The moon is the natural satellite orbiting the Earth. It revolves around the planet from west to east at a distance of 239,900 miles per hour. The moon is less than one-third the size of the earth. The moon rotates on its own axis and takes around 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes to orbit the earth. (Encyclopaedia Britannica p.299 v.8)
The moon has 8 phases. It begins with the new moon and progresses through to the crescent.
The Islamic calendar is based on lunar months, which begin when the thin crescent moon is actually sighted after sunset within a day or so after the New Moon.
The visibility of the lunar crescent is a great importance to Muslims as from this the Islamic calendar is based. The sighting of the moon depends on many factors. In the first two days after the new moon it appears very low in the sky, which makes it difficult to see it. Sometimes, due to the condition i.e. if it is not cloudy it becomes visible.
Normally it takes between 18-22 hours to see the moon with the naked eye. (Source Internet)
As I mentioned above, in Islam to sight the moon with the naked eye is important as this determines the Islamic months. This is even more important during the month of Ramadhan and Shawwal as this will determine when we start fasting and celebrate Eid respectively.
Therefore, I have written the procedure of sighting the moon for Ramadhan and Eid, according to the Hanafi school of thought.
Sighting the moon for Ramadhan
- If the sky is not clear, then the testimony of a righteous Muslim (Aadil) whether it is a man or a woman, free or a slave, will be sufficient to start the month of Ramadhan. (Hidayah P.215 v.1)
The reason why one testimony will be sufficient is that the testimony is not like any other Shariah rulings (known as shahadah), but it is a Khabar (an information). Therefore, to give Khaber of something does not require a fixed number of witnesses. (Badaai-Sanaai p.576 v.2) Also, it is stated in a hadith “Verily a man came to Rasullullah (saw) and said, I have seen the Hillal (new crescent moon). Rasullullah (saw) said, do you bear testimony that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammed (saw) is the messenger of Allah? He replied yes. Rasullullah (saw) said, O Billal give the news amongst the people so that they fast tomorrow.”
(Abu Dawud Shareef p.320 v.1)
- If the sky is clear and he alone sees the moon of Ramadhan, than he will begin the fast, even if the imam does not accept his testimony. (Hidayah p.256 v.1)
This ruling can be derived from the following hadith; “fast when you see the moon and do iftaar when you see the moon.” (Bukhari p.256 v.1)
3.If there is no such obstruction in seeing the moon, then a group (three or more) will have to witness it to establish the beginning of Ramadhan. (Hidayah p.215 v.1)
4. The people should look for the moon on the 29th of shabaan. If they see it then they should fast the following day. However, if they cannot see it then they should complete the thirty days of shabaan and fast the day after. (Hindayah p.216 v.1)
Sighting the moon for Eid
1. If a person has seen the moon for Eid-Ul-Fitr i.e. Shawwal, then the person will not celebrate Eid by himself.
- If the sky is clear i.e. there is no such obstruction then the testimony of a group is necessary to celebrate the Eid the following day.
- If there is an ob struction in the sky, which limits the viewing of the moon, then only the testimony of two men or one man and to women will be accepted. (Hindayah p.216 v.1) (Bukhari p.256 v.1)
In the UK where the moon is difficult to see we therefore, take the news of sighting of the moon from another country, which is closest to us. This known as “Ikhtilaafi-Mataali”
Apart from Imam Shafee (ra) other schools of thought agree that if the moon cannot be sighted in one country due to some valid reasons, then it is permissible to follow information gained from another country. (Raddul-muhtar p.363 v.3)
Therefore when “Ikhtilaafi-Mataali” is permissible, we have to follow the closest Islamic country to the UK.
Mohammed Tosir Miah
Darul Ifta Birmingham