Establishing Ramadhan and Other Islamic Dates
By: Muhammad Jibaly
In the name of Allah Most Beneficent Most Merciful
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)". [Al-Baqarah (2) 189]
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 abah (Radiya `Llahu `anhum) reported that the Prophet (salla `Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
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 to obscure to you, then fast thirty days. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
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:
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.." [Authentic; narrated by Ahmad, an-Nassa`i and ad-Daraqutni]
Many ulamaa 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:
"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). [Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and An-Nassa`i]
Abu Dawud`s narration adds further: "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 c