GUEST AUTHOR: By Asma bint Shameem
I remember when I was a kid, we would go up to the roof of our house on the 29th of Sha’baan and try to look for the new moon of Ramadhaan. It brings backs fond memories to the mind and I can’t help but smile at the happiness and excitement that I felt as a kid trying to sight the new moon, perching on tiptoes, competing with my brother to spot it before he could!
I also remember the joy, simply at the anticipation of sighting the new moon, be it for Ramadhaan or Eid…..Will we begin the fasting tomorrow???Will it be Eid tomorrow???
And when we did actually see it, the delight…indescribable, the giggles…uncontrollable!
Sighting the moon was such a sweet joyful experience and it was part of the whole spirit of Ramadhaan. It only added to the sacred beauty and sanctity of the blessed month, and to our Ibaadah and submission to Allaah.
And now, many years later, as another Ramadhaan approaches us, I look forward to another chance to look for the moon, this time with my kids, teaching them the importance of this Sunnah, sharing with them their innocent joy and excitement…their delight at seeing the bright crescent that brings glad tidings of a blessed month full of mercy and barakah.
And why shouldn’t it be so???
Yet nowadays, people have abandoned this beautiful Sunnah and have resorted to calculations, without even attempting to sight the moon. They just sit at home, rely on a calendar and start their fasting based on calculations.
They forget that, to search for the new moon is an ACT OF IBAADAH and a means of EARNING REWARD from Allaah.
The Order from Allaah is to SEE the new moon
Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta’ala commands us to SEE the moon and then to start fasting. He said:
فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ
So whoever among you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadhaan), he must observe sawm (fast) that month…” [al-Baqarah 2:185]
Here Allaah uses the word شَهِدَ which means to SEE something with the eye.
It is the SUNNAH of our beloved Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam)
The Sunnah is ‘seeing’ and not mere ‘knowledge’ of moon’s existence above the horizon. There is a major difference between the ‘birth’ of the moon and actually ‘seeing’ it. The moon might be ‘born’ but it is not always possible to immediately ‘see’ it. It may NOT be visible to the human eye.
We need to realize that the month of Ramadhaan does not begin with the ‘birth’ of the moon. It does not even begin when it becomes ‘possible’ to sight the moon. The month of Ramadan, begins according to the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam), with the actual SIGHTING of the moon. This means a human EYE has to ‘see’ the crescent of Ramadhaan.
There are many, many Ahaadeeth encouraging us to ‘look’ ( with our eyes) for the new moon.
The Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
“Do not fast until you ‘SEE’ the new moon, and do not stop fasting until you ‘SEE’ it, and if it is concealed by clouds then count out (the thirty days of Sha’baan ) for it.” (Bukhaari, Muslim).
Reflect on the words of the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam). What is he telling us to do?
He is clearly telling us to start and stop fasting when we sight the moon and then he’s saying something really important. He’s telling us “if it is concealed by clouds”. That means that he is well aware of the fact that the moon might be behind the clouds. So it is ‘born’. It is there behind the clouds. It is present. Yet if we cannot SEE it, we are not supposed to start fasting, even if it is there behind the clouds.
Nothing could be clearer than that!
Aaishah (Radhi Allaahu anha) said,
“The Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) used to count the days in Sha’baan more carefully than at any other time, then he would fast when he sighted (the new moon) of Ramadhaan.” (al-Daaraqutni–saheeh).
The Sahaabah would actually SIGHT the moon
Ibn ‘Umar Radhi Allaahu anhu said: “The people went out to sight the new moon and I told the Messenger of Allaah (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) that I had seen it, so he fasted and told the people to fast.” (Abu Dawood)
And Anas ibn Maalik Radhi Allaahu anhu said: “We were with ‘Umar between Makkah and Madeenah and we looked for the new moon. I was a man who had keen eyesight and I sighted it…”
Say NO to calculations!
Now if something is a clear Order of Allaah, an established Sunnah of the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) and an undisputed practice of the Sahaabah, why would anyone want to go against it or do otherwise? Yet there are people who resort to calculating the beginning or end of an Islaamic month.
Allaah knew exactly what progress would be made in astronomy and other sciences. He knew that there will come a time when it would be easy to calculate the birth of the moon. Yet, in spite of that, He ordered us with His Infinite Knowledge and Wisdom, to ‘see’ the new moon and He instructed His Messenger (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) to teach his Ummah the same.
Argument: But there were no calculations back then. So can I resort to calculations now?
Now someone might say that at the time of the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) there were no calculations, but now that we do, what’s the harm in it? But the fact of the matter is that astronomical calculations did exist at the time of the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) and even way before that. Astronomy and its calculations have been around for literally thousands of years before the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam)’s time, some say around 5000 BC. Yet he (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) specifically told us NOT to calculate the birth of the moon; rather he told us to try and see it. He (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
“We are an unlettered nation, we do not write or calculate. The month is such-and-such” and he gestured with his hands three times, and held down his thumb the third time, then he said, “or the month is such-and-such” and he gestured with all of his fingers, meaning that the month may be twenty-nine days or it may be thirty. (Bukhaari, Muslim)
In this hadeeth, when the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) is saying that “we do not write or calculate”, he is telling us to stay away from calculating the birth of the new moon and that there is no need to resort to astronomical calculations. He (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) is not telling us to be ignorant or uneducated. He is also not saying that Muslims shouldn’t calculate other things. Actually, if you think about it, Islam is the religion of knowledge. In order for us to be good practicing Muslims, we have to calculate. Don’t we calculate zakaat every year? Doesn’t inheritance and the distribution of property after someone dies require calculations?
This hadeeth is specifically telling us to stay away from calculations.
Ibn Taymiyah said:
“It is a basic fact of Islam that we must sight the crescent moon with regard to fasting, Hajj, ‘iddah,… and other rulings that are connected to the lunar calendar. There are many texts from the Prophet which indicate that, and the Muslims are unanimously agreed on that. No difference of opinion was known concerning that in the past or in modern times, apart from some fuqaha’ after the third century AH, who claimed that if the new moon is covered by clouds it is permissible for an astronomer to follow calculations himself, so that if his calculations indicate that the moon could have been sighted he may fast, otherwise he should not. This view, even though it is subject to the condition that there be clouds and it applies only to the astronomer, it is an odd view that is outweighed by the consensus on the opposite view. With regard to following calculations when the sky is clear or applying the results of the calculations to the general public, this is something that no Muslim has ever suggested.
The scholars were unanimously agreed that it is not permissible to rely on calculations for proving the beginning and end of the fast and so on. Al-Haafiz narrated in al-Fath (4/127) that al-Baaji said: “The consensus of the salaf is that calculations should not be relied on, and their consensus is proof for those who come after them.”
The Council of Senior Scholars issued an important statement on this topic:
“The Council has studied the issue of proving the new moon by means of calculation, and what has been narrated in the Qur’aan and Sunnah, and they have studied the comments of the scholars on this matter. They have decided unanimously that astronomical calculations carry no weight in determining the new moon with regard to Islamic matters, because the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “Fast when you see it and stop fasting when you see it.” And he (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam) said: “Do not fast until you see it, and do not stop fasting until you see it.” And because of other evidence to that effect.” (Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 10/102)
Can we use a telescope to spot the moon?
It is permissible to use telescopes etc. to sight the moon, because the telescope is just an aid to assist the human EYE, and it is different from calculating the time of the birth of the moon. Someone asked Shaikh al-Munajjid about using telescopes. He said, “Yes, it is permissible”.
Sighting the new moon of Ramaadhan is a Fardh Kifaayah
The majority of scholars are of the view that sighting the new moon of Ramadhaan on the first night of the month is a Fardh Kifaayah (communal obligation). This means that if everyone abandons ‘looking’ for the moon, then we are all sinful.
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen said:
“It is obligatory to witness the new moon for establishing certain acts of worship. If these acts are obligatory, such as fasting Ramadhaan and Hajj, then witnessing the new moon also becomes obligatory on at least a part of the Muslim Ummah (Fardh Kifaayah). That is because, “what is necessary to fulfill the requirements of an obligation is an obligation itself.”
The Sunnah Dua upon seeing the new moon
The Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) even taught us the dua to read when we see the new moon. So make an effort to sight the Ramadhaan moon with full attention and eagerness and say this prayer on sighting it:
SO REVIVE THE SUNNAH!
It is a part of the beauty of Islam anticipating when fasting will start. When will Eid be? This builds up the excitement and love of these blessed times. And there is deepest wisdom in how Allah Subhaanahu wa Ta’ala ordained these issues. This was the way of the Prophet (sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam), the Sahaabah, and the Early generations, including the Four Imams.
Yet, it is sad to see many Muslims getting lost in the fast track world of machines and calculations and neglecting this act of Sunnah, thus losing out on the chance to earn reward from their Rabb for following the Prophet (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) and his guidance.
So revive the Sunnah, work hard at it and don’t belittle it. Practice it yourself, teach it to your children and others. Reviving aspects of the Sunnah that are being forgotten is one of the most important charitable deeds that a person can do during his lifetime and is a deed that will bring an immense reward
“Whoever revives an aspect of my Sunnah that is forgotten after my death, he will have a reward equivalent to that of the people who follow him, without it detracting in the least from their reward.” (Tirmidhi– hasan)
He (sal Allahu alayhi wasallam) also said:
‘Pay attention to my Sunnah and the way of the Rightly-guided Khaleefahs after me, adhere to it and hold fast to it.’(Saheeh Abi Dawud)
And Allaah says:
“And he who brings the Truth and he who confirms (and supports) it — such are the men who do right. They shall have all that they wish for, with their Rabb. Such is the reward of those who do good: so that Allah will remit from them (even) the worst in their deeds and give them their reward according to the best of what they have done.” (Surah az-Zumar:33-35)
And Allaah knows best.