses are the main witnesses and take the precedence, and any other knowledge about the case under consideration is circumstantial and is secondary in deciding the case. Above all, who can be a better interpreter of the noble Quran than Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him)? The way prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) interpreted “witnessing the month” of Quran is by sighting the Hilal with his own eyes. One should also understand that meanings of the words of the Quran may or may not have the same meanings as stated in a modern or even in the ancient Arabic. For example, one meaning of “Salat” is playing with a particular instrument of that era, however, in the Islamic dictionary, “Salat” is the word for offering prayers to Allah in a particular way which was taught to the Muslims by prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). A continued practice of Muslims (twatur) regarding any act is a daleel in Shariah. Islamic information that has reached us today in the form of the narrations and practices of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) have been conveyed by the earlier generations of Muslims from generation to generation. The compilation of Ahdith books in current form is done mainly in the third century Hijra, so reliability of any Hadith is checked against the twatur of Muslims, not the otherwise. For example, those who claim themselves to be following the salaf and call themselves “salfi’s” or are called “ghair muqalad” for not following any particular madhab of the five Fiqhi madhabs established by predecessor generations of Muslims, believe that praying 8 rakh trawih prayer is more authentic Sunnah and want to implement it in their circle of influence but the Muslims have been praying 20 rakah since the time of Sahabah. It has been the practice in Haram sharif and Masjid Nabvi since the time of Umer bin Khatab and that practice is continued there, even though those who are leading the prayers in those mosques, personally favor the other position, but cannot go against the twatur of Muslims in this case. Trying to reinterpret the Ahdith to serve some ones desires is a dangerous practice. For example, if some modernist want to reinterpret that playing music is intended in the meaning of the Salat and Kirat is a way of producing music and melody during the salat, and using musical instruments during the prayers would be more pleasing to Allah, then should we accept that logic or stick to what Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) taught us and generations of Muslims have been following in this context. In the light of above, deriving any other meanings from witnessing the month against the continued practice (twatur) of Muslims of the past 14 centuries has no justification. When authentic practices of the prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and, his companions, and the following generations have reached us, and there is consensus of Muslim scholars on the necessity of Hilal sighting for the confirmation of the end of month on 30th evening, do we have any justification for going against the well-established practice of Hilal siting?

(2) Now we consider the claim of the proponents of the calculation method that calculation method is categorical (Qati) and eye sighting is speculative (Zanni) and anything that is zanni cannot be equated or preferred over what is Qati according to the Islamic principles of the Jurisprudence (usul ul Fiqah).

This argument is not only flawed due to astronomical facts stated above, but is deceptive, as well. Here is what Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah claimed: “My argument is that precise authentic astronomical calculations about the birth of new Moon are sufficient of a ground to affirm Islamic Lunar months.” … “calculations about the birth of Moon are universally accepted. They are not Zanni but Qati' (categorical) in Usul al-Fiqah's terminology” [4]. We have shown in the section on astronomical facts that though conjugation calculations based on the orbital motion of the Moon around the Earth are categorically definite (Qati), but they cannot be used for the beginning of the month due to the difficulties associated with the spinning of the Earth about its own axis, and use of any arbitrary criteria of Hilal sighting, such as Um ul Qura criteria of Hilal siting, used by Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in combination with conjugation data is speculative (Zanni) from many aspects. To add weight to their arguments, proponents of calculations have used the name of a reputed classical scholar Imam Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d.1355 GC) for declaring calculations as definite (Qati) and eye sighting as speculative (Zanni) to give the impression that he was among those who preferred calculations over the eye sighting. Here is Imam Subki’s actual position:
“The Muslims are in consensus, as far as I know, that there is no legal consideration for the opinion of the astronomer that [the month begins] with the separation of the Moon from the Sun at conjunction if visibility is not possible due to the nearness of the crescent to the Sun’s [alignment], irrespective of whether this is before, after, or at the time of Sunset. What scholars have disagreed upon is the situation when the angle of elongation is such that visibility is possible and can be ascertained by calculation but there were clouds that came between us and the crescent; then, in that case, is it permissible to use calculation.” [1] Here is another quote from his rulings:

“Calculation provides certain and confirmed information, while testimony based on sighting provides only probable information. What is probable cannot counterbalance what is certain, let alone be preferred to it. Evidence is accepted only if what is testified for is possible physically, logically and legally. If we assume that calculation indicates with certainty the impossibility of sighting, then a testimony of sighting must be rejected because it testifies to what is impossible. Islamic law does not make impossible requirements.” (Source: Arab News, 05 November 2002).

Now it is clear from the two statements that Imam Subki was in complete agreement with other scholars in not using the astronomical calculations for ascertaining the end and beginning of the month on completion of the 29th day ( on the 30th evening). However, he was on the side of caution to use such information for the 30th day in case of obscurities to see the Hilal. He was also on the side of caution to reject any eye witness of positive sighting when the calculations predicted with certainty that it was impossible to see the Hilal. One may see how deceptive is it to conclude from the above that according to Imam Subki calculations are Qati and sighting is Zanni (in absolute sense)?

The above evidence was the only evidence from classical sources for the claims that calculations are Qati and eye sighting is Zanni. It is apparent now, how baseless was the base on which Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah based his religious and scientific arguments to abandon the Islamic criteria of Hilial sighting practiced by Muslims for the past 14 centuries?

(3)The modernists claim that the calculation method adopted by them is more precise and thus, preserves Allah’s celestial order better than the eye sighting method.

First we examine the case of fixing an arbitrary criterion for the visibility of Hilal, as is done for the Um ul Qura calendar used by Saudi Arabia and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The visibility criteria used in this case is that, if conjugation occurs before 3.00 a.m. according to Mecca time and Moonset is after or at the time of the Sunset in Mecca, then the Moon is considered visible or observed. I have already pointed to the element of Zann (uncertainty) in selecting one of the five conjugation calculation methods. Now there are multiple elements of Zann, as well as, violations of Allah’s celestial order in using this criterion. According to Allah’s celestial order, Hilal is not always observed first in Mecca rather it is observed at a different place every month and it may take decades for the Hilal to appear firstly at the same place again. Saudi Arabian government claims to be practicing local Moon sighting for religious purposes and using Um ul Qura calendar for civil purposes. If Um ul Qura method is used for global purposes, as ISNA is currently doing, then the Lunar month will be of the same number of days for the whole planet Earth, whereas, according to Allah’s celestial order each Lunar month is 29 days on some regions of the Earth and 30 days on the remaining region of the Earth and these regions keep on changing every month. The exact knowledge of where the month will be 29 days and where the month will be 30 days is with Allah alone and cannot be predicted by astronomers, though they may confirm it once it happens.

Does the Um ul Qura criterion provide any certainty for the observance of Hilal, a condition necessary from the perspective of Islamic Shariah? No, it may at the best point to the possibility (Imkan) for the early observance of the Hilal. However, the experience shows that there is more chance of being wrong than right using this criterion. Based on the past experience, there is about 45-55% probability of a month being 29 days or 30 days at any given place. So, one may better flip a coin than using such a criterion. A method of calculation will fall in the category of Ilm ul Yaqeen, if there is no element of doubt (Zann) in it. When Um ul Qura criterion does not satisfy the underlined condition, what is the wisdom in selecting this criterion by the proponents of the calculation? Why such a faulty criterion is being imposed on Muslims of North America? I would appreciate, if proponents of calculations may respond to these questions.

A question arises that whether probability (Imkan) of seeing the Hilal on a particular evening at Mecca or any other place would be a sufficient ground for declaring confirmed sighting (Roha’it) either through calculations or otherwise. Everyone is aware that the Hilal may be seen on the completion of 29th day or it may not be seen on the completion of 29th day. Were this probability (Imkan) of seeing the Hilal on the completion of 29th day a sufficient ground for fulfilling the Shariah requirement, then Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) would have declared a month to be of 29 days. However, due to this lack of Ilm ul yaqeen (due to the uncertainty) the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) ordered us to look for the Hilal with our own eyes on 30th night for Ain ul Yaqeen and allowed us to accept the evidence of Ain ul Yaqeen from other Muslims. This acceptance of evidence from other Muslims who have seen the Hilal with their own eyes is a form of Ilm ul Yaqeen for the rest of Muslims. I hope this clears all those doubts that Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah has, or he has created in other minds regarding the interpretation of the Hadith which says “complete thirty days, if it (Hilal) is obscured.” His claim that, counting 30 days is only for the case of obscurity, not for the case of clear sky, is basically absurd. If the sky is clear on the 30th night and Hilal is not visible, then the month automatically extends to 30th day and there is no confusion about it. The prophetic command was to clear the confusion regarding the case of obscurity on the 30th night. The possibility (Imkan) of seeing the Hilal by current calculation methods does not fulfill the condition of certainty (Ilm ul Yaqeen and/ or Ain ul Yaqeen) required by Islamic principles. In the light of above, we should ask ourselves, Should we discard the well-established practice of sighting the Hilal for authentication of a Lunar month or replace it with a method of calculation which has essentially more element of uncertainty “Zann” than certainty “Yaqeen”?

Hypothetically, any calculation method that may firmly established that the Hilal is essentially visible to a naked eye at a particular place and time, and a number of Muslims in that area may confirm it by seeing it with their naked eyes on routine basis, may have the validity for pre-declaration of Islamic events such as Haj, Eid, or Ramdan. However, naked eye confirmation would still be needed, and any naked eye evidence contrary to the calculations will take the precedence, as is the case for the calculations for the prayer times. The current state of astronomical calculations does not warrant such authentication. A universal criteria that can warrant the global visibility of Hilal is neither presently available nor it can possibly be available in future for the reasons to be discussed in the following.

The regions of the Earth where the month is 29 days and 30 days keep on changing (astronomical fact # 3). Consequently, it is not possible to have a Lunar month which has the same number of days for a particular month in all parts of the world. A single global Lunar calendar for the whole world is physically not appropriate. The astronomers are aware of this difficulty and they have proposed two and three regional calendars. The attempts to force a single Lunar calendar for the whole world and to synchronize it with Haram Sharif or Macca may be a noble thinking according to the proponents of calculations but it is against the way Allah planned and created the celestial order of the Earth and Moon. Any attempt from us to synchronize it for the whole world with Mecca is not any different than forcing it against the natural order of Allah. Since the knowledge of regions of Earth which will have a particular month of 29 days and 30 days is with Allah only, only local sighting can preserve Allah’s order on universal basis. Any attempts to use global sighting or any arbitrary fixation of place and time with Mecca or Um ul Qura criteria or any other fixation of time and space violate Allah’s order in this context. Allah has fixed certain days and nights for his special blessings, for example, Muslims associate certain Abadah with specific days, such as 15th of Sha’abaan, night of power, Ramadan, Eids, Haj, etc. These dates according to Allah’s plan fall on different days in different region of the Earth, and only Allah has the knowledge of specific timings for each region. Current efforts of forcing the same date by adopting the conjugation calculations and Um ul Qura criteria for the whole world is a way of tinkering with Allah’s plan and Abadah of the Muslim Ummah. For example, the night of power and 15th of Sha’abann will essentially be incorrect for some regions of the Earth, if not for all regions of the Earth and so will be Ramadan and Eids.

A Hilal (new Moon) generally takes more than 16 hours after conjugation occurrence for its first visibility on the Earth. A Hilal which is 14 or 15 hours old when Sun sets in Pakistan, may not be seen in Pakistan but may be visible in the Middle Eastern countries two hours later. Once it becomes visible it would remain visible to the areas of the word west-ward from the sight it was sighted first and will keep growing in size with age (astronomical fact # 6). Considering the age factor, it has up to 45-55% higher probability of being seen in the USA, if it is not seen in the Middle East or Pakistan. Thus, if a Hilal (new Moon) is not seen in the USA under clear weather conditions, it is impossible that it would have been seen in Saudi Arabia 11 hour earlier or in Pakistan 12 or 13 hours earlier. Therefore, any such sighting, as reported in previous years from Peshawar, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia were erroneous and current sighting (2012) for Ramadan Moon from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria are erroneous. Any similar future reports, may be taken with due caution.

The arguments of the proponents of calculations revolve around negating the use of naked eye confirmation to authenticate the new Moon visibility rather than discussing the soundness of calculation methods. I have tried to expose the deceptiveness of some of the argumentation and I have pointed out to the element of uncertainty in calculation methods in previous paragraphs. It is ironical that those who use the calculations from a particular astronomical source for the conjugation occurrence ignore the same source when its visibility curves project impossibility of seeing the Moon in Mecca, and conjugation calculations and Umul Qura criteria project otherwise. Here is the latest example from www.moonsighting.com
• Saudi Arabia:
1. Not Seen: Luqmaan Williams (MCW member) from Ta'if reported: I was in Makkah tonight (Thursday), July 19th. Clear skies but did not sight the crescent.
2. Seen (Saudi Announcement): Mrs. Lubna Shawly (MCW member) from Jiddah reported: It is announced in the Saudi courts, according to the observation of the new Moon (Moon is sighted in areas of Sudair & Shagra), and that the first day of Ramadan for the year 1433 Hijrah will be on Friday the 20th of July 2012.

Moonsighting.com opinion is that this is a mistaken claim of sighting.

Scholars in the past have differed over the issue of local Moon sighting and global Moon sighting. While discussing the issue that a Moon sighting report from how far may be accepted, some early Hanfi scholars proposed that the first sighting anywhere in the world would be valid for the whole world. It was an academic possibility and an extreme case of extending the range of validity of the local Moon sighting. Islam is not the religion of extremes, and those who proposed the concept were not aware of the fact that Earth is not a flat field that it generally appears to us but is nearly spherical and Sun sets at different regions of the Earth at different times. The concept of global Moon sighting remained an extreme academic possibility and was never practiced, even by those who proposed it. The local Moon sighting has been applicable in all practical cases in the past and present. None of the classical scholars, including those who advocated for the global Moon sighting possibility, have entertained the possibility of bypassing the need for eye witnessing to ascertain the Hilal sighting on the eve of 30th of the month.

The Proponents of calculations are applying a new form of global Moon sighting by arbitrarily fixing it with the local sighting at Mecca. This is a different approach from global sighting as first sighting from anywhere else other than Mecca is not considered in this case. There is no religious injunction (nuss) from Quran and Sunnah available for doing so. Previous Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz is reported to have ruled: “As for those who say that it is necessary to follow the sighting of Makkah, then let it be known to them, that there is no proof or basis for this in the Quran and Hadith”. (Sheikh Abdullah bin Baz AlBa’ath ul Islaaami Zil Hijjah 1399 Hijri). Therefore, one may consider it a modern innovation (Biddah). As far as Astronomy is concerned, the flaw here is that such a fixation of time and space is not in accordance with the celestial data. The new Moon is neither seen first in Macca, nor is seen at a fixed time and space after conjugation. Therefore, any such fixation with a particular space on the Earth is against celestial data and would not work for intended purposes. For example, USA and Saudi Arabia have a time differential of 10-13 hours, and a Moon that may not be seen in Saudi Arabia, has up to 45% probability of being seen in the USA. In Saudi Arabia local Moon sighting is practiced and they declare the Eid, Ramadan, and Haj dates according to their local sighting. If the Muslim Community from USA follows the Saudi Arabian announcements and declares the Eid and Ramdan dates according to the Saudi announcement, then what would happen when Moon becomes visible on the same evening in the USA? Any pre-announcement, based on Umul Qura criteria or Saudi Arabian announcements, may not be valid in America and rest of the World. That is why many of the previous announcements by ISNA were not compatible with the local Moon sighting. Any calculations or global criteria must conform to all local Moon sightings for its validity and acceptance. Muslims in any locality are required to fast if the Ramdan Moon has been sighted in the community, and any global declaration that does not conform to the local sighting would be erroneous.

The past scholars have discussed the global Moon sighting as an academic possibility but none of them have argued to bypass the criteria of naked eye sighting practiced by Rasool Allah (peace be upon him), his companions, and the following generations. Any use of astronomical knowledge or astronomical calculations by classical scholars was used to authenticate the presence or absence of Hilal for the 30th day, or to discard any erroneous witnesses, for example, any claims for seeing the new Moon when astronomically it was impossible or for the authentication of the 30th day. Moon birth could be calculated with a precision of half an hour, even before the birth of modern computers, and ancient astronomers were well versed in making such calculations but Muslims of the past did not use the calculations and kept using the eye sighting criteria. Astronomically calculated visibility curves using modern computers can predict the regions of visibility with about 80% certainty under favorable conditions and such visibility curves have a parabolic shaped part of the Earth surface as the visible region on the completion of the 29th day of the month. The adjacent areas are in the region of invisibility and cover the lager part of the Earth surface. The regions of naked eye visibility are surrounded by various regions of optically aided visibility and regions of invisibility. Thus, regions of invisibility have a higher degree of certainty than regions of naked eye visibility. If there is no report of Hilal sighting from the regions of visibility and there is a report of sighting from the regions of invisibility, then such a report need to be scrutinized thoroughly and may be rejected. For example, Moonsighting.com has just recently rejected the reports from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria on the evening of July 19, 2012 for the visibility of the Ramadan Moon due to the impossibility of visibility through calculation on those sites and lack of sighting anywhere else from nearby and rest of the world. Some classical scholars have argued that astronomical knowledge may be used to authenticate or reject isolated eye witness claims. This approach was for the reason to remain on the side of caution to authenticate any witness, as it is preferable to be on the side of caution than to rush to judgment to accept any witness. When astronomical knowledge ascertains that there is no possibility of seeing the Moon for scientific reasons, isolated eye witness reports may be rejected after thorough scrutiny, as calculations are more definite than sighting in such cases. Similarly, some scholars have argued that when the sky is clear, isolated reports may not be accepted and a witness from a bulk of Muslims (Jam–e-ghafir) is required (for example 50 people from a large city, etc). This was again for remaining on the side of caution, because, if the new Moon is visible at a place many people should be able to see it.

(4)Proponents of calculations further claim that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) ordered sighting because the Muslim nation was unlettered and he could not place burden of knowing astronomical calculations on them to ascertain the month.

It is our belief that Allah has made things easy for us and his knowledge is comprehensive and complete and human knowledge is very limited compared to Him. Sometimes our own understanding fools us and we start to find faults in what the law giver has given us or prophet (peace be upon him) has told us. When religious teachings do not fit our own thinking, then we start arguing on the lines that those commandments were for unlettered nation. We are civilized now. We are educated now. We know better. We can make precise calculations. Can the proponents of calculations tell me, how many among the more than a billion Muslims know those precise calculations? Those Muslims who know the modern astronomical calculations can be counted on fingers. Are the Muslims of today any better than the Muslims of the past in Islamic or other knowledge? It pains me to state the fact that Muslims of today comprise the majority of the illiterate component of the society of the current times. Therefore, over emphasizing the statement that the prophetic orders were for the unlettered nation is totally out of context. The companions of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) are considered the best generation of Muslims and it is well known that many of the companions were educated and knew reading and writing well and would engage themselves with poetry and other uloom of that era. Let us examine the Hadith text for the insight in this matter.

“We are an unlettered nation. We neither write nor calculate. The month is this way and this way. It means that sometimes it is twenty nine days and sometimes thirty days.” [5]

This is the only narration on this topic that contains reference to the unlettered aspect of the nation and its second part of the text is in contradiction with what is contained in the more authentic versions of the Ahdith on this topic by the same narrator Abdullah Ibn Umar. So the reliability of this Ahdith is questionable. It often happens that the narrators mix or merge the statements from different Ahdith and it may be the case here too. The stated Ahdith version has two statements added together which are otherwise detached, and seem to have no interconnection between the two parts. The text of the Hadith is more of a statement rather than stating the reason for not using the calculations. Otherwise, Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) would have been specific in his statement, as he was in other narrations in this context. Since the statement is general, he may have been mentioning it for other reasons or responding to a question or query regarding not using calendars of Jews or Arabs existing at that time (which were in violation of Allah’s celestial order). He may have been mentioning it in the context that Allah’s plan of celestial order is complex and we may not understand or comprehend it’s complexity (even today, those among us who are the best equipped with astronomical knowledge are unable to fully comprehend the complexity of Allah’s celestial order), as we are an unlettered nation and we do not write or calculate. The mentioning of month is 29 days and 30 days (rather than 29 days or 30 days) is consistent with Allah’s celestial order where the month is 29 days in some regions of the Earth and 30 days in some regions of the Earth and may only be ascertained by eye sighting the new Moon locally. Scholars in the past have commented on this Hadith according to their own (limited) understanding. Here is how Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani explained this Ahadith:

“Calculate,” here, refers to astronomy and to the orbits of the planets because only a handful of them knew such things at that time. Thus the Prophet has made the legal obligation of fasting contingent upon actual sighting in order to remove any burdens from his community, i.e., of having to struggle with computations of celestial orbits. This ruling continues even should later people be able to do that. Indeed, the apparent meaning of the Hadith rejects any association of calculation with the legal ruling…. Nowhere did he say, “If it is obscured then ask the people of calculation.”[1, 6].

What were the intentions of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) in making the above mentioned statement, is not clear to us and is subject to interpretation and guess work. Allah knows the best. If the objective of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) were the same, as understood by proponents of the calculations, then he would have emphasized the unlettered nation aspect every time he spoke on this issue and those companions of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), who had better understanding of the usul ul Fiqah, would have understood and emphasized this aspect in their teachings to the following generations. It is also not appropriate to ignore the other Ahadith on this topic which have reached the level of infallibility (Tawatur) and are categorical in their text and contain no reference to the unlettered aspect of the nation. For example, “do not begin the fast until you see the hilal and do not break the fast until you see it.” For details see reference [7]. Since majority of scholars have used the more categorical narrations regarding the sighting of Hilal, why should one discard the accepted Shariah position of the past 14 centuries? How can one ignore the Ahadith which are categorical and have no confusion and use a Hadith which has ambiguity in its interpretation? It is obvious again that the proponent of calculations want to cast doubts in peoples mind regarding the established criteria of local Moon sighting and try to weaken or set aside the categorical evidence from Quran and Sunnah in this context and want to base their foundation on the evidence which is not categorical and is subject to interpretation of individuals. Actually the proponents of global sighting and calculation methods have no argument in their favor. The more they try to argue, the deeper they dig themselves. For example, if the cause of Hilal sighting was the unlettered aspect of the Muslim nation, as they claim, then why did the prophet Mohammad placed a burden on the unlettered nation for making calculations for the 30th day (according to their interpretation) in the case of obscurity along with the burden of observing and sighting the Hilal on the 30th evening? Is it not against Allah’s command that states like, “Allah does not place a burden on any soul that he may not bear”? If the nation could not perform astronomical calculations, during the passage of the whole month, how would they do it quickly on the 30th night after failing to see the Hilal due to obscurities? It is obvious that neither Hilal sighting was due to unlettered aspect of the nation, nor astronomical calculations were required in the case of obscurities and only completing the count (of 30) was meant in this case. Some of them [8] have gone further to claim that there is only one narration of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) on this topic which is authentic and is narrated by Abdullah bin Umar which is stated as follows:
"A month is 29 (days)”.
“Do not begin the fast until you see the hilal and do not break the fast until you see it. If it is obscured for you, fa aqduru la hu.”
All other Ahadith narrated by other companions, including Abdulah bin Abbas, Abu Harairah, and Abdullah bin Umar himself containing language different than fa aqduru la hu are not authentic. He implied that any references regarding completion of 30 days in case of obscurity are not the narrations from the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) but are alterations (tehrifat). He also emphasizes that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) mentioned that a month is 29 days. Any mention of month being 29 days and 30 days may not be associated to the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). Such efforts represent a mindset for weakening the evidence from the Sunnah. They over emphasize certain textual aspects, rather than looking at the comprehensive picture. Firstly, the statement that he considers can be ascribed to the prophetic words unambiguously contains the language that categorically establishes the beginning and end of fasting with the sighting of the Hilal and weakens the case for the use of calculation methods. It is a clear knowledge that a month is 29 days or 30 days long. Of course, Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) has mentioned that the month is 29 days when he returned to his wives after a vow he made to not to see them for a month. He was questioned about it in astonishing tone that he has probably not completed his vow by not staying away from his wives for 30 days. So he had responded that a month is 29 days, which actually meant that it can be of 29 days, and it is a fact. On the other hand, it is also a known fact that month can be of 30 days. Is there a point in emphasizing that the narrations stating that prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) said that the month is 29 days are correct and which state that month is 29 days and 30 days cannot be verified? The author has highlighted the difficulty in translating fa aqduru la hu as it does not give an unequivocal meaning to the Hadith text and makes it ambiguous in meaning. Any ambiguity in the Hadith would take it out of the categorical (Qati) status and would make it subject to interpretation and it suits the modernists for making the case for the modern reasoning. If the only authentic ruling that Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) made in this matter is ambiguous, then why has he not clarified it? Did his companions question him about that or was the text clear to them or was made clear to them? He may have made clarifications with language variations and Fiqihee Sahaba like Ibn Abbas may have heard and used the clarifying statements in their Fiqihi discourses. The narrations from Ibn Abbas that have reached us on this issue reported in Sahih Bokhari, point to the completion of 30 days in the case of obscurity, and 4 different narrations from Abu Harairah reported in Muslim mentioned in the article [8] may have language variations by the narrators but essentially have the same meanings, namely, the completion of 30 days of the month in case of obscurity. Such language variations are common among the narrators and scholars have accepted them when they convey the same meanings (the term twatur-e-manvi is used in this context). Classic scholars including (5) imams of the Fiqah, who lived among the generations that were closer to the time of the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and were privy to the Islamic knowledge which may not have been recorded in the Ahadith compilations, which were compiled more than a century later, have also adopted the position of completing 30 days in case of obscurity, thus, taking any other meanings from fa aqduru la hu by the modernist is a desperate attempt to find something in the dark to serve their purpose. It is pointed out [8] that the Hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas which contains reference to completing 30 days in case of obscurity reported in Matawa by Imam Malik has an incomplete chain of narrations (manqati) but the other fact that strengthens this weakness is that even though the note in Matawa mentions the weakness in the chain of narration, Imam Malik and his followers have sided with the position of completing thirty days in the case of obscurity. This casts doubt on the note in Mattawa. Could it be that the note was added later or Imam malik had additional information to accept that view.

Here is how the other narrations by Ibn Abbas are rejected by the author of [8]. His statement is within quotations “ “.

{Abu Da`ud also records a narration from Ibn ‘Abbas:
Ibn ‘Abbas reported the Messenger of God as saying: Do not fast one day or two days before Ramadan except if a man is in the habit of fasting (on those days). And do not begin fasting until you see it. Then keep fasting until you see it. If a cloud appears on that day, complete the number 30 (of days) and then end the fasting. A month is 29 days. (Abu Da`ud who said: This tradition has also been transmitted by Hatim bin Abi Saghirah, Shu‘bah and al-Hasan bin Salih on the authority of Simak to the same effect. But they did not mention the words “then end fasting”.)

“This narration has three parts, each of which is found by itself in other narrations. The first part says that as a rule one should not fast a day or two before Ramadan. This means that one should not fast on the 29th of Sha‘ban and if Sha‘ban is of 30 days, one should also not fast on the 30th. This rule is also found in a Hadith narrated in both Bukhari and Muslim from Yahya bin Abi Kathir from Abu Salamah from Abu Hurayrah. The second and third parts should by now be quite familiar to the reader from many narrations. In the form in which the narration is given in Abu Da`ud the statement “a month has 29 days” simply makes no sense: If in case of obscurity we fast for 30 days what is the meaning of saying that a month is 29 days? Also, why is it said “complete the number 30 and then end the fasting”? Was it not known to everyone that a month cannot be more than 30 days and therefore after 30 days of fasting the month must come to an end? We can make much better sense of the narration if we remove the words “complete the number 30”. The narration would then read: “If a cloud appears on that day, then end fasting: a month is 29 days.” That is, continue fasting till you see the new Moon. But if on the 29th Ramadan it is cloudy, then end fasting, for, a month by default is 29 days. The fact that we can make some sense of the narration by reading it without the words “complete 30 days” strongly suggests that these words are a later addition. Thus we once again encounter a case in which reference to 30 days is very probably a later addition.”}

Now one may see the mind set in interpreting the Hadith by the above mentioned author [8]. He states that it has three parts. He recognizes that there are three different Ahdith stated together. He has already mentioned in his article that “the month is 29 days” is an independent Hadith and Ibn Umar has included it at the beginning of the other Hadith. Please note the separation of two Ahdith through “ “ when I quoted it in a previous paragraph for having authentic wording from the prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). We can use the same method here to separate the three Ahdith here.

{Ibn Abbas reported the Messenger of God as saying:
“ Do not fast one day or two days before Ramadan except if a man is in the habit of fasting (on those days).”
“ And do not begin fasting until you see it. Then keep fasting until you see it. If a cloud appears on that day, complete the number 30 (of days) and then end the fasting.”
“ A month is 29 days.”}

Now it is clear that Ibn Abbas quoted three Ahdith on the topic and each one is categorical in its meaning. There is no ambiguity in it. Regarding the phrase, “then end the fasting”, the note by Abu Da’ud, stating the other chain of narration which does not contain this phrase, makes it apparent that some narrator in the chain could not differentiate whether these are three independent Ahdith on this topic or it is a text of one Hadith. He may have picked that phrase from some other component of the conversation from the narrator and merged it here. However, the inclusion of the phrase does not affect the meanings of the rest of the text. There is a consistency in all narrations reported by Ibn Abbas regarding completion of thirty days in case of obscurities, and 4 narrations from Abu Harairah with similar textual meanings strengthen the view. However, the author of [8] has tried to discredit every Hadith which mentions the completion of thirty days in case of obscurities, on one pretext or the other.
If we argue on the similar lines, the two Ahdith reports from Ibn Umar mentioned in previous paragraphs contain reference to “month is 29 days” in one and “month is sometimes 29 days and sometimes 30 days” in the other. Should we discredit them both for the apparent contradiction reported by the same person, Ibn Umar?
For many obvious reasons, all of the prophetic sayings on this topic may not have reached us, but what has reached us includes the practice of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and practices of his companions and who followed them from generation to generation. In past 14 centuries. All scholars have accepted the view that in case of obscurities 30 days should be completed, with a few exceptions that can be counted on the fingers. There is a clear evidence that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) completed thirty days in case of obscurities in his life time. The following 5 Ahdith testify to that effect.
Aishah said: The Messenger of God used to count the days in Sha‘ban in a manner he did not count any other month. Then he fasted when he sighted the hilal of Ramadan, but if the weather was cloudy he counted thirty days and then fasted. (Abu Da`ud)

Hudhayfah reported the Messenger of God as saying: Do not fast before the coming of the month until you see the new moon or complete the number (30 days); then fast until you see the new moon or complete the number (30 days). (Abu Da`ud who said: This tradition has been transmitted by Sufyan and others from Mansur from Rib‘i on the authority of a person from the Companions of the Prophet, but he did not mention the name of Hudhayfah.)

Rib‘i bin Hirash reported on the authority of a man from the companions of the Holy Prophet: People differed among themselves on the last day of Ramadan. The two Bedouins came and witnessed before the Prophet, swearing by God, that they had sighted the Moon the previous evening. So the Messenger of God commanded the people to break the fast. The narrator Khalaf has added in his narration: “and that the people should proceed to the place of prayer”. (Abu Da`ud)

Abu Umayr reported on the authority of some of his paternal uncles who were Companions of the Prophet: some men came riding to the Holy Prophet and testified that they had sighted the new Moon the previous day. He thereupon commanded the people to break the fast and to go out to their place of prayer in the morning. (Abu Da`ud)

Ibn ‘Abbas said: A Bedouin came to the Prophet and said: I have sighted the Moon. Al-Hasan added in his narration: of Ramadan. He asked: Do you testify that there is no god but Allah? He replied: Yes. He again asked: Do you testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah? He replied, yes, and testified that he had sighted the Moon. He said: Bilal, announce to the people that they must fast tomorrow. (Abu Da`ud)

It is apparent from the text of the above Ahdith that the Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) was completing 30 days in case of obscurities in Shahbaan, as well as in Ramadan, and when the news of Hilal sighting reached him during the 30th day he accepted the Hilal sighting testimonies of others and changed his position to act according to the Hilal sighting reports. The continued practice (twatur) of the Muslim Ummah for past 14 centuries on the completion of thirty days in case of obscurities, testifies to the validity of this view. Thus the claims of the modernists for using astronomical calculations for ascertaining the month are not supported by any religious injunction. Apart from the religious perspective, their claims regarding the certainty of astronomical calculations are not on the basis of any solid astronomical knowledge and a number of scientific complexities are involved. Any claims of the astronomical calculations being categorical for the Hilal sighting are far from the truth.

Summary

I have tried to cover the relevant religious and astronomical aspects in the layman terms. It is without any doubt that none of the classical scholars have argued to bypass the criteria of authenticating the Hilal (new Moon) on the completion of 29th day (eve of the 30th night) with naked eye sighting. The said criteria are given to us by Allah and are taught to us by Rasool Allah (peace be upon him). He practiced them himself, his companions practiced them, and generations of Muslims followed them to date in the letter and spirit. The Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) applied these criteria to restore the order Allah created when he made Heavens and Earth and mankind had tinkered with it. We need to preserve the order Allah created. Astronomical knowledge available today leads us to understand the wisdom of Allah in guiding us towards these criteria. The astronomical facts that (1) conjugation may occur anytime during the day or night and a different part of the Earth faces the Moon at each conjugation, and (2) a month is 29 days on some part of the Earth and 30 days on the remaining part of the Earth, and these regions keep on changing every month, represent the complexity of Allah’s order in this context. The local Hilal sighting criteria preserves that order. It is easy in its application and is equally accessible to learned or illiterate, whether living in the city, village, desert, mountains, jungle, or on the sea and is in conformity with Allah’s plan and effectively encompasses the all aspects of Allah’s complexity in this respect. Any attempt of applying the global sighting criteria, or use of any calculations, and use of a fixed space and time for calculations, fall short of meeting the Allah’s order and amount to tempering with Allah’s plan, like Jews are doing and Arabs of pre-Islamic era did. Such attempts essentially affect the Abadah of Muslims at least in some regions of the world, if not for the whole world, due to the deviations from Allah’s natural plan. We need to preserve Allah’s plan by sticking to the existing local sighting criteria. It has also been demonstrated in this article that those who claim that astronomical calculations are definite or categorically certain (Qati) and eye sighting is indefinite or uncertain (Zanni) in absolute terms are wrong in their claims. Factually, there is far more element of Zann (uncertainty) in calculation methods than the element of uncertainty in the naked eye sighting method. The present calculation methods apply the conditions of probability (Imkan) of seeing the Hilal and do not warrant the certainty of seeing the Hilal required by the law giver to authenticate the end and start of the month and fall short on the criteria of Ilm ul Yaqeen or Ain ul Yaqeen required for the authentication according to Islamic Shariah. Any other arguments favoring calculations are based on similar faulty assumptions.

Acknowledgement

The author would like to acknowledge the support of Higher Education Commission (HEC) of Pakistan for the stay at CIIT. In the end, I admit my short comings and state that any goodness coming from this article is due to the grace of Allah and all faults are mine.

References

[1] Hamza Yusuf, Cesarean Moon Births, Part I & II, posted on www. zaytuna. org (Zaytuna Institute’s web site), 2006-2007. Available at www.hilalsighting.org
[2] An Analysis of the Moon Sighting Arguments” available at www.Moonsighting.com
[3] Information available at www.islamicMoon.com, and www.hilalsighting.org
[4] Mokhtar Maghraoui “An Islamic Legal Analysis Of The Astronomical Determination Of The Beginning of Ramadan.” www.zawiyah.net]
[5] al-Bukhari
[6] Ibn Hajar al-Asqalni, Fata al-Bari (Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, 1988), 4:102.p
[7] The Biggest Group of Bidatees, by Syed B. Soharwardy, http://www.iscc.ca/
[8] A Study of AHadith About the Determination of Islamic Dates, by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat www.islamicperspectives.com/AHadithForIslamicDates.htm
 
 
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