Sighting the Moon for the Start of Ramadān and for ‘Eid: What if Cloud-cover Prevents that? Is it allowed to use Moon Phase Calculations for Ramadān for Unity’s Sake?

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Counting the month of Sha’bān if there is cloud cover and sighting the Moon with the eyes for Ramadān

‘Abdullāh bin ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) stated: I heard Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) saying: “Fast when you see the moon, and cease fasting when you see it but if it is cloudy for you then count the month [as thirty days].”[1]

In a narration, he (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “If it is cloudy for you, count out thirty days.”[2]

In another narration, he said: “Complete the number of days as thirty.”[3] 

These narrations prove that the beginning and end of Ramadān is based on the physical sighting of the moon and if the sky is obscured due to cloud cover or a dust cloud then one completes the thirty days of the month of Sha’bān and takes the day after that as the first day of Ramadān. That is because the origin is that the month continues to thirty days unless the moon is sighted making it twenty-nine days. So, if there is cloud cover, it is obligatory to wait and complete thirty days for Sha’bān and not be hasty. And if that is the case when there is cloud cover―then it is even more obligatory that we complete the thirty days of Sha’bān when the skies are clear, and the moon is not sighted. That is because the origin is that a month is not twenty-nine days unless the new moon is sighted with the eyes on the twenty-ninth night.[4] This is further proven by the narration of Abu Hurayrah (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) who said that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “Complete the number of days of Sha’bān as thirty.”[5]

‘Abdullāh bin ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) narrated said: “The people tried to sight the moon and I informed Allah’s Messenger that I had seen it. So, he commanded the people to fast the month.”[6]

In the previous narration, the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) stated: “Fast when you see the moon and cease fasting when you see it.” This does not entail that everyone has to see it and the hadīth of Ibn ‘Umar proves that the sighting of just one trustworthy Muslim is sufficient for all the Muslims.[7] If it is expected that a particular night may be the night of Ramadān, then it is recommended for the people to look out for the moon to signify the start of the month. So, people should not rely on others, instead, those who are able and capable should seek out the moon and this type of mutual cooperation benefits all the Muslims. 

The Prophet’s (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) acceptance of Ibn ‘Umar’s moonsighting proves that the report of a singular trustworthy person (male or female) is sufficient for all the Muslims―and it is not a condition that many people sight it before it is accepted. As for the sightings of the non-Muslims, then that it is not accepted as proof. The sighting must be established by a trustworthy Muslim, male or female.

The beginning of Ramadān should be announced to the people by whomever the ruler appoints. This can be done by radio, telephones, internet, or by sending messages to the various parts of the land.

So, all these narrations prove that the moonsighting for Ramadān is established in one of two ways:

  1. The physical sighting of the moon by a trustworthy Muslim or Muslims,
  2. Or, if is not sighted or the sky is obscured, then by the completing thirty days of Sha’bān.

Uniting the Ummah by Starting and Finishing Ramadan on the Same Day

As for what has become common practice in this age where we see ignoramuses and those who pretend to be people of knowledge predicting the beginning of Ramadan using moon-phase calculations, then that is misguidance from the Sunnah and innovation in Islam―it is something that Allah did not legislate and nor did the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) allow, even though it was available to him. The onset of Ramadān is known by only two methods: either through the sighting of the new moon or by completing thirty days of Sha’bān. There is no third way.

Astronomy was known and present in the time of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam), his Companions and the early Muslim scholars―the motion and position of the moon throughout the months was known to them yet they never relied on that. Additionally, calculations can be wrong, and they require detailed knowledge that is not known to most people, and the Islamic religion gives ease, and all praise is for Allah.

Allah (the Most High) connected the fasting month to that which is apparent and known to the general folk and the educated such that everyone knows it and it is not difficult or hard. Sighting of the crescent moon (hilāl) or counting the thirty days of Sha’bān is known to everyone, and it is easy. That is not the case with moon-phase calculations which is not known to everyone.

Also, calculations and predictions are open to error and differing and involve speaking ignorantly about affairs that the Sharī’ah does not allow. Ibn ‘Umar (radiyallāhu ‘anhumā) narrated that the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) said: “We are an unlettered nation, we neither write nor use calculations. The month is like this and this, i.e. sometimes twenty-nine days and sometimes thirty days.”[8]

So, those who proclaim to the people and make announcements calling to accept their predications―and they cast doubts in those who have sighted the moon and claim that whoever sighted it has opposed the view of the astronomers because “it was not possible for the moon to have sighted on a particular night”―then all of this is from their ignorance of Islam and the revelation, and they speak without knowledge. It is a must they are refuted, and their opinions rejected because they are playing with the religion of Allah.

It is important to give this matter the importance it deserves and not open the door to ever fraudster and innovator to enter and throw doubts at the people in the affairs of their worship. All praise is due to Allah that the rulings of worship are connected to things that are clear and manifest. The prayers are prayed at clearly established times: Fajr is at the onset of the true dawn till sunrise, Dhuhr is known by the midday sun when it casts a shadow, ‘Asr begins when a shadow of an object is equal to its height, Maghrib is after the Sun has set and ‘Ishā begins when the afterglow of redness in the sky disappears―all of these matters are clear. Likewise, with fasting in Ramadān―it is known by the sighting of the moon, and if not (due to cloud cover), then by the completion of the thirty days of Sha’bān. This is ease from Allah (the Most High) who said:

وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ

“And He did not place upon you in the Religion any difficulty.”[9]

So, in these times, you see these people organising conferences and conventions for the purpose of uniting on a single day to begin fasting (based on these calculations and predictions) in order to unite the Muslims who are divided.

Our response is that the Muslims have been fasting since the era of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) till now, and the people of Sunnah and Hadīth have never had a problem in following the Prophetic guidance. Dispute and disunity occur when the Sunnah is abandoned―and it is by returning to the Book and Sunnah that will unite the Muslims not by trying to unite them upon a singular start to Ramadan or a united moonsighting.

So, where are their calls to return to the Book and Sunnah in matters of ‘Aqeedah (belief), Tawheed, worship and Sunnah? Is it only the crescent moon (hilāl) they wish to unite around and focus on? This is due to their ignorance and it goes against what Allah has revealed.

Muslims will not be united except through the rectification of their beliefs. As for each sect carrying on in its own path, each having its own set of beliefs concerning Allah, then unity will never be achieved like that. In fact, they will hate each other, boycott one another and wars will break out between them and “every sect rejoices in what they have.”

As for the affair of fasting in Ramadan, even if they all started to fast on the same day, they will still not achieve this so-called unity because none of them will abandon their oppositions to the ‘aqeedah (belief) and the Sunnah.

If the new moon is seen in a particular land, then is everyone obligated by the sighting of that land?

Furthermore, it is possible that people in different lands will begin their fasting on differing days in accordance to their sighting of the moon or due to cloud cover. This happened in the time of the Sahābah yet that did not lead them to be divided because each of them followed the Sunnah.

So, the question arises: If the new moon is seen in a particular land, then is everyone bound 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.”[10] 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) mentioned 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,[11] 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,[12] 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.’”[13]

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. So, for this reason An-Nasā’ī gave this hadīth the chapter heading: “People of distant lands differ in their moonsighting” and At-Tirmidhi in his Sunan gave it the chapter heading: “For the people of every land, there is their own moonsighting.”

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.”[14]

So, if the people differ on which of these approaches to take, then the affair should be referred back to the scholars of Sunnah and Salafiyyah. If they conclude that one position is stronger than the other based on their ijtihād, then that is given consideration.

As for those who rebuke us, and instead utilise moon phase calculations and come with the ruling that when there is a contradiction between the physical sighting and the moon phase calculations (and predictions), then the physical sighting cannot be relied upon! They mean that acting upon the Prophetic narrations should be rejected in favour of calculations. 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 a 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. 

[1] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1900), Muslim (no. 1080).

[2] Muslim (no. 1080).

[3] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1907).

[4] So as not to confuse the reader the reader, I have used English meanings when numbering the nights, not Arabic. In Arabic, the number of the night is the same as the day that follows it, e.g. the 29th night comes before the 29th day. In English, the opposite is the case, the 29th night comes after the 29th day.

[5] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1909).

[6] Abu Dawūd (no. 2342), Ibn Hibbān (no. 3447), Al-Hākim (1/423) and authenticated by Al-Albāni in Al-Irwā (no. 908).

[7] One who practicing, praying, major sins are not apparent from him, a person of Tawhīd and Sunnah.

[8] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1913), An-Nasā’ī (no. 2140).

[9] Al-Hajj: 87.

[10] Al-Bukhāri (no. 1909), Muslim (no. 1081).

[11] In Arabic: Laylatul-Jumu’ah.

[12] In Arabic: Laylatul-Sabt.

[13] An-Nasā’ī (no. 2111), At-Tirmidhi (no. 696) and declared sahīh by Al-Albāni.

[14] Abu Dawūd (no. 2342), Ibn Hibbān (no. 3447), Al-Hākim (1/423) and authenticated by Al-Albāni in Al-Irwā (no. 908).


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