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Concerning Fasting
  The Rulings of Ramadaan
Author: Islamic Society of the University of Essex
Article ID : IBD090003  [30275]  
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2. AL-HILAAL (Sighting of the New Moon)

by Shaikh Muhammad al-Jibaly

As the blessed month of Ramadaan approaches, we hear the usual concerns and debates regarding the determination of its beginning and end. We find people attempting to propagate various opinions in this regard. Some of these opinions require reliance on astronomical computations.

Others follow the moon-sighting of particular countries, and others believe in differences of zones, while at the same time they consider all the the North American or the African continent as one zone!

Some of these opinions are influenced by attitudes and policies towards certain regions and countries. This is surely subject to the warnings of the Messenger (S): "He is not of us who calls to party spirit/tribalism". Others are based on hasty and shallow conclusions from the available evidences.

New moons determine Islamic Dates
Allaah has set crescent sighting as the only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions such as the Eed and Hajj. He says:

{They ask you concerning the new moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for pilgrimage (hajj)} [Baqarah 2:189]

In particular the Messenger (S) emphasized that crescent sighting is required in determining the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadaan. A large number of Companions reportet that the Messenger (S) said: "Fast when you see the crescent. If it is obscured to you, then complete thirty days of Sha'baan. And break your fast when you see the crescent. If it is obscured to you then fast thirty days." [Bukhaaree and Muslim]

The Prophet (S) took great care to determine precisely the beginning of Sha'ban, because one can count twenty nine days and watch for the crescent of Ramadaan or complete thirty days before starting to fast. Aa'eshah said: The Messenger of Allaah (S) used to be more concerned about determining the beginning of Sha'baan than about other months. Then he used to fast at the sighting [of the crescent of Ramadaan]. If it were obscured, he would count thirty days [of Sha'baan] then fast" [Ahmad and Abbu Daawood]

Witnesses needed to establish the month
The scholars agree that two trustworthy Muslim witnesses are sufficient to establish moon sighting. This is based on the reports of a large number of Companions, that the Messenger of Allaah (S) said: "If two just muslims testify (that they saw it) then fast or break your fast" [Darqutnee and Ahmad]
Many other scholars, however 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 said: "People were looking for the crescent [of Ramadaan]. I informed the Prophet (S) that I saw it. So he fasted [on the following day] and ordered the people to fast." [Abu Daawood]

Astronomical Evidence
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 Islaam and the Prophet (S) rejected it. Ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allaah (S) said: "We are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing or computation [for our fasting]. A month is 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 he pointed with his hands three times, meaning thirty days)" [Bukhaaree and Muslim and Abu Daawood].

Abu Daawood's narration further adds: "Thus Ibn Umar used to end his fasting with the rest of the people without relying on these computations".

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