Establishing Ramadhan and other Islamic Dates
Alhamdu li 'Llah. All praise and thanks be to Allah. We praise and
thank Him and we ask Him for help and forgiveness. In Allah we take refuge
from the evils in ourselves and from our wrong doings. He whom Allah guides
[with His Mercy] cannot be misguided by anyone else, and he whom He misguides
[justly and wisely] cannot be guided by anyone else.
I bear witness that there is no [true] god except Allah, alone
without any associate, and that Muhammad (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
is His `Abd and Messenger.
New Moons Determine Islamic Dates
Allah (Subhnahu wa ta`ala) has set crescent
sighting as the only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions
such as `Ids and Hajj. He says:
"They ask you [Muhammad] concerning the new moons. Say: They are
but signs to mark fixed periods of time for men and for Hajj (pilgrimage)".
In particular, the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) emphasized
that crescent sighting is required in determining the beginning and the
end of the month of Ramadhan. A large number of sahabah (Radiya 'Llahu
`anhum) reported that the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
[Al-Baqarah (2) 189]
Fast (Muslims) when you see the crescent. If it is obscure to you,
then complete thirty days in the count of Sha`ban. And break your fast
when you see the crescent. If it is obscure to you, then fast thirty days.
The Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) took great care to determine
precisely the beginning of Sha`ban, because one can then count twenty nine
days and watch for the crescent of Ramadhan or complete thirty days before
starting to fast. `Aishah (Radiya 'Llahu `anha) said:
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) used to be more
concerned about [determining the beginning of] Sha`ban than about other
months. Then he used to fast at the sighting of [the crescent of] Ramadhan.
If it were obscure, he would count thirty days [of Sha`ban] and then fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and Ahmad]
Witnesses Needed to Establish the Sighting
The `Ulama agree that two trustworthy Muslim witnesses
are sufficient to establish moon sighting. This is based on reports by
a number of the Sahabah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) that the Messenger (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
If two just Muslim witnesses testify [that they saw it] then fast
or break your fast.
Many ulam further believe that only one trustworthy person's testimony
may be accepted as a basis for determining the beginning of the Month.
The basis for this is that Ibn `Umar (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) said:
[Authentic; narrated by Ahmad, an-Nassa'i and ad-Daraqutni]
People were looking out for the crescent [of Ramadhan]. I informed
the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) that I saw it. So he fasted
[on the following day] and ordered people to fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and others]
Some people suggest using astronomical computations
either exclusively or partially for determining the visibility and preciseness
of crescent sightings. This is not a new suggestion, as it was raised at
the earliest times of Islam and the Prophet salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
rejected it. Ibn `Umar (Radiya 'Llahu `anhuma) reported that the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
We are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing
or computation [in our fasting]. A month is so and so and so (and he pointed
with his hands three times, folding the thumb on the third time, meaning
twenty nine days) or so and so and so (and he pointed with his hands three
times, meaning thirty days).
Abu Dawud's narration adds further:
[Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and An-Nassa'i]
Thus Ibn `Umar used to end his fasting with the rest of people
without relying on those computations.
This shows that the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) wanted to
keep this worship simple and at the level of common people, away from the
influence or control of specialized scientific knowledge (whether sound
or doubtful). This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu 'Llah) said,
that the description of this nation here as being illiterate is a praise
to it in that it is independent of any complicated means in performing
its basic worships.
Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the ijma` (consensus)
of the worthy `ulama, would be attempting to spoil the beauty and simplicity
of this Din, and, worst of all, would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam).
Misconception: the True Beginning of a Month
A very common misconception and a great concern
for many people is that if we do not make our utmost best to confirm the
testimonies of those who claim moon sighting (by astronomical evidence
and other means) then we might be risking nullifying some of our worship
by fasting on wrong days. This approach is rejected in Islam on several
a. It involves casting doubts about the truthfulness of just
Muslims (`udul). This is forbidden in the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
b. It conflicts with the practice of the Messenger (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam) who accepted the sighting of people without delay and
without comparing it with astronomical evidence.
c. It resembles the behavior of the Jews who tightened the Laws
on themselves; and Allah punished them by making them even tighter. The
Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
Beware of [going to the extreme of] over-exaggeration in Din. Indeed,
those before you were destroyed because of their over-exaggeration in Din.
[Authentic: narrated by An-Nasa'i and others]
d. It shows ignorance of when an Islamic month really begins.
This point is explained by Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu 'Llah):
Many people think that once the new moon rises in the skies, that
night would be the first of the month, regardless of whether people see
it or not. This is not correct! It should appear to people and they should
see it to start a month. That is why the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) said: "[True] fasting starts on the day that you start fasting
..." Which means: this is the day that you know it as being the time
to fast, etc. If you did not know it, then it would carry no value for
This view is further clarified by this narration. Abu al- Bukhturi said:
[Al- Fatawa, volume 5, page 203]
We went to `Umrah and saw the crescent of Ramadhan at Dthatu `Irq.
It seemed to have been two or three nights old. Later, we met Ibn `Abbas
and mentioned this to him. Ibn `Abbas (Radiya 'Llahu `anhuma) informed
us that Allah's Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said: Allah
has set crescent sighting as indication of Ramadhan. Thus Ramadhan starts
on the night that you see it. If it is obscure to you, then complete the
But what if those who claimed sighting of the new moon were lying or mistaken?
As long as they are apparently acceptable and trustworthy Muslims then
we must follow their testimony and fast (or end the fasting). We have absolutely
no right to reject that without a definite proof (applying means which
conform with the Sunnah, as outlined above.) If they happen to be indeed
lying then the sin will be theirs only, and we would still be (in sha'a
'Llah) rewarded for sticking to the Sunnah.
[Narrated by Muslim]
Unification of Sighting Locations
The above hadiths carry a general command to all
Muslims to abide by crescent sighting. In the same spirit, Abu Hurayrah,
`Aishah and others (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) reported that the Messenger (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
[True] fasting starts on the day that you start fasting; [true]
Fitr [`Id] is on the day that you end your fasting; [true] Adha [`Id] is
on the day that you offer your sacrifice.
Thus when the moon is sighted anywhere on earth, by at least one trustworthy
Muslim, this means that the whole Ummah has sighted it. Based on this,
as the above hadiths indicate, all members of the Ummah are required to
observe the new month as long as the information reaches them in a reasonable
amount of time to be able to act upon it.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidthi and others]
Misconception: Different Matla`s
A large number of people misinterpret the following
narration by Kurayb.
Kurayb reported that Umm al-Fadhl Bint Al-rith sent him on a mission
to Mu`awiyah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) in Damascus. He accomplished his mission
and was still in ash-Sham when Ramadhan started. He saw the new moon on
Friday evening. He then returned to al-Madinah, arriving therein near the
end of the month. He met Ibn `Abbas who asked him when was the new moon
of Ramadhan sighted in ash-Sham. Kurayb said, We saw it on the night
of Friday. Ibn Abbas inquired, Did you see it yourself? Kurayb
replied, Yes I saw it; and People did too. Based on that, they fasted
and Mu`awiyah fasted as well. Whereupon Ibn Abbas said, But we saw
it on the night of Saturday; and we shall continue to fast until we complete
thirty days or see it [the new moon of Shawwal]. Kurayb asked, Wouldn't
you accept Mu`awiyah's sighting and fasting. Ibn Abbas answered: No!
This is how Allah's Messenger commanded us.
After discussing this narration, Shayk ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu
[Narrated by Muslim]
To summarize: a person who learns about the sighting of the moon
in good time to be able to utilize it for fasting, for ending his fast,
or for sacrifice, he must definitely do so. The texts [of Islam] and the
reports about the Salaf point to this. To limit this to a certain distance
or country would contradict both the reason and the Shar` (Islamic law).
Imam Ash-Shawkani (Rahimahu 'Llah) cited this narration by Kurayb and mentioned
the different conclusions that the `ulama have reached based on it. He
then commented as follows:
[Al-Fatawa, volume 5, page 111]
You should know that the acceptable evidence is in what Ibn Abbas
(Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) reported explicitly from the Messenger (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam). It is not in his ijtihad which people tried to interpret,
and to which he pointed by saying, This is how Allah's Messenger commanded
us. His direct report from the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam)
is what Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others narrated as, Do not fast until
you see the crescent, and do not end your fast until you see it. This
does not apply to any particular location, but is a general address to
all applicable Muslims. Thus it is obviously an evidence that a sighting
in one location is binding to people in other locations. This is so because
when [Muslim] people in a particular location see it, this means that all
Muslims have seen it. Thus what applies to them [those who saw it] would
apply to others [in other locations] Despite that ash-Sham was not far
enough from al-Madinah to warrant different matlas (moon rising positions),
Ibn Abbas refused to follow the sighting of its people. This tells that
his behavior was based on his ijtihad, and is not, therefore, an acceptable
evidence [in this case].
Siddiq Hassan Khan, one of the greatest ulam of the Indian Sub- continent
ever (Raimahu 'Llah), said:
[Nayl ul- Awtar, volume 4, page 268]
If the crescent is seen by people in one location, people in other
locations must abide by their sighting. This is based on the hadiths that
declare the beginning and the end of fasting at the sighting of the crescent.
These hadiths address the whole Muslim Ummah: when one Muslim sees the
crescent anywhere, his sighting would be a sighting for all Muslims. It
would not be correct to challenge this with the hadith of Kurayb (in sahih
Muslim), because Ibn `Abbas did not declare in it that the Prophet (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) commanded them not to follow sightings of other
In this regard also, Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albani, one of the top hadith
[ar-Rawdhat un-Nadiyyah, volume 1, page 224]
Matla`s are relative. They have no definite boundaries which people
can distinguish and to which they can refer. Most `ulama give no weight
to differences in matlas. This is based on the general meaning of the authentic
hadith: Fast upon seeing it; and break your fast upon seeing it.
This is the truth, and none else can be accepted. One may not dispute this
with the hadith of Ibn Abbas ... It may be even better to say that the
hadith of Ibn Abbas concerns those who follow their locality's sighting
and later during Ramadhan learn that the crescent was sighted elsewhere
one day earlier. In such case, they would continue to fast with their countrymen
until they complete thirty days or see their own crescent. This removes
the confusion and leaves the above hadith applicable in general to all
those who receive the news of seeing the crescent from any location. It
is well known that this matter is very easy to accomplish nowadays.
[Tamam ul- Minnah, page 398]
The above discussion may be summarized in the
a. The beginning of an Islamic month may be determined (for
purposes of fasting, Hajj, and other Islamic occasions) only through naked-eye
sighting of the new crescents.
b. Astronomical evidence may not be used to establish moon sighting
or to verify or revoke the sighting of trustworthy Muslims.
c. Once the new moon is sighted anywhere on earth, people in
all other places who learn about the sighting in a reasonable amount of
time to be able to use it must do so.
d. A month starts when the new moon is seen regardless of whether
this occurred before, after or at the actual possible sighting.
We ask Allah to show us the truth, and to enable us to follow the Sunnah
always. And let our final call be: Al-hamdu li 'Llahi rabbil 'alamin.