The Position of Moon Sighting in Islam.
The issue of moonsighting can be confusing if one does not properly understand it. In fact, it is due to the lack of proper understanding that there has arisen a lot of criticizing and condemning among Muslims, which is extremely sad.
There is a hadith which states that one should begin the fast (Ramadan) with the sighting of the crescent (new moon) and terminate it at the sighting of the new moon (for shawaal) and if it is hidden from you then complete 30 days of Shabaan’ (Bukhaari).
This Hadith gives clear instructions in the matter of observing the Ramadan fast and has outlined a very simple formula which Muslims are asked to adopt.
Based on the fact that no direct order was given regarding sighting being confined to only a small area, or extended to a bigger region, or extended even to a much bigger region, the jurists of the past have adopted the meaning of the hadith at three different levels.
Some have taken the meaning of the hadith to mean that only the people of a certain city or country must abide by the sighting of that specific city or country. Others have stated that the meaning of the tradition refers to all people of one region, and others have stated that all Muslims in the whole world are referred to in the tradition.
Seeing that each of the above position is a possible explanation of the tradition, scholars in general have not outrightly condemned any one of those positions. Instead, they have tolerated it and have given an allowance to the different positions even though they have adopted a specific one.
Although this may be the case held by scholars in general, there is sufficient evidence to show that most of the former Jurists and Imaams of the schools of Islamic Jurisprudence have cited ‘regional sighting’ to be the ideal one for the Muslims.
In this regard the following traditions have been cited:
THE POSITION OF THE IMAMS OF FIQH ON REGIONAL SIGHTING.
On this topic, three ahadith have been mentioned from among the wide collection since they all have the same meaning.
Hadith (1): The Hadith reported by Imam Muslim states that the Prophet (S.A.S) said, “When you see the crescent moon fast, and when you see the crescent moon break the fast (terminate Ramadhan)”. There is another Hadith narrated by Imam Bukhari with similar words, which states that the Prophet (S.A.S) said, “Do not fast until you see it”. A common misunderstanding of this hadith is that some people take this hadith to mean that everyone must sight the moon before they begin the fast. Upon this, the great commentator of Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hafiz Ibn Hajar Asqalani states, “The meaning of this is not that everyone must see the moon, but it means that some see the moon, others must fast’. (Fathul-Bari)
Hadith (2): Another Hadith reported by Imam Bukhari in this chapter is that the Prophet (SAS) said, “Fast by its sighting and stop fasting by its sighting and if it is hidden from you, then complete the number of Shabaan as thirty”.(Bukhari)
Hadith (3): Another Hadith quoted on this topic is one which is narrated by Imam Tirmizi which states that the Prophet (S.A.S) said, ‘Fasting is the day you fast, Fitr is the day you celebrate it, and Adha is the day you do the animal sacrifice”. After quoting this hadith, Imam Tirmizi states, ‘the scholars have stated that this Hadith means that the day of Fasting commences when the Jamaat of the Muslims or the majority of the Muslims fast, the day of Fitr is the day when the Jamaat of the Muslims or the majority of the Muslims terminate their fast, and the day of Adha is the day when the Jamaat of the Muslims or the majority of the Muslims do their sacrifice’. While explaining this Hadith, the commentators of ahadith have stated that this Hadith shows that in these three acts, Fasting, Fitr and Adha there must be conformity with the majority of Muslims, and it is not permissible to develop whispers or false thoughts in one’s mind to go against them.
After looking at these three Ahadith, a person may wish to adopt a specific meaning to a particular case according to his understanding. Some may say that the meaning of the Hadith can apply to local sighting while others may apply it to regional or global sighting. Since each person can interpret and explain the tradition according to his own understanding, the decisive matter will be to look at what the commentators, Muhadith and Imams of Fiqh have adopted from the traditions on moon sighting. In the book, Fiqh-Ala-Mazahibil-Arbaa, the following is written, ‘Whenever the sighting of the moon becomes evident in a certain land from among the region then fasting is essential upon the entire region. This is according to the Mazhahs of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, Imam Shafi says that whenever the sighting is evident in any direction, then fasting becomes essential upon all those people from among the area who are within the same time zones”.
In Fiqhus-Sunah, the following is mentioned, “When the people of a place sight the moon, then fasting will become essential upon the people of all other places because of the generality of the words of the Prophet (S.A), ‘Fast by its sighting and terminate the fast by its sighting’. This is according to Jumhoor (the majority of Scholars of the Mazhabs).
Similarly, Allama Ibn Hummam, (a great Hanafi Jurist of the past) writes in his book Fathul Qadeer, “The clear Mazhab of Imam Abu Hanifa is that when the sighting is evident in a place, then all the people around them must fast. As such, fasting upon the people of the east will be binding through the sighting of the people of the west”.
The same information is also narrated in another authentic book of the Hanafi Mazhab. In Shami, the following is written, “The firm Mazhab of Imam Abu Hanifa is that if the moon is sighted in one place then the people of other places will accept their sighting even though they have not seen it, on the condition that the sighting becomes evident through one of the four different Shariah guidelines: –
1) Testimony upon sighting
2) Testimony upon testimony
3) Testimony upon Qaza (ruling)
4) Widespread information.
If information has become general, famous and through a chain of narrations that those who are saying it cannot be said that they have made a plot or they are all lying-such information in Shariah is known as Khabr-e-Mustafeez. (Widespread information)
In such cases, there is no need to have shahadat upon the sighting whether it is the moon for Ramadhan or for Eid. However, the condition in this case is that different people from different places testify that they have all seen the moon or in their presence, the Qazi, Mufti or Islamic Authority of such place has accepted the testimony of the sighting and has officially declared the sighting OR that information has been received reliably through the media of phone, fax, radio, etc. that many people from different areas have seen the moon.
The amount of people should be such an amount that it cannot be said that they are all lying. However, a figure has not been fixed. Some Jurists have fixed a number of 50, while others have fixed a lesser number. It is upon the Qazi or Moon Committee to fix a number. Sometimes even the information of 100 people are doubtful, One Jurist of Balkh says ‘in our city 1500 is too less’. Sometimes through the information of 10 or 20 people, firm belief and acceptance can exist. ‘Widespread information’ will only be considered when a great number of people have all heard directly from those who have seen the moon or a great number have heard the decision of the Qazi, Mufti or Islamic Authority. (Shami)
While explaining the above, Alama Zai’la’ee (from among the latter Hanafi Jurists) states, “The opinion of the Hanafi scholars is that the sighting of far-off places and areas which, have different time zones will not be considered. Only the sightings of those areas which share the same time zones are accepted”. (Tab’yeenul-Haqaaiq)
Some individuals hold on to the hadith of Kuraib as mentioned by Imam Muslim and Imam Tirmizi to prove that only local sighting should be adopted. The scholars have explained that in the mentioned narration(of Kuraib), Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A) did not accept the testimony of Kuraib due to the fact that he needed two testimonies and Kuraib was only one. Secondly, some scholars have stated that Ibn Abbas did not accept Syria’s sighting because of the different time zones between Syria and Madina. None of the four Imams of Fiqh has accepted that narration, instead they have ruled against it by stating “If the moon is not sighted in a certain area, but it has been sighted in other places, then the people of that area should follow them in respect of the sighting of the moon”. This is the view of Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi and Imam Ahmad.
It is evident from this discussion that none of the four Imams of Fiqh have adopted or ruled on local sighting. Their statements, rulings and opinions show that they have made the sighting more general than confining it to being ‘local’ alone. However, the question is, how far areas, lands, cities or towns should be away from each other? To what extent of the area does their ruling indicate? Is it implying that there should be a global sighting? Based on the opinions, rulings and explanations of the Hanafi scholars, it shows that their statements did not refer to a global concept of sighting, but instead, it referred to areas and lands that are close to each other, sharing the same time-zones. In this regard, the following is mentioned in Ma’arifus-Sunan, “Know then, that the saying of the Imaams in summary is specific for near countries of which their horizons (time-zones) do not differ greatly”. ( Ma’arifus-Sunan)
Ibn Abd Al Barr says that the consensus of opinion of the scholars was that the appearance of the moon in one place will not apply to the far-off and extremely remote places from each other. In summary,these statements refer to “sighting within a region”.
It is therefore clear that adapting to simply local sighting was not one which was implemented by the Imams, especially Imam Abu Hanifa. As such, in conforming to the firm Mazhab of Imam Abu Hanifa and also the majority of Imaams and scholars, the mode of regional sighting should be adopted. What should be the region? What should be the fixed area, distance, length and breadth? These are questions which have not been answered by the Imaams due to the fact that every people in their own territory can define their area. Some of the scholars have stated that those places which have the same time zones or do not differ greatly and/or have the same climate will be considered as one region.
And Allah Knows Best.
Mufti Waseem Khan