SIGHTING THE CRESENT (MOON) TO BEGIN RAMADHAN AND EID.

With the blessed month of Ramadhan just a few weeks away, many Muslims will begin to prepare themselves for this sacred month. The preparation which will be needed is not only that of a physical one which is connected to the home, work and Mosque environment, but it will be needed for one’s spiritual self in training oneself to gain maximum spiritual rewards and uplift when the Holy month enters.

Along with all that is needed to be done in connection with the blessed month, one issue of great importance is that of sighting the moon (crescent) to begin the blessed month and also to celebrate the Eid. This matter, when looked at, from a Shariah’s perspective, is a very easy one which has no difficulty. Allah, the law giver, the revealer of the Quran, who has sent Islam as a complete religion and way of life, has not made anything in the religion of Islam difficult. The Quran itself attests to this fact by saying, ‘and He (Allah) has not placed upon you any difficulty in religion’. (Al Quran Surah Al Hajj Chapter 22, verse 78).
In another verse, the Holy Quran states, ‘He (Allah) intends for you ease and he does not want difficulty for you.’ (Al Quran Surah Al Baqarah Chapter 2, verse 185)
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ has also stated, ‘Religion (Islam) is very easy, and no one makes the religion difficult upon him except that it dominates him. So, do the right thing and gain closeness to Allah.’ (Sahih Al Bukhari)

From these quotations, it becomes clear that the religion of Islam is one in which there is no difficulty and hardship. The practices which Muslims must do are easy to be done, and these do not place a burden on a person. This ease also includes the aspect of moon sighting in Islam. The Prophet ﷺ has given very easy and uncomplicated guidelines regarding the issue of beginning a month and ending a month, which includes Ramadhan and Shawaal. In this regard, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said ‘Fast (Ramadhan) at its sighting and terminate (Ramadhan) at its sighting. If the sky becomes overcast, then complete the number of days in Shabaan as thirty days.’ (Sahih Al Bukhari).

This blessed tradition gives a very easy guideline to be adopted in commencing the month of Ramadhan and terminating it. It tells us that at the end of Shabaan (that is, upon the termination of 29 days), Muslims must look for the new moon (crescent) to commence the month of Ramadhan. If it is sighted (taking into consideration the guidelines of the Shariah), then the blessed month of Ramadhan will commence. If it is not sighted, then Muslims must complete the month of Shabaan with 30 days and then begin the month of Ramadhan.

It is in order to fulfil the requirements of this and other similar narrations, Muslims all over the world make a considerable effort in sighting the crescent, and also, in gathering and sourcing information from many people and places. While this may be done with a good intention and for good reasons, problems arise on account of varying and conflicting reports that are conveyed at one time or at different times. Sometimes, Muslims receive information that the moon was sighted in another Island, but when investigated, it could not be verified as to who saw the moon and where it was sighted.

At times, the amount of people claiming to have sighted the moon is insufficient for a declaration to be made regarding the commencement of the Islamic month. It is in order to avoid such problems, a proper system must be adopted by Muslims in order to ensure that timings for fulfilling their religious obligations are correct.

The system which the scholars have explained is that of establishing of moon committees, especially where Muslims live in non-Muslim Countries that are not governed by an Islamic State. When these are formed, then the information regarding sightings will be conveyed to these committees who, with competent and qualified Islamic Scholars of the committee, will investigate and seek clarification of these sightings until information bearing certainty and accuracy is achieved.  At the end of the investigation, the established Moon Committee of the City/Country will then make a declaration and a pronouncement with respect to the commencement of the Islamic month.

An established moon committee must have qualified and competent Islamic Scholars who are well aware of the intricacies and the laws of moon sighting. Wherever there is a Moon Committee of this nature, then they will be entrusted with the task and responsibility of making pronouncements regarding moon sighting to begin or end the Islamic month.

Individuals must not go about seeking their own information/reports and then transmit it or relate it to others when the Moon Committee has not yet made a formal pronouncement. Once the Moon Committee has ruled on the matter, then others are free to relate the information. The conduct of individuals to call their friends and family members from other places and then circulate the information received as if it is an official pronouncement or make the information mandatory upon others to follow is not permissible. Hence Muslims must refrain from such actions.

During the time of the Prophet ﷺ, he was the authority who made pronouncements of the sighting of the moon. It was only when he made a declaration, the Sahabahs (R.A) related the information. Whoever from amongst the Sahabahs (R.A) sighted the moon, he brought the information directly to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ would then make a declaration based upon the acceptance of the sighting. After the demise of the Prophet ﷺ, the Khalifahs were fully in charge of fulfilling this responsibility. In this way, it continued to be the responsibility of the Islamic State until today, to officially declare the beginning and ending of the Islamic months based on the sighting of the new moon.

As for Non-Islamic Countries, then if such a Moon Committee exists which has gained the acceptance of Muslims in that area, and they (the Muslims) rely upon their sightings and the pronouncement of the months, and look upon them to guide them in the commencement and the termination of the Islamic months, then this Moon Committee will be entrusted with the responsibility of making declarations of the beginning and ending of Islamic months in the country and amongst Muslims. When such declarations are made, then Muslims are required to accept the information and practise upon it. Regarding this, the scholars have mentioned ‘the decision made by the established moon committee becomes essential for the Muslims to follow.’ (Kitabul Fatawa Vol.3, Pg 376 Zam Zam Publishers Karachi 2008; Jawahir Al Fiqh Vol.1, Pg 401 Maktaba Darul Uloom Karachi 1986).

While Muslims are required to turn towards the established moon committee for decisions regarding the moon sighting, the ‘Established Moon Committee’ must have competent and qualified Scholars who are able to make the correct decisions regarding moon sighting in accordance with the guidelines of the Shariah.

In many cases, reports begin to circulate among Muslims without anyone having any sound knowledge regarding the source of such reports and whether or not the Shariah requirements pertaining to sightings, testimony and verifying the information etc. were fulfilled.

Muslims must understand that guidelines are required to be fulfilled before an official pronouncement of the sighting is done. Whether the announcement is that ‘the moon has been sighted’ or ‘the moon has not been sighted,’ all such announcements must come from an established moon committee on an official basis. Such guidelines established in the Shariah does not give room or leeway to individuals to roam around the Muslims, giving their own personal and individual reports, interpretations and rulings regarding the sighting of the moon. It is this sort of conduct which gives rise to problems and confusion among Muslims regarding the sighting of the moon. Such individuals are, most of the time, not part of a moon committee and are not competent and qualified to investigate and examine reports to ensure that these fulfil the Shariah guidelines. It is therefore necessary for Muslims to refer to the established ‘Moon Sighting Committee’ in their town, Island or country for announcements and declarations regarding the sighting of the moon. In this way, unity and harmony among Muslims will continue, and they would save themselves from confusion.

It is in order to provide such an important service, the Darul Uloom Moon Committee has been formed since 2000. For 15 years now, the Darul Uloom Moon Committee has provided moon sighting updates and have declared the commencement of each of the Islamic lunar months, based on well investigated information and sound reports.

The service of the Moon Sighting Committee is not only for Ramadhan and Eid, but it continues for every Islamic month. The Darul Uloom Moon Sighting Committee has formed smaller moon committees in Trinidad and Tobago, who submit reports of sighting to the head Committee of the Darul Uloom on a monthly basis for sightings. Over this period of 15 years, the Moon Sighting Committee of Darul Uloom has become well established in Trinidad and Tobago and the entire region of the Caribbean.

Muslims living in other Caribbean Islands continue to look up to the DUMC (Darul Uloom Moon Committee) for official pronouncements of sighting. Along with them, moon committees and organisations from Jamaica, Panama, Bermuda, Canada, Chicago and Miami continue to rely upon the Darul Uloom’s sighting and announcements pertaining to the start of the Islamic months. Darul Uloom Moon Committee thus, has gained wide acceptance in Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and across the region. Muslims in this Island are therefore requested to refer to the DUMC sightings and pronouncements for the start of the Islamic months, especially the moon sighting to commence Ramadhan and Shawaal (for Eid-ul-Fitr).

One notion that Muslims must avoid and get away from, is the thought that the actual day of Eid ul Fitr will be a day which has been given as a public holiday for Eid celebrations in the Country. On account of this understanding, some Muslims begin to prepare for Eid on that day and invite friends and family to celebrate on that specific day. Thereafter, if the actual day of Eid (based on sighting) happens to fall on another day, they become upset, and begin to use remarks and statements condemning moon committees and scholars. This understanding is totally wrong and must not be entertained. The day of Eid is based on the actual sighting of the moon or the completion of Ramadhan as 30 days. It may not coincide with a day that has been fixed as a public holiday, but may be on another day. Muslims must accept this fact, and be prepared to celebrate on that day which is pronounced as Eid-ul-Fitr by the Moon Committee. This obviously will be based on the actual sighting and sound/reliable reports which will come from moon committees locally and regionally.

This means that if information regarding the pronouncement of the start of Ramadhan and/or Eid-ul-Fitr comes late at night or early in the morning, then it must be accepted and practised upon by Muslims. The Shariah has not given any ‘cut-off’ time for the acceptance and reporting of moon sighting. Whenever the correct information regarding the pronouncement of the start of the month is received, one is required to fully accept it and practise in accordance to it.

As such, if one receives the information late at night or before the break of dawn that the moon to commence Ramadhan has been sighted, then one must make preparations to observe the fast. Similarly, if the information regarding the sighting of the moon for Shawaal comes at any one of these timings, one must not observe the fast, but instead prepare for the Eid-ul-Fitr. These sightings and reports however, must be accepted by the established moon committee who must make the necessary pronouncements. In a like manner, if the authentic information (accepted by the moon committee) regarding the commencement of the month of Ramadhan comes during the daytime when (due to one’s ignorance of it) did not start the day with a fast, then he must refrain from eating and drinking for the rest of that day.

For example if one started the 30th day of Shabaan with the knowledge that the moon was not sighted the night before (on account of which Ramadahn did not commence), but during the 30th day of Shabaan, he received sound information (accepted by the Moon Committee) that the moon was sighted and that Ramadhan had commenced, then one must refrain from eating/drinking for the rest of the day. (Ma’arif Sunan Vol.5 Pg. 345; Fatawa Haqaniya Vol.4 Pgs. 129-130).

In a similar manner, if reliable reports regarding the sighting of the moon for Shawaal (to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr) are received, at a time when Muslims have started to observe the fast of the 30th of Ramadhan, and the Moon Committee had pronounced the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr based on these reports , then Muslims must break their fast and prepare for Eid. If the pronouncement was made in the morning period, then they must perform the Eid Salaah any time before Zawaal. If the pronouncement was made close to the period of Zawaal (due to the late arrival of information) and there was not sufficient time to have Salah and the Khutbah of Eid before Zawaal, then Eid will be celebrated the next day. If the pronouncement was made after Zawaal, then the Muslims should perform Eid Salah on the next day. (Shami Vol.1, Pg-783; Fatawa Mahmoodiya Vol.10, Pg-85).

These guidelines are given as reminders, so that Muslims would be aware of what is required from them in different situations.  In the past, due to the lack of knowledge regarding some of these guidelines, Muslims found themselves in difficulties since they did not know what to do. This eventually led to a bit of confusion and misunderstanding, where some decided to hold firmly to a statement that they made before, and dismissed the new and reliable information regarding the sighting of the moon. This conduct of some is against the teachings of Islam and must not be adopted. Muslims must turn to the established moon committee for official pronouncements and declarations regarding the commencement of Ramadhan and the celebration of Eid. Information and reports received by individuals from locals and foreigners should be conveyed to the Moon Committee. They will then investigate the reports and make a pronouncement regarding the sighting.

The practice of circulating such information and spreading it among the Muslims (by individuals) without having it investigated, verified and accepted by the Moon Committee, creates confusion among the Muslims, and hence, must not be done. The Moon Committee is the authority in charge of investigating moon sightings and accepting these in accordance with the guidelines of the Shariah. They would make the official declaration regarding the commencement of the Islamic months, especially that of Ramadhan and Shawaal (for Eid-ul-Fitr). Muslims are therefore urged to refer to the moon committee for official pronouncements regarding the sighting of the moon.