By Dr. Minhaj Qidwai
[Qidwai, Minhaj A. is a medical doctor, with Masters in Health and Business Administration from USA. He is a medico-marketing consultant in North America.]
Muslims start their holy month after sighting the moon, and witnesses are the source of authenticity for the moon sighting. With the advancement in science, we also take into account the astronomical forecasting about the new moon and the initiation of the Islamic month. However, we still debate endlessly for the right date of the moon sighting. The moon sighting has become sore topic for Muslims, especially during Ramadan and Eid. This year was no different. It has been customary that currently, Eid is celebrated based on two concepts i.e. a universal moon sighting, and local sighting. The people following the universal concept follow the moon sighting in Saudi Arabia, and those depending on local moon sighting are from the other group. Usually, Eid till now was celebrated on two different days in North America as we witness throughout the world. However, it was for the first time that on this Eid, the two schools of thoughts in America joined together to celebrate Eid on a single day. However, in Canada Eid was celebrated on three different days. This has reopened the Pandora box of debate that who was right and who was wrong. The objective of this article is not to determine this factor, but to lay down the background of the subject and let the readers decide. Indeed, it is embarrassing when the people of other faith ask us about this controversy and we do not a satisfactory answer. Our children feel humiliated when they are asked this question from their peers in their schools, and they feel dumb. Starting a month after the sighting of moon is what recommended in Islam, and it has to be followed. Following is the information available from various sources on the topic.
A. New moon determines Islamic Dates (1):
· Allah has set crescent sighting as the only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions such as the Eid 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 Ramadan.
· A large number of Companions reported 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." [Bukhaari 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 Ramadan or complete thirty days before starting to fast.
· Hazrat A'ishah said: The Messenger of Allah (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 Ramadan]. If it were obscured, he would count thirty days [of Sha'baan] then fast" [Ahmad and Abu Dawood]
B. 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 Allah (S) said: "If two just Muslims testify (that they saw it) then fast or break your fast" [Daraqutni 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 Ramadan]. I informed the Prophet (S) that I saw it. So he fasted [on the following day] and ordered the people to fast." [Abu Dawood]
C. 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 Islam and the Prophet (S) rejected it. Ibn Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah (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)" [Bukhaari and Muslim and Abu Dawood].
Abu Dagwood's narration further ads: "Thus Ibn Umar used to end his fasting with the rest of the people without relying on these computations".
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 consensus 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).
Astronomical evidence for this Eid-al-Fitr, as per the info provided at moonsighting.com (2) is following:
Eid-al-Fitr: The Astronomical New Moon is on Wednesday, November 2, 2005, at 1:25 Universal Time, i.e. November 1, 8:25 PM Eastern Standard Time - or 5:25 PM Pacific Standard Time. On November 2, the moon would be about 24 hours old on West Coast of USA and still not visible even by telescopes, because the moon will be in Southern Hemisphere. It could be seen in South America (with difficulty by naked eye) and possibly in South Africa (with aided eye - Binocular/telescope). Although it may be possible to see a moon in perfect conditions in some South American countries like Chile, it is highly unlikely, because the moon is setting in less than 25 minutes after the sunset (in Santiago, Chile), and the sky is too bright wit h the glare of the sun even after 25 minutes. "ISNA accepts sighting within 48 contiguous states of USA and the whole North America is outside all possible visibility curves. So, Eid in North America is expected to be on Friday, November 4, 2005. Similarly, in Europe, Asia, Middle East and Australia, Eid is expected to be on Friday, November 4, 2005, if sighting is the criterion. Visibility curve for November 3 is also given below: