Resident Fatwa Committee
AMJA’s position on astronomical calculations for Ramadan and Eid
A number of facts should be mentioned concerning that which arose in relation to the call to rely on astronomical calculations in establishing the start of Ramadan and other months, instead of the moon sighting which has been the established practice of the Ummah over the centuries:
The physical moon sighting as required by Shari`ah is the basic method of establishing the birth of the crescent moon, due to the Prophet’s saying (saws) in the hadith which was related from him by nine of the Sahabah, “When you see the crescent moon, fast, and when you see it, break your fast, and if it is obscured from your vision, complete the month to thirty days.” [Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others]
This is also based on the hadith of Abd-Allah ibn Umar (raa) that Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The month is twenty-nine nights, so do not fast until you see it, then if it is obscured from your vision, complete the month to thirty.” Then, there is his saying (saws), “Do not fast until you see the crescent moon and do not break your fast until you see it, so if it is obscured from your vision, then calculate it.” He made the obligation of fasting dependent on the sighting of the crescent moon, not on just its presence, so it was known that what the Legislator (the Prophet, saws) intended in this respect is the sighting of the crescent moon as opposed to fixed times, as is the case with the prayer, for the obligation of the prayer depends on the occurrence of the fixed time, not on seeing it. The prayer has been commanded at the passing of the sun’s zenith, the disappearance of the red glow of twilight, or the rising of dawn; it is not dependent upon seeing these times or witnessing them. In this way, the difference between the prayer and fasting becomes apparent, and it is also because the consensus of the vast majority of the scholars of this Ummah has converged on this point over the centuries.
The people of knowledge whose stance it is to rely on calculations in confirming the start of Ramadan based on their interpretation on his saying (saws), “…so if it is obscured from your vision, then calculate it.” They said that is only if the moon is actually obscured and that the verdict only applies to the person calculating. As for holding this opinion in the case of a clear sky and generalizing the verdict to the entire Ummah as an alternative to the physical sighting, this is a newly invented thing which has not been written—to the extent of our knowledge—in any book of the Muslims before.
Since the physical moon sighting required in Shari`ah is the basic rule in this respect, then the crux of the matter—as long as it is not overcome by some strong charge, such as absolutely contradictory hard facts, known and agreed upon among specialists, the truth of which has not been stretched by anything of a dubious nature (noting the abundance of rash judgments in claiming absolute fact in this field)—is that the reason for calling people to rely on astronomical calculations alone (overlooking the physical sighting in establishing the crescent moon), is because sight is subjective and calculation is objective. This is a conjectural consideration because what is objective in the calculating is the time of the birth of the crescent moon. As for the ability to see it after its birth, those who calculate this have different schools of thought, and Shari`ah did not bind the issue of fasting to the birth of the crescent moon, but rather to it being seen. So the matter reverts right back to argument and the preference of one ijtihad over another.
As for the reason behind the call for a united stance of the Ummah on the two eids, this is conjecture as well. Or rather, it is dead wrong: because it is not known that one of the proper ways to bringing the Ummah together is to unite on a matter which the vast majority of Muslims hold to be innovatory, divergent from that which was practiced in the best of ages, and the opposite of which is still practiced in most countries in the Islamic world.
This matter is refuted by the generally held conviction of the vast majority of the Ummah in regard to Eid al-Adha, because on this day, everyone inevitably follows the pilgrims, for the Ummah cannot have but one Day of Arafah and one Eid al-Adha. So, if the astronomical calculations reach another conclusion, either it will divide the consensus in opposition to the pilgrims, or it will violate their particular decision to rely on scientific calculations; either way, there will be an inescapable contradiction.
Different moon sighting zones are not to be considered. So, if it has been established that the crescent moon has been seen in an Islamic country in accordance with Shari`ah, by the designated authorities, the Muslim communities living outside the lands of Islam will abide by it. Different zones are also not to be considered due to the generality of the command to fast and to break the fast, and that is due to the following considerations:
That this is the stance of the majority of the people of knowledge and the choice of the expert scholars amongst them.
That the reasoning behind the argument for considering different zones has vanished, for the easing and respite underlying the choice of this stance is no longer meaningful in light of technological developments in this day and age, when the whole world has transformed into something resembling a single village, and news can travel to all four corners of the globe in the blink of an eye!
Because this is closer to Allah’s objective of harmony and agreement, and a step on the path to uniting the Ummah and speaking with one voice.
It does not stir up regional sensitivities, for whichever Islamic country announces the moon sighting, the Islamic communities will follow them; their opinion is to be relied on and acted upon.
It eliminates the difficulty caused by considering different zones when the sighting in the West contradicts the sighting of the people of Mecca in Eid al-Adha, such that the people of this opinion would be between two choices: either go against the pilgrims, which would involve opposing the scholarly consensus, and thereby clashing with Islamic sentiment, or agreeing with the pilgrims which would involve contradicting the opinion they had chosen according to principles of jurisprudence.
AMJA has not adopted the ijtihad of those who consider different sighting zones for the following reasons:
It is not preferable from the viewpoint of fiqh, because the majority of the people of knowledge hold that different zones should not be considered.
It is difficult to come together under any particular administrative body due to the present circumstances in the West in general, or within the United States in particular, due to the wide variety of independent juristic opinions in fiqh and da`wah and the overlap of factional and regional considerations.
The significant difficulty that affects Islamic sentiment when the moon sighting in Dhul-Hijjah does not correspond with the sighting in the Hijaz, for something akin to a practical consensus has formed that everyone should follow the people of Mecca on this day. For that reason, many of the scientists and those who hold the opinion that different moon sightings should be considered rely on the sighting in Saudi Arabia for Eid al-Adha, even though it might appear to contradict their principles and juristic preferences in this situation.
That said, all success is from Allah and may peace and blessing be upon our prophet, Muhammad, and upon his household and his companions.