AMJA’s method of deciding the beginning of an Islamic (Hijri) month

Author: Resident Fatwa Committee
| Category: Fasting

With the days of Eid-ul-fitr approaching, the usual commotion around the beginning of the Eid and the end of Ramadan is apparent. The same disagreement about the Shawal moon sighting and declaring the end of Ramadan is prevalent across the Muslim communities in North America. AMJA would like first to extend its warm congratulation for Eid-ul-fitr to the Muslim Ummah, all over the world and especially in the US and Canada. AMJA also strongly emphasizes the importance of unity amongst ourselves, and encourages the Muslims to rise above their disagreements. To be united is always better than to be divided, if our unity is based on our obedience to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). AMJA would like to draw all of our attentions towards the basic fact of the matter, which is that the issue of moon sighting as a whole is among the debatable issues from a jurisprudential (Fiqh) point of view. The details of the issue is as follows:

Whether to consider Ittihad-ul-Matali’ or not:

Does the command of Allah in the verse “whomever witnesses the month, then he should fast it” and in the Hadeeth of the Prophet (peace be upon him) “Fast when you see it (the new moon of Ramadan) and stop fasting when you see it (the new moon of Shawal)” refer to the entire Ummah simultaneously or to each individual country to locality. If the command refers to the entire Ummah, then wherever the moon is sighted, it becomes obligatory on all the Muslims to start (or stop) fasting (Ittihad-ul-Matali`), as long as the other countries share at least a part of the night with the place in which the moon was sighted. If the command refers to the different localities then every location need to seek their own sighting (Ikhtilaf-ul-Matali).

The recommendations and rulings from the third conference of the assembly of Islamic research, held in Cairo, Egypt in September 1966 (Jumada-Al-Akher 1386) adopted Ittihad-ul-Matali` methodology, based on the condition mentioned above (sharing part of the night). If the two localities do not have any part of the night common, then different moon sightings need to be sought. Similar ruling (Ittihad-ul-Matali`) was also adopted by the assembly of Muslim Jurisit of the Islamic Summit Conference, held in Amman 1407.

Should the scientific (astronomical) visibility calculations be adopted?

It should be used to prove the validity of the eye sighting, but cannot be used as a sole source to start or to and any lunar month, this was the conclusion reached the same conference held in Cairo, Egypt in 1386:

Eye sighting is the way that should be used to decide on the start of the month, if this sighting is reliable.

The reliability of the sighting is collaborated by either a shared sighting between a large group of people, or even one single individual, be it male of female, if the sighting does not contradict decisive scientific visibility calculations.

The ruling regarding whoever sighted the moon himself, but his sighting was not adopted by the group of Mulsims for any reason?

The particular individual can either follow his own sighting or he can follow the group. Both openions were expressed by Muslim Scholars, however the majority of scholars has adopted the second opinion, for the Hadeeth of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that says “The beging of Ramdan is when you begin fasting, and the Eid day is when you stop fasting and Adha day is when you slaughter your animals (Eid-ul-Adha)” which basically means that deciding the begging and/or end of the month is a group decision, once it is reached by the group, it should be adopted by all of the individual members of that group.

The previous paragraphs briefly summarized the jurisprudential differences about the issue of the sighting. The golden rule in such matters where there is a genuine acceptable difference of opinions is that there should be no condemnation in such debatable issues. A Muslim should simply follow any of the two opinions as adopted by his country or community, even if he believes that the other opinion is closer to the truth.

AMJA also favors the opinion that the individual should differentiate between starting Ramadan and starting Shawal. If he witnesses the crescent of Ramadan is a sighting that was not adopted by the community he should fast himself, in secret such that he would not stir controversy around himself. However if he witnessed the beinging of Shawal in a sighting that was not adopted by the community then he should continue to fast this one extra day with the group.

The issue of adopting a moon sighting is a governmental issue in the first place, meaning that the authority or government is the only entity that is capable of settling the dispute, by adopting one stand versus the other. Disagreement with the accepted legal authority is a form of rebellion that is inexplicable. It is the absence of such a counseling or governmental authority that keeps the dispute in the issue dragging. Only such an authority can settle the disagreement and end the debate.

And due to the lack of such an authority, it became prudent upon AMJA to adopt the ruling of Ittihad-ul-Matali`. Whenever the new Ramadan moon is sighted in a country or locality and the sighting was consequently adopted by that country, it becomes mandatory to start the fasting in all countries that share at least a part of the night with the sighting country. Unless of course that the country that is adopting the sighting has been known to go against the consensus of the Ummah for its own political Agenda. This is the easiest to implement and most correct methodology to adopt for Muslims living in the west. A direct contact should be established with the scholars in charge of adopting the Fatwa in that country to verify their acceptance of the sighting. AMJA delegates adopting scientific visibility calculations as part of adopting the sighting to the particular country with the sighting (at least from a practical point of view) for the following reasons:

This is the same opinion adopted by the majority of scholars, and was recommended by the authoritative scholars.

The argument for Ikhtilaf-ul-Matali` is no longer valid with the huge advancement in communications technology. News travel across the globe in a matter of seconds.

This opinion is closer to achieve an important goal of this religion, which is uniting the Muslims.

This opinion does not favor a country or create any form or regional tension, whichever country adopts a sighting, all countries, and communities should follow.

Removing whatever hardship arising because of Ikhtilaf-ul-Matali` in Eid-ul-Adha if the local sighting is different from the sighting in Mecca. The followers of this opinion will have one of tow choices: either to disagree with the pilgrims, breaking the global Muslim unity, or to agree with the pilgrims and leave their opinion.

Why did AMJA not adopt the Ikhtilaf-ul-Matali opinion?`

For a number of reasons among which:

It is a weaker opinion from a Fiqh point of view, as mentioned above.

Outside Muslim countries, it is difficult from a practical point of view to gather around one single entity in our current circumstances, due to the prevalent differences of opinions, priorities, and local conditions.

The extreme difficulty faced during Dul-Hija moon sighting, it is now a global consensus that people follow the pilgrimage in that particular situation. Breaking such a practical consensus is very ill advised. Even strict followers of this opinion, adopt the sighting in Mecca for these reasons, even that this is completely against their methodology.

The difference of opinions about adopting the scientific visibility calculations, even though AMJA favors the opinion that these calculations should be used to reject an impossible sighting, but can not be used as the sole source to rely on for a beginning of the month.

Above all; our aim is only to please Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), we only seek his guidance.

Resident Fatwa Committee

AMJA Resident Fatwa Committee.
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