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Concerning Fasting
  The Rulings of Ramadaan
Author: Islamic Society of the University of Essex
Article ID : IBD090003  [34964]  
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This shows that the Messenger (S) wanted to keep this worship simple and at the level of the common people, away from the influence of control of specialized scientific knowledge (whether sound or doubtful). This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyah stated, that the description of this nation here as being illiterate is one of praise in that the nation is independent of any complicated means in the performance of its basic acts of worship. Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the concensus of the scholars and would spoil the beauty and simplicity of this religion, and worst of all, would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger of Allaah (S).

Misconception: The true beginning of a month
A very common misconception and a great concern for many people is that if we do not do our utmost to confirm (by astronomical evidence or otherwise) the testimonies of those who claim to have seen the moon then we might run the risk of nullifying some of our worship by fsting on wrong days. This approach is rejected on several grounds:

1. It involves casting doubt about the truthfulness of just muslims. This is forbidden in the texts of the Qur'aan and the Sunnah

2. It conflicts with the practice of the Messenger of Allaah (S) who acted on the sighting of the people without delay and without comparing it with astronomical evidence.

3. It resembles the behaviour of the Jews who tightened the laws on themselves. Therefore Allaah punished them by making their laws even more stringent. The Messnger of Allaah (S) said: "Beware of exaggeration in religion. Indeed, those before you were destroyed because of their exaggeration in religion" [Nasaa'ee]

4. It displays an ignorance of when an Islamic month really begins. This point is explained by Ibn Taymiyah:

"Many people think that once the new moon rises in the skies, regardless of whether the people see it or not that night would be the first of the month. This is not correct! It should appear to the people and they should see it to start the month. That is why the Messenger of Allaah (S) said: "[True] fasting starts on the day that your start" which means: this is the day you know as being the time to fast. If you did not know it, then it would carry no value for you". [Al Fataawaa 5/203]

This view is further clarified by the following narration: Abu al-Bukhturee said: "We went to the Minor Pilgrimage and saw the crescent of Ramadaan at Dhaatu-Irq. It seemed to have been two or three nights old. Later, we met Ibn Abbaas and mentioned this to him. Ibn Abbaas informed us that Allaah's Messenger (S) said: "Allaah has set crescent sighting as an indication of Ramadaan. Thus Ramadaan starts on the night that you see it. If it is obscured, then complete the count". [Muslim]

But what if those claimed sighting of the new moon were lying or mistaken? As long as they are apparently acceptable and trustworthy muslims, we must follow their testimony and fast (or end the fast). We have absolutely no right to reject their testimony without a definite proof (applying the means which conform with the Sunnah, as outlined above). If they happen to be indeed lying then the sin will be only theirs, and we will be rewarded, if Allaah wills, for sticking of the Sunnah.

Unification of Sighting Locations
The above hadeeths carry a general command to all muslims to abide by the crescent sighting. In the same spirit, Abu Hurairah, Aa'eshah and others reported that the Messenger of Allaah (S) said: "[True] fasting starts on the day that you start fasting; [true] Fitr (that is Eed) is on the day that you end your fasting; [true] Adhaa (that is Eed) is on the day that you offer your sacrifice". [Abu Daawood and Tirmidhee]

Thus, when the moon is sighted anywhere on the earth, by at least one trustworthy muslim, this means that the whole Ummah has sighted it. Based on this, as the above hadeeth indicates all members of the Ummah are required to observe the new month as long as the informatation reaches them in a reasonable amount of time to be able to act upon it.

The above discussion may be summarized in the following points:

1. The beginning of an Islamic month may be determined (for purposes of fasting, pilgrimage and other Islamic occasions) only through naked eye sighting of the new crescents or after the completion of thirty days for Sha'baan.

2. Astronomical evidence may not be used to establish moon sighting or to verify or refute the sighting of trustworthy muslims. Such calculations have been shown to be inaccurate, are not to be relied upon and are the cause of disputes and divisions amongst the muslims

3. Once the new moon is sighted anywhere in the earth, people in all places who learn about the sighting in a reasonable amount of time to be able to use it must do so.

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