If the moon is seen in one land, is everyone obligated by the sighting of that land?
It is possible that people in different lands will begin their fasting on different days in accordance with their own regional sighting of the moon or complete the thirty days of Sha’bān due to cloud cover. This happened in the time of the Sahābah yet that did not lead them to be divided or disunited, because each of them followed the guidance of the Sunnah.
So, the question arises: If the moon for Ramadān (Hilāl) is seen in one land, then is everyone obligated by the sighting of that land? The answer is that where lands share in the moon rising, i.e. it is known that the moon appears in each of these lands at the same time, then fasting is obligated on all the inhabitants of these lands. However, if the rising of the moon differs in one land compared to another due to the large distances between them, then the sighting in one land is not obligated upon those living far away until they sight it themselves based on the saying of the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), “Fast when you see the moon and cease fasting when you see it.” So, if the appearance of the moon is known to differ due to distances between lands, then each land should seek its own sighting. This seems to be the stronger of the opinions of the scholars.
An-Nasā’i (rahimahullāh) has a chapter in his Sunan entitled: “People of distant lands differ in their moonsighting.” Then he reports that Kuraib (rahimahullāh) stated that Umm Al-Fadl sent him to Mu’āwiyah (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) in Shām, then he said:
“I arrived in Shām and fulfilled her errand. While I was there, I saw the crescent moon (hilāl) of Ramadan on Thursday night, then I left out and arrived in Madinah at the end of Ramadan. So, Abdullāh bin ‘Abbās asked me, ‘When did you see the crescent moon of Ramadan?’ So I said: ‘We saw it on Thursday night.’ He said: ‘You saw it on Thursday night?’ I said: ‘Yes. And the people saw it too so, they fasted and Mu’āwiyah fasted.’ So Ibn Abbās said: ‘But we saw it on Friday night, and we will not stop fasting until we complete the thirty days or when we the crescent moon again.’ I said to him: ‘Is not the sighting of Mu’āwiyah and his people sufficient for you?’ Ibn ‘Abbās (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) replied: ‘No. This is what Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) commanded us with.’”
The people of Syria saw the moon on Thursday night, so they fasted the first of Ramadan on Friday. The people of Madinah did not see it till Friday night, so they fasted on Saturday as the first day of Ramadan. So, there was a difference of one day between them and Ibn ‘Abbās said: “We will not stop fasting until we complete the thirty days or when we the crescent moon again.” And he did not go by the sighting of the people of Syria, nor did he consider it to be binding on him, nor did he make up any missed days due to starting a day later than Syria. So, for this reason, An-Nasā’ī in As-Sunan gave this hadīth the chapter heading: “People of distant lands differ in their moonsighting” and At-Tirmidhi in Al-Jāmi’ gave it the chapter heading: “For the people of every land, there is their own moonsighting.” So this was the understanding of these scholars.
However, there is another opinion that states that regardless of the distances between the lands, if it is sighted in one place, then everyone is obliged to fast based on that one sighting due to the narration of ‘Abdullāh bin ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) who said: “The people tried to sight the new moon and I informed Allah’s Messenger that I had seen it. So, he commanded the people to fast the month.” So, that entails all the people must fast.
Who to Follow?
So, if the people differ on which of these approaches to take, then the affair should be referred back to the scholars and mashayikh of Sunnah, Hadīth and Salafiyyah of that land. If they conclude that one position is stronger than the other based on their ijtihād, then that is given consideration since both opinions are reported from the Salaf―and they should advise the Muslim rulers to announce what is most appropriate. And, in non-Muslim lands (where there is no Muslim government), then the elder students of knowledge, the trusted mashayikh who are recommended by the senior scholars should unite the people upon what they see to be the stronger position. This is due to the saying of the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “The fast is the day the people fast, the breaking of the fast is the day the people break their fast, and the sacrifice is the day the people sacrifice (‘Eid al-Adhā).” (At-Tirmidhi, no. 697, Hasan) And his (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “Your fasting is when you all fast.” (Abdur-Razzāq in Al-Musannaf no. 7304, Ad-Dāruqutni 2/164, Al-Bayhaqi 4/252)
As for those who rebuke us, oppose us, and utilise moon phase calculations, charts, diagrams and predictions, and come with the saying that when there is a contradiction between the physical sighting and the moon phase calculations (and predictions), then the actual physical sighting cannot be relied upon! What they mean is that acting upon the Prophetic narrations should be rejected in favour of calculations (whether they realise that or not). This is the peak of opposition to the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam)―and these opposers wish to unite the Muslims on the calculation method, and that is not possible because there is no unity upon falsehood.
As for the people of Sunnah, then they have two positions: Firstly, those who say that one physical moonsighting suffices all the Muslims regardless of where they live―and secondly, those who say that each land has its own sighting. These two positions of Ahlus-Sunnah do not harm their unity because both opinions (or ijtihāds) are based on the Sunnah and the understanding of the Sahābah.
Listen to this audio:
―Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the moon.
―Calculations and astronomical methods.
―Is it a must that we all have a united start to the month?
Tas-heel Al-Ilmām, 3/201-209, of Shaikh Sālih al-Fawzān.
Fatāwa Arkān Al-Islām, 451-452, of Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaymīn.
Sharh Al-Mukhtasar ‘alā Matni Zād Al-Mustaqni’
 Al-Bukhāri (no. 1909), Muslim (no. 1081).
 In Arabic: Laylatul-Jumu’ah.
 In Arabic: Laylatul-Sabt.
 An-Nasā’ī (no. 2111), At-Tirmidhi (no. 696) and declared sahīh by Al-Albāni.
 Abu Dawūd (no. 2342), Ibn Hibbān (no. 3447), Al-Hākim (1/423) and authenticated by Al-Albāni in Al-Irwā (no. 908).