Muslims and Eid
By Dr. Minhaj Qidwai
Muslims start their holy month after sighting the moon, and witnesses are the source of authenticity for the moon sighting. With the advancement in science, we also take into account the astronomical forecasting about the new moon and the initiation of the Islamic month. However, we still debate endlessly for the right date of the moon sighting. The moon sighting has become sore topic for Muslims, especially during Ramadan and Eid. This year was no different. It has been customary that currently, Eid is celebrated based on two concepts i.e. a universal moon sighting, and local sighting. The people following the universal concept follow the moon sighting in Saudi Arabia, and those depending on local moon sighting are from the other group. Usually, Eid till now was celebrated on two different days in North America as we witness throughout the world. However, it was for the first time that on this Eid, the two schools of thoughts in America joined together to celebrate Eid on a single day. However, in Canada Eid was celebrated on three different days. This has reopened the Pandora box of debate that who was right and who was wrong. The objective of this article is not to determine this factor, but to lay down the background of the subject and let the readers decide. Indeed, it is embarrassing when the people of other faith ask us about this controversy and we do not a satisfactory answer. Our children feel humiliated when they are asked this question from their peers in their schools, and they feel dumb. Starting a month after the sighting of moon is what recommended in Islam, and it has to be followed. Following is the information available from various sources on the topic.
A. New moon determines Islamic Dates (1):
· Allah has set crescent sighting as the only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions such as the Eid and Hajj. He says:
They ask you concerning the new moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for pilgrimage (hajj) [Baqarah 2:189]
· in particular the Messenger (S) emphasized that crescent sighting is required in determining the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadan.
· A large number of Companions reported that the Messenger (S) said: "Fast when you see the crescent. If it is obscured to you, then complete thirty days of Sha'baan. And break your fast when you see the crescent. If it is obscured to you then fast thirty days." [Bukhaari and Muslim]
· The Prophet (S) took great care to determine precisely the beginning of Sha'ban, because one can count twenty-nine days and watch for the crescent of Ramadan or complete thirty days before starting to fast.
· Hazrat A'ishah said: The Messenger of Allah (S) used to be more concerned about determining the beginning of Sha'baan than about other months. Then he used to fast at the sighting [of the crescent of Ramadan]. If it were obscured, he would count thirty days [of Sha'baan] then fast" [Ahmad and Abu Dawood]
B. Witnesses needed to establish the month:
The scholars agree that two trustworthy Muslim witnesses are sufficient to establish moon sighting. This is based on the reports of a large number of Companions, that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: "If two just Muslims testify (that they saw it) then fast or break your fast" [Daraqutni and Ahmad]
Many other scholars, however 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 said: "People were looking for the crescent [of Ramadan]. I informed the Prophet (S) that I saw it. So he fasted [on the following day] and ordered the people to fast." [Abu Dawood]
C. Astronomical Evidence:
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 (S) rejected it. Ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: "We are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing or computation [for our fasting]. A month is 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 he pointed with his hands three times, meaning thirty days)" [Bukhaari and Muslim and Abu Dawood].
Abu Dagwood's narration further ads: "Thus Ibn Umar used to end his fasting with the rest of the people without relying on these computations".
This shows that the Messenger (S) wanted to keep this worship simple and at the level of the common people, away from the influence of control of specialized scientific knowledge (whether sound or doubtful). This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyah stated, that the description of this nation here as being illiterate is one of praise in that the nation is independent of any complicated means in the performance of its basic acts of worship. Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the consensus of the scholars and would spoil the beauty and simplicity of this religion, and worst of all, would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger of Allaah (S).
Astronomical evidence for this Eid-al-Fitr, as per the info provided at moonsighting.com (2) is following:
Eid-al-Fitr: The Astronomical New Moon is on Wednesday, November 2, 2005, at 1:25 Universal Time, i.e. November 1, 8:25 PM Eastern Standard Time - or 5:25 PM Pacific Standard Time. On November 2, the moon would be about 24 hours old on West Coast of USA and still not visible even by telescopes, because the moon will be in Southern Hemisphere. It could be seen in South America (with difficulty by naked eye) and possibly in South Africa (with aided eye - Binocular/telescope). Although it may be possible to see a moon in perfect conditions in some South American countries like Chile, it is highly unlikely, because the moon is setting in less than 25 minutes after the sunset (in Santiago, Chile), and the sky is too bright wit h the glare of the sun even after 25 minutes. "ISNA accepts sighting within 48 contiguous states of USA and the whole North America is outside all possible visibility curves. So, Eid in North America is expected to be on Friday, November 4, 2005. Similarly, in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Australia, Eid is expected to be on Friday, November 4, 2005, if sighting is the criterion. Visibility curve for November 3 is also given below:
With this information, the first Shawwal should have been on Nov. 04. However, from the witness point of view, 1st Shawwal was on Nov. 03. So, there is a controversy that needs to be resolved. It is up to the readers to decide what criterion they should use to establish the initiation of the new Islamic month. A study of science of moon sighting can clarify lots of misconceptions and wrong perceptions (3).
D. MAIN FACTORS FOR CRESCENT VISIBILITY:
Most people associate visibility with the age of the moon. Age of the moon is simply the time lapsed since new moon. It can give a rough approximation for visibility. The visibility depends upon the angular separation of the moon from the sun seen from the earth. As the time passes from the instant of new moon, the angular separation between the sun and the moon increases. This angular separation reflects sun's light to earth. Until this angle becomes 7 degrees, no light of sun reflected by the moon can come to the earth, because of the mountains on the surface of the moon that block the sun light (Danjon 1932). This angle must be about 10-12 degrees from the sun's light to reflect from the moon making a thin crescent that can be sighted.
Another important factor is the moon's altitude above horizon. If the crescent thickness is sufficient, but it is not above horizon, then it cannot be seen. This happens in the month of September and October in USA, when the moon is in the southern hemisphere, therefore, it can not be seen from northern hemisphere. The moon within the altitude of 10 degrees at sunset is usually not visible.
It is also a scientific fact that, if the moon is visible anywhere on the globe, it would be more easily visible on all places west of it. On the contrary, we hear the news of moon sighting in Middle East, and on the same evening, here in North America several hours later, it is not visible despite clear horizons. This clearly tells us that what was seen in Middle East could not have been the moon.
Muslim astronomers in this age of technology are now in a position to calculate the dates for possible/impossible moon sighting. So the validity of sighting claims can be easily verified for authentic moon sighting. To start an Islamic month correctly, we must examine sighting claims in light of knowledge that Allah (swt) has given us. Let us pray to Allah (swt) to open our hearts and minds to understand these facts about moon sighting.
However, there are several misconceptions about moon sighting. The same are discussed below:
Misconception 1: 29th day moon is always thin and 30th day moon is thick.
It is very possible that the 30th day moon of one month is about the same thickness as 29th day moon of another month. The moon revolves around the earth in an elliptical orbit, therefore, sometimes it is closer to the earth and sometimes it is farther from the earth. If the moon is 20 hours old on 29th day of one month when it is closer to the earth, it may look about the same size as, when it is 25 hours old on the 30th day of another month and is farther from earth.
Misconception 2: 29th day moon sets in a short time while 30th day moon remains longer on the horizon.
The moon above the horizon an hour before setting travels down to horizon line along a path whose inclination depends upon the latitude of the observer. A vertically downward path would be an Equator, and a 45 degrees slope at 45 degree latitude. The moon that is 10 degrees above horizon at Equator would set quicker than a moon that is 10 degrees above horizon at a latitude of 45 degrees. Therefore, it is not correct to say that the 30th day moon remains longer on the horizon. Some months it may be, but not always.
Misconception 3: If the moon is thick and remains on the horizon a long time, it must be the 2nd day moon.
This is very common argument that we hear repeatedly, but has no truth in it. If on the 29th day, the moon at sunset is 18 hours old and is higher above the glare of the sun, it may be visible on that day and will appear to be very thin. However, if the 18 hours old moon on the 29th day is very low on the horizon, it would not be visible on that day, then on the 30th day it would be 42 hours old and quite thick, and remains above the horizon a long time, but it was not visible the day before.
Misconception 4: On New-moon day the dark side of the moon faces earth.
By this sentence, people think that the far side of the moon is dark side of the moon, and that dark side faces us at New-moon day. That is not the case. The same side of the moon always faces the earth, sometimes illuminated, and sometimes dark. The moon takes 27 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes to spin, or rotate, once on its axis. It takes the same amount of time to orbit the earth. The combination of the two motions keeps the same side of the moon facing the earth. To us on earth, the moon is fully illuminated at full moon, completely dark at new moon, and partially lit in between.
Misconception 5: Three consecutive months of 30 days are not possible.
Three consecutive months of 30 days are very possible and are not uncommon. In fact even four consecutive months of 30 days is possible, but rare. This is mainly due to considering the whole USA as one (Matla') horizon. Because of the elliptical orbit of the moon, two consecutive months of 30 days are quite common. In the third month, on the 30th day of previous month, sometimes the moon is only sighted on west coast, because for east coast it may have been 29th day from the actual sighting in east coast. If that is the case then in fourth month the moon may take 29 or 30 days to be visible. In the latter case it would be four months in a row that make 30 days' month. The Committee for Crescent Observation, Ithaca NY has been keeping the records of sighting in North America for the last two decades, and confirms that three consecutive months of 29 days, and four consecutive months of 30 days has occurred several times in USA.
Misconception 6: Full moon occurs on the 14th night.
This is wrong too. Full moon is the instant of time when the moon crosses an imaginary line passing through the centers of the sun and earth. This could happen at any moment of day or night. Therefore, it is very possible that in one month the moon is full at 7:00 a.m. This moon would be 99% lit on the night before and becomes full in the morning, but decreases to 99% lit-up on the following night. Such a moon would appear as a full moon to an observer on both nights. These two nights could be 13th and 14th, or 14th and 15th depending upon the location on earth and the time of new moon birth.
The true beginning of a month:
A very common misconception and a great concern for many people is that if we do not do our utmost to confirm (by astronomical evidence or otherwise) the testimonies of those who claim to have seen the moon then we might run the risk of nullifying some of our worship by fasting on wrong days. This approach is rejected on several grounds:
"Many people think that once the new moon rises in the skies, regardless of whether the people see it or not that night would be the first of the month. This is not correct! It should appear to the people and they should see it to start the month. That is why the Messenger of Allah (S) said: "[True] fasting starts on the day that you start" which means: this is the day you know as being the time to fast. If you did not know it, then it would carry no value for you". [Al Fatawa 5/203]
This view is further clarified by the following narration: Abu al-Bukhturee said: "We went to the Minor Pilgrimage and saw the crescent of Ramadan at Dhaatu-Irq. It seemed to have been two or three nights old. Later, we met Ibn Abbaas and mentioned this to him. Ibn Abbaas informed us that Allah's Messenger (S) said: "Allah has set crescent sighting as an indication of Ramadan. Thus Ramadan starts on the night that you see it. If it is obscured, then complete the count". [Muslim]
But what if those claimed sighting of the new moon were lying or mistaken? As long as they are apparently acceptable and trustworthy Muslims, we must follow their testimony and fast (or end the fast). We have absolutely no right to reject their testimony without a definite proof (applying the means which conform with the Sunnah, as outlined above). If they happen to be indeed lying then the sin will be only theirs, and we will be rewarded, if Allah wills, for sticking of the Sunnah.
E. Unification of Sighting Locations:
Thus, when the moon is sighted anywhere on the earth, by at least one trustworthy Muslim, this means that the whole Ummah has sighted it. Based on this, as the above hadeeth indicates 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. This concept favors the universal moon sighting principle and acting on it. However, it is not only moon sighting, but also the timing of prayers. If we rely on a universal sighting, then we are implying that whatever is the timing of that particular area that moon has been witnessed, we are bound to follow the prayer timings as well. Therefore, it appears that we have to pray as per our local timings, but start the month based on a universal concept. Therefore, there is a gray area that needs discussion and resolution.
Muslims are facing a tough time in their history. The division among the Muslims in North America is an indication the trend of the tide and divides. There are some factions in Islam, who have laid down their own calendar and follow it as a set pattern. So there is no disagreement among them as far as moon sighting is concerned. However, among the majority Sunni faction, there are those who follow Saudi verdict, and the rest follow non-Saudi verdict. The Arabs usually follow the moon sighting in Saudi Arabia, and celebrate Eid as per their announcements. The others look towards their local religious councils, and follow their announcements. With the current status of Muslims, the need of the hour is unity. When the Muslims can unite at Hajj, and celebrate it throughout the globe, then the universal moon-sighting g concept with the reference to the information provided above should also be acceptable. True unity cannot be achieved in any other way than following what conforms to the Qur'an, Sunnah and the guidance of the Righteous Salaf (pious predecessors). As Muslims, let us unite to work constructively towards our unity and betterment rather than wasting time in these embarrassing endless debates. May Allah enable us to follow the Quran and Sunnah in all our beliefs and deeds.
Please report any
broken links to
Copyright © 1988-2012 irfi.org. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer