Your letter raised a number of issues, so I have divided this article into four questions: (a) the fiqh ruling of rejecting a testimony [shahada] that contradicts unquestioned computation [hisab qat‘i; i.e., astronomical data]; (b) the maximum extent [tahdid] of the local sighting-zone [matla‘ mahall al-ru’ya] according to both fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] and falak [astronomy]; (c) the precedence of a sighting [ru’ya] in the East over the local sighting-zone; (d) the meaning of having a ‘universal’ and united ‘Id; and an introduction. I have called the article: “Matla‘ al-budur wa majma‘ al-sudur fi l-tawafuq baynal-fiqh wal-falak wa tazahur al-hisab wal-ru’ya” [The Risings of the Moon and the Meeting of Hearts concerning the Harmony between Islamic Jurisprudence and Astronomy and the Correlation of Computation and Sighting].
Allahumma hidayatan li-s-sawab!
To begin with, the hukm [legal ruling] for every Muslim to have knowledge of the local calendar (by knowing their respective sighting-zone or matla‘* with respect to the other matali‘ so that he or she whether a resident or a traveller may know the calendar for the various Wajib and/or communal ‘ibada that are to be performed throughout the year) is the same as the hukm of knowing the Qibla, so that it is Fard ‘Ayn for a traveller and Fard Kifaya for the resident [Shabramallisi, 3:156, cf. I‘anat. 2:220]; while when resident in a given zone [mahall], it is Fard ‘Ayn when there are only a few who have this knowledge, and Fard Kifaya, when there are many who know [Fadani, Mukhtasar, 3].
*Notes for students of Fiqh and Falak: Technically, “Matla‘” when found by itself in fiqh discussions concerning moonsighting refers to “matla‘ mahall al-ru’ya”, “sighting-zone of the area” (or equally acceptable, “sighting-zone of the region”). Thus “ittihad al-matla‘” means “the local sighting-zone” (or equally correct, “the same sighting-zone”); and “ikhtilaf al-matali‘ means “a different sighting-zone”. Although matla‘ literally means “starting point” or “a point of ascent for a celestial body” it is often used equivocally [mushtaraka] in falaki texts. A common usage of it, for example, is as the equivalent of the modern “right ascension” (RA). Other usages of matla‘ there may include matali‘ falakiyya [celestial ascension] (= matali‘ al-mamarr [lit. transit ascension] or even daraja al-mamarr [lit. the degree of transit]), and matali‘ al-nazir, the equivalent to nadir, and matali‘ al-waqt [time zones].
This is why in the Far East [sharq aqsa], for example, even those who are not religious scholars are given the option of learning falak shar‘i [Islamic astronomy] at schools or universities—as part of their communal duty; whereas it is expected for a religious student in a madrasa to be trained competently in the ancillary sciences of Miqat [timekeeping], Nayrayn [knowledge dealing with the movements of the two luminaries: the sun and the moon; although it deals chiefly with events caused by the latter], and ultimately, their mother science, Falak [astronomy], from which the times of the obligatory prayers, the Shuruq, Duha and the Zawal [ta‘rif al-awqat], the exact direction of the Qibla [simt al-qibla], the visibility predictions for the beginning of every lunar month [hukm imkan al-ru’ya] (and not only the three months of Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhu l-Hijja), and the occurrence of eclipses [‘amal al-khusufan] (even if Makruh in our school) can be known positively, with yaqin [certainty], and not simply based on judgement and/or estimation [zann] through ijtihad (the latter maqam is analogous to the conclusions reached without knowledge of Falak and Miqat such as the case oft-cited by our jurists of a prisoner in solitary confinement [al-mahbus fi mahall mazlam] estimating the relevant datum). As the great contemporary jurist and astronomer, Imam al-Fadani (may Allah be pleased with him!), reminds his students, knowledge of these data are fruits [thamra] of the science of falak, and they become in fact instruments [alat] of the Law (whether through the use of something physical, like the astrolabe [asturlab], or an extension from the physical world, such as pure computation based on almanacs and observation). This is why, as he says, astronomical instruments have a basis in the Shari‘a and furthermore, they make precise and certain what the Shari‘ [Lawgiver] has made obligatory and become a means [tariq] of the law without being an addition to it.
Because of the original ruling [asl] above concerning knowledge of the calendar, we find from the earliest times until now in every community or area or zone or region or country where Muslims have established themselves properly, an authority [literally, “Imam”, analogous to an Imam who leads the congregational [jama‘a] prayer, who is responsible for the mistakes made and who acts as the guarantor for the followers; which in this case could be a committee or council claiming to be one] to which those living there could refer concerning the local calendar. (To achieve this, they will have to organize and liaise with moonspotters [nazir al-hilal]: in Morocco, for example, the traditional Muwaqqit [timekeeper] in almost every town (and most madrasat) still perform this solemn duty and report to the Chief Qadi; and in many Muslim countries, there has always been the fixed or tried and tested sites suitable for moonspotting, which sometimes include, observatories [marsad] and where traditionally, families or young students would gather together to witness the beautiful creation of Hilal.) So strong is this authority that if someone in a country like Malaysia decided to celebrate ‘Id al-Adha on a day different from the calendar that was announced on the eve of Dhu l-Hijja by the local moonsighting committee (i.e., the authority in this case), even if it be a day that coincides with the ‘Id in Mecca, that person could be fined or even jailed (according to Section 9, of the Johor Shari‘a Criminal Act, 1997, for example). This action is indeed sanctioned by our Sacred Law and is the right of the temporal ruler [Imam or Amir], since the purpose of it is to ensure Muslims living in the same area or the local matla‘ follow the same calendar, celebrate ‘Id and fast uniformly. Without this uniform calendar for a given area, the society concerned would be adversely affected (it becomes worst in the sight of Allah if the distance between two mosques that have different calendars is no more than the minimum distance of Qasr [travelling, i.e., approx. 96 km], as Muslims in the Far West [bilad al-afranj] should be able to empathize with fully). All of this is clearly encapsulated in the following general legal principle [qa‘ida]:
taSarrufu l-imAmi ‘ala r-ra‘iyyati manUTun bi l-maSlaHati [the decisions of the authority on behalf of the subjects are dependent upon the public interest].
This episode (of Muslims in the UK having to choose between two ‘Ids) shows that at the very least, as our fiqh references make clear, individual Muslims living in the Far West should be aware of their communal responsibilities (namely, regulating their own calendar is as vital and Wajib as determining their Qibla). And for the UK specifically, there must be a national authority to establish the calendar and whose decision the community there must follow for their own public interest (even if the community believes it to be the wrong decision); the decision cannot in the end be an impossible choice of giving the option to their community of choosing between two ‘Ids. If there were to be such an impossible choice, then their raison d’etre [sabab al-wujud] would no longer exist. It is religious- as well as common-sense, and in fact it becomes a religious necessity [darura] that there should not be thousands of mosque committees throughout the country deciding the calendar by themselves (and consequently carrying the heavy burden of responsibility in the sight of Allah and who in the Next world will have to answer for their decisions). It is only wise and safe for them instead to devolve this weighty decision to a nationwide authority, as is the case with all of the other well established Muslim societies and countries.
As for the First Question:
"It does admittedly bother me that we are accepting the testimony of sighting when all experience, and all experts too, tell us that such a sighting is impossible (I have looked at moonsighting.com and hilal-sighting.com for verification, and they are unequivocal about the rejection of the report). Can you inform me about the Shariatic position of such testimony--is it indeed regarded as void?"
Yes, the shahada could be invalidated by the authority. In this case, the trained Hakim or Qadi who in the process of declaring or establishing the crescent [thubut al-hilal] on the night of sighting has the right to reject the testimony after cross-examining the witness (in our fiqh texts (for example, in the Fath al-Mu‘in: I‘anat, 2:216) this appears simply as “bayna yadayhi al-qADI” or “‘inda l-qADI”)—and the Qadi must strive to judge by the standards of what is yaqin (i.e., from facts) and not at the level of zann, as the faqih-and-falaki, Qadi al-Batawi (may Allah be pleased with him!), concludes that the authority must examine two things (1) the witness [i.e., unzur ila man qal] and (2) the testimony [i.e., unzur ila maqal]: “the judge must be cautious when he wants to declare the fast or the ‘Id, and he may declare that [fast or ‘Id] once the crescent passes [the local position] without there being any doubt or fraud, owing to its remoteness and the small size of its body. He must examine the witness and make sure of their credibility, being vigilant regarding them and clearing them of suspicion and allegation [by making sure that their testimony is of a high standard; see the following]. He must then examine the testimony which must be in agreement with the conditions already described [i.e., that the testimony does not contradict certain physical facts, see below on hisab qat‘i] and with the judgements of [definite and unquestioned] computation [i.e., astronomical data] as to the possibility or impossibility of sighting it.” [Sullam, 1:10]. Thus the authority has the right to reject a moosighting testimony if it is discovered that the crescent was not ‘positively’ sighted, whether owing to a criminal case of perjury [khabar al-kadhib] or to a simple error of sighting something else [khabar al-ghalat; for example: the evidence or report submitted by the witness [ra’i] that the object sighted was in an impossible position—on the eastern horizon [ufuq sharqi], for instance—or sighted at the wrong time (for instance, after the moonset [i.e., makth al-hilal fi l-ufuq ba‘da l-ghurub or qaws al-makth; the lag time for the moon above the local horizon after sunset] plus ghurub [sunset] is equal to moonset; or simply, in modern terminology: ghurub al-hilal)]*.
$$Arjuzah fi qabul shahadat al-ru’ya ‘inda l-Qadi$$ iHfaZhA!
An unworthy soul has composed the following verses for the one lost in blindly following someone else:
lA budda li-l-imAmi qaT‘a r-ru’yati # an yatahAfaZa li-raf‘i t-tuhmati
aD-DAbiTu l-awwalu naZru man naTaq # lA tansa ba‘dahu ‘tibAra mA wafaq
[The authority must, when declaring sighting, take care so there is no finger-pointing. The first rule is to look at the one speaking; thereafter don’t forget to check that it is fitting!]
Among our jurists was Imam al-Subki (may Allah be pleased with him!), who was unequivocal when addressing a case where fiqh and falak appeared to be in conflict: “if one or two witnessed sighting the crescent, whereas the judgement of computation is that it is impossible to sight the crescent”; he says: “this testimony is not accepted, since astronomical computation [hisab] is definite [qat‘i]** while testimony and report are probable [zann] and [there is the fiqh rule of] ‘the probable cannot contradict the definite’ [al-zannu lA yu‘AriDu l-qaT‘a]” [Subki, 1:226; cf. Mughni, 2:143 and I‘anat, 2:216]. The most well known Muhaqqiq of our school, Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him!) qualified and explained further the meaning of hisab under discussion: “if its specialists agreed that [for a given computation] its premises [i.e., its equations, axioms and mathematical procedure (i.e., the purely rational premises) and also, its long-term empirical data and observations [arsad wa tajarib tawila] relied upon to reach the result of a given computation] are definite, and the reporters of that [computation] from them number in the tawatur [such that the sheer number of transmission is too many for the computation of the scientists/astronomers/mathematicians to be fabricated], then the testimony is rejected. If not, no.” [Tuhfat, 4:508; cf. I‘anat, 2:216]. This is the position made strong by Imam Ibn Hajar that is accepted and practiced today by most of our jurists and communities, especially from the Far East to the Hadramawt to East Africa. Our teachers have confirmed that this is the Qawl Mu‘tamad [reliable position] of the school, even when an occasion arises such that the authority might not reject a physically mistaken testimony but accept it instead (whether owing to an ill-trained Qadi or not), and after the authority’s decision is made public, that decision remains valid (even when those who know know it to be wrong), and the public must follow suit. (See the Fa’ida below.)
*Notes for students of Fiqh & Usul al-Din: There is the principle of an-nAdiru ka l-ma‘dUmi [something that rarely happens is like a thing that has not happened or literally, “a rarity is like a non-existent”]. So, unless the number of witnesses of the extraordinary moonsighting report amount to tawatur (such as two million instead of only two persons)—in which case this would be a clear sign of the End of Days and would be a case of a disruption in natural laws [inkhiram al-‘ada]; sighting the crescent on the western horizon [ufuq gharbi] or sighting it before it physically sets from the local horizon [ufuq ardi] are cases of what jurists term ‘inevitable cause’ [‘illa al-mulazama], such as the case of a well quoted physical truth: “nightfall in the East is before [the West]” [al-laylu yadkhulu fI l-bilAdi sh-sharqiyyati qablu].
**Notes for students of Fiqh: What Imam Ibn Hajar (and Imam al-Subki, Imam Ibn al-Qasim al-‘Abbadi, Imam al-Qalyubi, the Muhaqqiq al-Kurdi and other jurists, for example) mean by unquestioned astronomical computation [hisab qat‘i], that which is strong enough to reject the testimony of a non-tawatur sighting (i.e., an example of a primacy in hisab over ru’ya), is astronomical data such as the times for moonset or the conjunction of the sun and moon [ijtima‘ al-nayrayn; for non-astronomers: this is the time when the new moon is ‘born’], which are a question of fact and not prediction. Conversely, in the case of the latter, there can be rare instances when the computation may not be definite, and indeed, even modern astronomers have not produced an infallible theory to predict the crescent’s first actual visibility. (When Muslims were unsurpassed in the various sciences—secular and religious—medieval Muwaqqits from among our jurists as well as astronomers [hasib or ahl al-falak], who almost without exception had training in fiqh too, devoted considerable attention to this scientifically and physically complicated problem; and the average scholar could have easily predicted the visibility with reasonable precision using one or two traditional criteria of visibility [shurut al-ru’ya], depending, for example, on its elevation or altitude [irtifa‘uhu], its age [al-sa‘at ba‘da l-ijtima‘], its lag time on the local horizon [makthuhu fi l-ufuq] and the atmospheric condition [safa’ al-jaww wa kuduruhu].) That is why in our school, ru’ya is even now a religious duty [ta‘abbud]: predictions alone are not sufficient to establish the beginning of the new month, and none of our jurists is known to have set such a precedent and sanctioned the use of a prediction against actual sighting. The ‘illa [legal basis] for this is as Qadi al-Batawi explains: “this is because sighting is an obvious matter [amr zahir] which scholars as well as the public are capable of mastering [the ability to sight the crescent], as compared to computation [i.e., meaning here, knowledge of falak or astronomy], which only the few will be capable of mastering. Whereas the Lawgiver only commanded the people with what their masses can know”; [Sullam, 1:11].
Additional Nukat for Fiqh readers: If in our fiqh literature we find passages to the effect of “lA ‘ibrata bi-qawli l-HisAbi” [There is no value in the report of computation] (i.e., an example of a primacy in ru’ya over hisab), then it refers to the latter hisab, that is to say, the predictions of sighting visibility, and not hisab qat‘i. Those who insist upon reading the primacy-of-ru’ya passages in our fiqh manuals literally, believing in the absolute primacy of ru’ya over hisab and maintaining that falak has no value whatsoever to facilitate fiqh, have unfortunately misunderstood his text and the context of those passages; that is a sign of immaturity and of not being able to live up to even the standards of the lexical [lughawi] meaning of fiqh: to have a profound and deep understanding [al-fahmu mA daqqa]. Insight is required here for students of fiqh; and statements of this kind need to be qualified and understood, as wise jurists, such as Ibn Hajar above, have done, following the general qa‘ida in fiqh of lA ‘ibrata bi Z-Zanni l-bayyini khaTa’uhu [there is no value in the judgement that is clearly mistaken].
From a fiqh perspective, therefore, it is vital to distinguish between the two kinds of hisabs: (1) hisab qat‘i and (2) hisab zanni. The former hisab, hisab-of-the-factual-kind (such as the astronomical data of moonset and conjunction), has been used—and continues to be used today by our religious scholars—as a useful tool to facilitate the process of establishing a ‘positive’ ru’ya, with yaqin (analogous to the legal ruling of using instruments in medieval times such as the computation using the trigonometrical (specifically, Sine) quadrant [rub‘ mujayyab] to fix the prayer times or to determine the exact direction of the Qibla); whereas the latter—for example, computational predictions of visibility—can only be used to estimate, but not by itself, to establish the new lunar month, even when nine out of ten times they have been proved to be correct.
Mas’ala: If it is said: “Are we allowed to use certain astronomical data as published by non-Muslims such as the Royal Greenwich Observatory or from an almanac published in the daily local newspaper as a guide to sight the moon?”
We say: Allah the Exalted says: wa-bi-n-najmi hum yahtadUna [and by the stars they are guided] (al-Nahl, 16:16). If our medieval scholars used the most accurate computational tools available to them such as ephemeredes [taqwim] and observation tables [jadwal] and knowledge of Nayrayn to compute the times of the new moon or the moonset for a given day and considered them a blessing, even if from non-Muslims [wa-law min kuffArin], what about today’s more exact tools?
Fa’ida: Once a testimony is made (and the testimony accepted by the relevant authority), which must be made at latest by midnight of the first eve of the night in question [muntasaf al-layl fi laylat al-ru’ya], or once the authority declares the calendar [ba‘da shuru‘ihim] (whether by deciding to complete the previous lunar month or establish the new one through local witnesses or otherwise), even if the public have not yet begun to act upon the decision of the authority (such as in the case of the Ramadan fast: they have not begun the fast), then, even if the original witness were to withdraw his testimony (because he thought, for example, that he was mistaken), everyone concerned (the public as well as the authority) must [Wajib] continue to act upon the original decision (so that in the case of Ramadan, it is obligatory to perform the fast), even if the mistake becomes obvious to all [Nihayat al-Zayn, 185]. The point of this fiqh rule is that once the authority has decided the date for the next day (rightly or wrongly), there can be no turning back according to the Shari‘a, and this is in order to uphold the public and communal interest [maslahat al-‘amma] as exemplified by the following two legal principles of dar’u l-mafAsidi muqaddamun ‘alA jalbi l-maSAliHi [preventing harm takes precedence over any benefits] and al-khayru l-muta‘addi afDalu mina l-lAzimi [the good of the many outweighs the good of the one]. The authority must therefore do its best to ensure that its one and only decision that evening is correct, since legally, albeit as Imams, they have no right [haqq] to change the decision after the first evening of any lunar month. This is based on the general qa‘ida: al-ijtihAdu lA yunqaDu bi l-ijtihAdi [an ijtihad may not be overruled by another ijtihad] and specifically, its derivative principle: lA yajUzu naqDa Hukma l-HAkimi ba‘da l-Hukmi [to nullify the decision of the authority, after a decision, is not allowed].
Another Fa’ida: If the testimony of a witness is rejected by the authority (for whatever reason, even if the witness was in actual fact correct—whether because the witness had a criminal record [fasiq or ghayr ‘adl wa-law ‘adluhu masturan], or his testimony was invalidated by the authority because his sighting was thought to be mistaken), then only in the case of the Ramadan fast (but not for the two ‘Ids), if the original witness still believes that the next day is Ramadan, he alone—and no on else in his community except those who are convinced by him—may [ja’iz] fast [Nihaya, 184]. This is because of the principle: adh-dhimmatu idhA ‘ummirat bi-yaqInin tabra’u illA biyaqInin [once the obligation is based on certainty it can only be discharged by certainty]. This rule applies to anyone whose knowledge that the next day is Ramadan, including those who have sharp eyes [hadid al-basar] or use optical aids [ru’yatihi fi l-mir’at] or someone blessed with an inspiration [ilham] or astronomers who use predictions of visibility [hisab zanni], although the authority’s decision is otherwise. All of this is an analogy to the case of a person who with a true dream of the Messenger himself (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him!) says that “tomorrow is Ramadan”. Even this knowledge is not sufficient to establish the new month, because, as Imam Ibn Hajar explains, “of its being far off from the standard of witnessing [the actual crescent], not because of there being any doubt in the dream [or computation and so forth]; [Tuhfat, 4:493]. This is the legal background as to why we find in our books of fiqh (such as in the Fath al-Mu‘in, the Iqna‘ or Safinat al-Naja) that testimonies in the vein of “I testify that tomorrow is Ramadan” [ashhadu anna ghadan min ramaDAna] is inadequate by itself to establish the new month when compared to: “I testify that I have witnessed the crescent” [ashhadu annI ra’aytu l-hilAla ].
Khatima: In the end, as our medieval scholars viewed the universe, both scientific facts [‘aql] and scriptural demands [naql] support each other, since all true knowledge comes from Allah, and all true knowledge leads to Him (so for instance, Imam al-Raghib al-Isfahani and the Hujjat al-Islam, al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with both of them!) was able to say: “Reason resembles the base while the Sacred Law is the building” [al-‘aqlu ka l-ussi wa sh-shar‘u ka l-binA’i]). And just because a Qadi can reject a testimony that is found to be in contradiction with physical truths, it does not mean in this case that ‘aql-as-represented-by-hisab has won over naql-characterized-by-ru’ya, nor is it at all a question of that kind. Indeed, as Imam al-Subki himself, the champion of the complementarity between falak and fiqh, describes the condition [shart] for a valid testimony of moonsighting, it must be: “physically [hissan], rationally [‘aqlan] and religiously [shar‘an] possible.” [Subki, 1:226]. Therefore we can sum up a point of law tersely in the following debit or restricted principle for this mas’ala:
lA yuqbalu l-HisAbu l-qaT‘iyyu illA fI raddi sh-shahAdati Z-Zanniyyati lA fI tathbIti l-hilAli
[Unquestioned astronomical data can only be admitted to reject a probable testimony but not to establish the crescent].
As for the Second Question:
"I have read recently that while one (Shafi'i) opinion is for a horizon to be confined to a north-south stretch of maximum 81km [i.e., the distance of Qasr or traveling]"
This is definitely not the Qawl Mu‘tamad in our school concerning the maximum extent [tahdid] of the matla‘ or sighting-zone. Instead, as Imam Nawawi al-Jawi makes clear: “the reference of it is to the position’s longitude [tul] and its latitude [‘ard], whether the distance is near or far; pay no attention to whether it is the distance of traveling or not” [Nihayat al-Zayn, 185]. The reliable position and the Qawl Sahih [Sound Position] is farther than the distance of Qasr, in that another area will be considered local when it has ‘the same’ rise and set times of celestial bodies (the stars and constellations including, minimally, our sun) when compared to the rising and setting times in the reference town (i.e., the dabit is: ghurUbu sh-shamsi wa TulU‘uhA fI l-maHallayni fI waqtin wAHidin [the two positions have ‘the same’ rising and setting times of the sun] [Nihayat al-Zayn, 184]; “the same” means to a fixed degree of deviation, and in this, there is room for minor variances amongst our jurists).*
*Notes for students of Fiqh & Falak: Throughout our long history, Shafi‘i jurists who possess knowledge of astronomy have come up with various figures for the extent of the matla‘ (all of them were in fact qualifying or specifying the legal meaning of “fi waqt wahid” above). These fuqaha’ have used their specialist knowledge in astronomy and planetary models [hay’a] and trigonometry [muthallathat] along with the zijs, ephemeredes and observation tables available to them in their day to arrive at the various extents of the matla‘, because, as most of our early jurists had already realized, that which Imam al-Nawawi famously restated: “the consideration concerning the different [sighting-]zones comes practically to astronomical computation and the judgment of astronomers” [Tuhfa, 4:506]. The efforts and results of some of them are listed below in reverse chronological order (all of the authors are distinguished Shafi‘i jurists). (As for the figures in degrees, it is understood that the deviation calculated through them refers to a non-Easterly position from the local one as Imam al-Fadani makes clear; and this is evident because of the physical fact, “nightfall is earlier in the East”: this ‘inevitable cause’ is the same basis for the famous rule of Imam al-Subki invoked in the Third Question below on the precedence of a sighting in the East over the local position:)
(1) The polymath of our time, Imam al-Fadani: if the crescent has been sighted at a position West (but not East) of the local one, it is inevitable that it would have been sighted in the local position, as long as the deviation between the two positions does not exceed 8 degrees [Sharh al-Thamra, 63]. This, and the rest of the section mean, a sighting to the east is immediately admitted, but to the west only at 8 (to 6) degrees of deviation is accepted.
(2) Qadi al-Batawi: if the deviation is 6 degrees or more, then the two zones are considered different: “The meaning of ‘difference in sighting-zones’ [ikhtilaf al-matali‘] mentioned in the chapter of fasting [in the books of fiqh], is the difference with regard to the positions of sighting [the moon] so that [at the moment] when it is sighted in one of them, it cannot be sighted [yet] in the other. That [difference in sighting-zones] takes place only when the deviation [tafawut] between the [two] positions is six or more degrees in the arcs of day and night**”; [Sullam, 1:10]. (Note: this conservative calculation of 6 degrees by Qadi al-Batawi, the teacher to Imam al-Fadani above, is the Ihtiyat [precautionary position] and not the minimum fiqh ruling.)
**Notes for students of Falak: The classical explanation from falak of why there is the deviation in the arcs of day and night [al-tafawut min qus al-layl wa l-nahar] is: it is a result of the unequal length of night and day in the various areas by reason of the declination of the sun [mayl al-shams] from the equinoctial line [da’ira mu‘addal] and the elevation [irtifa‘] of the north pole above the horizon.
(3) The historian and usuli, an expert in both of the scriptural and rational sciences [al-Jami‘ bayna l-manqul wa l-ma‘qul], and author of works from mathematics to fiqh, Habib al-Shilli: 8 degrees or less [Sharh al-Thamra, 63].
(4) The Mufti of Yemen of his time (i.e., in the 16th century), Habib Bamakhramah: if the deviation between the two positions is 8 degrees or less, then the two are in the same sighting-zone; if it is more than this, even if for only some seasons of the year, then it is in a different sighting-zone or in an ambiguous one [Bughyat, 109].
(5) The mufassir and muhaddith, usuli and mathematician, Imam Taj al-Din al-Tibrizi (a son of Azerbaijan, who lived thereafter in Baghdad and finally died in Cairo): the maximum distance [musafat al-ba‘id] between two positions for it to be considered to be of the same sighting-zone should be more or less one and a half times the distance of traveling (i.e., 24 farsakh [i.e., 3 marhala] (24 x 6 km = 144 km) [I‘anat, 2:219]. (Note: according to Imam al-Qalyubi, this is a weak position that cannot be adopted just like the other older rejected position that the maximum extent of the matla‘ is the distance of Qasr [Hashiyatan, 2:64]).
Nukat for students of Fiqh: The technical meaning in fiqh of ‘the same/local sighting-zone’ [ittihad al-matla‘ or balad muttahid matla‘ihi or in older texts: balad wahid or balad qarib / nearby region], is:
(A) with respect to latitudinal positions, are areas sharing the same longitude, such as Greenland and Brazil. There is basically no fixed extent in this case, so that a sighting of the crescent in the south, for instance, will establish the new moon for the north; and
(B) with respect to longitudinal positions, are areas having the same latitude, such as Mexico and the Middle East. In this, there is a fixed but minor Easterly to Westerly extent so that if a Western region further than the fixed extent sighted the crescent, the new moon is not considered sighted in the Eastern region, because they are in different sighting-zones (i.e., ikhtilaf al-matali‘ or balad ba‘id / distant region).
Among the legal bases [adilla] used by our school for defining the different sighting-zones (i.e., type B above), where each matla‘ has a fixed East-to-West extent, are: (1) scriptural texts associating the start and end of the obligatory ‘ibada by cycles of the moon that sanction the different times (such as al-Baqara, 2:189 and the Hadith of Kurayb below); (2) the general consensus [Ijma‘] (as reported by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and others) that a sighting in a given area does not necessarily establish the sighting for all areas; (3) analogy [Qiyas] to the Salat of which the ‘illa [basis] is the prayer times [mawaqit] which is based also, like the different moon-zones, different sun-zones [ikhtilaf matali‘ al-shams] because of the physical differences in the solar cycles; and (4) rational arguments [dalil ‘aqli] such that the waning and waxing of the crescent is physically different in the regions moving from East to West.
Fa’ida: The mawaqit connected to the crescents [ahilla] (as opposed to the mawaqit of the sun) are (these involve the Five sacred rulings, so know their times throughout all the months of the year and not only the three of them, so you may be rightly guided): Salat al-‘Id; the fast of Ramadan; Zakat al-Fitr; the fast on ‘bright’ days; the fast of ‘Ashura and various other recommended fasts connected to a date; the offensiveness of fasting after the middle of Sha‘ban; the Six Fasts of Shawwal; the various du‘as connected to a specific date throughout the year; the Zakat; knowledge of the ages of the Shat, cattle and camels; the vowed I‘tikaf; the fast of the ten days of Dhu l-Hijja; the Hajj; the Wuquf of ‘Arafa; the fast of ‘Arafa; the ‘Id al-Adha sacrifices; the ‘Aqiqa; the Hady [sacrificial act during Hajj as expiation]; the Ajal [deferred time for a loan]; the Salam [forward-buying contract]; the Bulugh [onset of puberty upon reaching 15 years old]; the Musaqa [crop-sharing contract]; the Ijara [hiring things]; the Luqta [lost and found articles]; the Ajal al-‘Unna [probationary term for impotence]; the ‘Ila’ [forswearing sexual intercourse]; the fast-expiations [kaffara bi l-sawm] for Wiqa‘ [sexual intercourse during Ramadan], Zihar [injurious comparisons] and Qatl [killing]; the ‘Idda [post-marital waiting period] for a Mutawaffa [deceased husband]; Ayisa [menopausal] and Istibra’ [absolution after the menstrual intervals]; the Rida‘ [suckling]; the Kiswa al-Zawja [clothing support for the wife]; and the Diyat [various indemnities]; and others like it.
As for the Third Question:
"The problem, it seems to me, is confounded by the fact that if one goes strictly by local/national horizon, countries like Germany would rarely experience the crescent sighting until the third maghrib after conjunction. In other words, if Germany (and northern Britain) is to rely on their own horizon and deviate only to the maximum extent of the distance between al-Madina and Damascus (in fulfillment of the famous narration), then Eid there will be on Saturday."
No, following the ‘traditional matrix’ would not result in having ‘Id on Saturday in this case. This is because there is a restricted principle expressed famously by Imam al-Subki (and others, such as Imams al-Isnawi and al-Ramli—may Allah be pleased with them!) which overrides the ‘ardi [latitudinal] considerations (i.e., type A above), namely (when it is possible to know that): “whenever the crescent is sighted [during the night in question] in the East, its sighting in the West follows, but not the other way round” [matA HaSalat al-ru’yatu fI l-baladi sh-sharqI lazima ru’yatuhu fI l-baladi l-gharbI dUna ‘aksahu] [Nihayat al-Zayn, 185]. In astronomical/falak’s term, this is the rule of “taqdim tulihi ‘ala ‘ardihi fi ru’yati l-hilal” [the longitudinal sighting takes precedence over the latitudinal one when spotting the crescent]. It is immediately understood from this debit, of course, that it applies even when the sighting is made in a different zone or when the local day is too cloudy [wa-in ikhtalafat al-matali‘ aw fi l-yawmi l-ghaymi]. Indeed, our fuqaha’ derived this rule precisely from the very Hadith of Kurayb concerning Medina and Damascus which you appropriately brought out.
Tanbih: The presentation of some primary texts [dalil] below is not with the intention of satisfying the addictions of ‘ahl al-dalils’ but merely done to complete our discussion (may Allah make our everyday concern to be His simple ‘abidin and make us closer to Him!).
The Hadith of Kurayb (may Allah be well pleased with him!):
ra’aytu l-hilAla bi-sh-shAmi laylata l-jum‘ati thumma qadimtu l-madInata fI Akhiri sh-shahri fa-sa’alanI bnu ‘abbAsin raDiya LlAhu ‘anhumA matA ra’aytumu l-hilAla fa-qultu ra’aynAhu laylata l-jum‘ati fa-qAla anta ra’aytahu fa-qultu na‘am wa-ra’Ahu n-nAsu wa-SAmU wa-SAma mu‘Awiyatu fa-qAla lAkinnA ra’aynAhu laylata s-sabti fa-lA nazAlu naSUmu HattA nukmila thalAthIna aw narAhu fa-qultu a-wa lA naktafI bi-ru’yati mu‘Awiyata wa-SiyAmihi fa-qAla lA hAkadhA amaranA raSUlu LlAhi Salla rasUlullahi SallallAhu ‘alayhi wa-sallama
[I saw the crescent [of Ramadan] on Friday night while in Damascus. I arrived at Medina at the end of the month and Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with both of them!) asked me: “When did you see the crescent?” I said: “We saw it on Friday night.” He said: “Did you see it yourself?” I said: “Yes, and the people saw it, and they and Mu‘awiya fasted.” He said: “But we saw the crescent on Saturday night. So we will not stop fasting until either we complete thirty [days] or we sight the crescent [of Shawwal].” I said: “Is Mu‘awiya’s sighting and fasting not sufficient for us?” He said: “No, this is how the Messenger of Allah (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him!) ordered us.”] (Related by Ahmad, the Famous Five except al-Bukhari, and by al-Daraqutni and al-Bayhaqi, with variants).
That famous Hadith establishes beyond doubt, not only the precedence of a sighting in the East over the West, and not vice-versa, but also the unrealistic notion of a “universal ‘Id” (see below, Question Four). While in the following Hadith of Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both!), our late scholars (like Imam al-Subki) used its general meaning [‘amm] to include the absolute consideration of an Eastern sighting [mu‘allaq bi-mutlaq al-ru’ya al-sharqiyya] even if from a different region (but not in the West, of course, due to the specification of the meaning [Takhsis] of the above Hadith); and some early scholars (like the celebrated Ibn Surayj) understood the meaning of “fa-qdurU la-hu” [lit. ‘to count it’ or ‘determine’ or ‘estimate’] from this Hadith as the admissibility of hisab as a useful tool for ru’ya:
lA taSUmU HattA taraw l-hilAla wa-lA tufTirU HattA tarawhu fa-in ughmiya ‘alaykum fa-qdurU la-hu
[Do not begin your fast until you see the crescent [of Ramadan], and do not end your fast until you see it [the Shawwal]; if it is cloudy, then determine when it should appear]
(Related by Malik, al-Shafi‘i, al-Tayalisi, Ibn Abi Shayba, Ahmad, al-Darimi, the Famous Five except Ibn Majah, and by Abu Ya‘la, Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn Hibban, al-Daraqutni, al-Hakim, al-Bayhaqi, al-Daylami, and al-Baghawi).
Thus, acting on this restricted principle: even if on Tuesday in Germany it were the laylat al-thalathin (“the eve of the 30th”, i.e., the 29th of Dhu l-Qa‘da: meaning the night when it is Wajib to do ru’ya; and if the hilal is sighted in Germany after Maghrib, the next day, i.e., Wednesday, will be the 1st of Dhu l-Hijja; and if it is not sighted because it was cloudy, for example, then we would expect the month of Dhu l-Qa‘da to be completed [istikmal], so that the next day should be the 30th of Dhu l-Qa‘da), and it turned out that the moon was not sighted, nonetheless, the moon for the next month could still be established [thubut al-hilal] with the knowledge that the crescent was positively spotted to the East of Germany (even if ikhtilaf al-matali‘, such as in Java). If this turns out to be the case (that the crescent was not sighted locally, even if cloudy, on the 29th day of the preceding lunar month but was sighted somewhere in the East), according to both Fiqh and Falak, the next day could NEVER be the 30th of that lunar month.
Mas’ala: If it is said: “In the UK, one can never see the moon on the 29th of any month so if we were to follow our own calendar then each and every month would have 30 days. That means that at the end of the year we would be 5-6 days ahead of the rest of the world.”
We say: knowledge of this simple rule in fiqh will dispel that simplistic notion. Understand this so that you may be rightly guided.
As for the Fourth Question:
"While this deviation from the traditional matrix does bother me (for in effect we are relying on conjunction rather than visibility in great parts of the Saudi-influenced world), I am also mindful of the hadith which says, "Inna ummati la tajtami'u 'ala al-dalala, fa idha ra'aytum al-ikhtilaf fa 'alaykum as-sawadan al-adham" (I apologize if my memory is incorrect, and for the bad transliteration). As far as I recall, this hadith is supposedly sound in no less than six chains. The question is whether insisting on visibility [I understand what you mean by “visibility” here as following the calendar of the local sighting-zone as opposed to following the calendar of Saudi Arabia, whether for ‘Id al-Adha or al-Fitr or for the rest of the lunar months] breaks with the 'greater group' and whether silence therefore is best. Please do advise me on all this."
The answer is dependent on the status of your local authority (so that if you’re in the UK, then UK) whose function is to regulate the calendar (in the following cases, computation strictly refers to hisab qat‘i, and not visibility predictions, and they are for a town with only one mosque, such as in your case):
Hal A: If the authority makes a decision X not Y, and your mosque adopts Y, and if X is physically possible, then, whether you know this or not, you should not be silent but rather remind the people who run the mosque that they are neglecting their sacred communal responsibilities and are in fact undermining the authority that all Muslims in the country necessarily depend on, even though if you were to be in that town you would follow the mosque. (In this case, the executive committee of the mosque will solely be responsible for breaking with the “greater group”, for not devolving the weighty decision to the authority.)
Hal B: If the authority makes a decision X not Y, and your mosque adopts Y, and if X is physically impossible, then, whether you know this or not, you should remind the mosque committee of their undermining the authority that all Muslims in the country necessarily depend on, even if you know that the mosque is correct and you will in the end follow the mosque; and if you know and you are able to, you can politely raise your concerns with the authority about their conduct. (In this case, the authority and the mosque will both be responsible for their decisions, the latter for defying the authority and the former for making the mistake in calling the wrong day.)
Hal C: If the authority makes a decision X not Y, and your mosque adopts X, and if X is physically possible, then, whether you know this or not, you should be silent. (In this case, you will be responsible for breaking with the “greater group” if you adopt Y on your own.)
Hal D: If the authority makes a decision X not Y, and your mosque adopts X, and if X is physically impossible, then, if you do not know this, you should be silent; if you know, you should be silent with respect to the mosque (and follow the mosque) and if you are able to, you may politely raise your concerns with the authority about their conduct. (In this case, only the authority will be responsible for their physically wrong decision.)
Hal E: If the authority makes a decision X and Y, and your mosque adopts Y, and if Y is physically possible, which you know from unquestionable reports, then you should be silent with respect to the mosque (and follow the mosque) but you should remind the authority that they are undermining their own authority that all Muslims in the country necessarily depend on. (In this case, the authority has defeated its own purpose and failed to function as the Imam because they have effectively handed over the burden of responsibility to the thousands of mosques in the country and will be ultimately responsible for fracturing the “greater group”.)
Hal F: If the authority makes a decision X and Y, and your mosque adopts Y, and if Y is physically impossible, which you know from unquestionable reports, then if you are able to, you should politely raise your concerns with the mosque committee about their conduct (even though if you were to be in that town on the day of ‘Id you would follow the mosque), and you should remind the authority that they are undermining the necessary authority that is needed by Muslims all over the country. (In this case, the mosque will be responsible for their wrong decision, and the authority for fracturing the “greater group”.)
In Ahwal A to D, you will be following the local calendar (your knowing of which is only Fard Kifaya), and in E to F, you may or may not in the end, depending on the decision of the mosque, be following the local calendar; but in all of the above cases, you will certainly not be defying the “greater group” unless in any of them you decided not to follow the only mosque when you are in that town. The hukm of knowing the local calendar becomes Fard ‘Ayn in Hals E and F, even when you end up not adopting your own findings but following instead the decision of the local mosque for the ‘Id prayer.
This is the meaning [haqiqa] of having a united ‘Id: to have all the mosques in a given area or sighting-zone or at least town celebrate on the same day (whether the day is physically correct or not), as is the practice in all of the long established Muslim lands from East to West. (Instead, to believe in a ‘universal ‘Id’ in the sense that all Muslims everywhere regardless of their local sighting- and time-zones celebrate on the same day, is a mistake; a “universal ‘Id” is a misnomer [mughalata lafziyya], physically absurd [muhal], and religiously heterodox [bid‘a]. Hence a responsible [mukallaf] Muslim who breaks with the “greater group” by doing this act will be answerable in the Next world for causing a fitna in the Muslim community where he or she was resident.)
The way [kayfiyya] to achieve this united ‘Id is for the thousands of local mosques/Islamic centres/Muslim halls/musallas or whoever wherever hosting the ‘Id prayer to follow the national authority of the respective sighting-zone, even if the particular mosque believed it to be the wrong decision.
yA ayyhuhA l-ladhIna AmanU aTI‘u l-LAha wa-aTI‘u r-rasUla wa-uli l-amri minkum [O believers, obey Allah, and obey the messenger, and those with authority among you!] (al-Nisa’, 4:58).
If, sadly, Shaytan (Allah’s curse upon him!) has got the better of us and there is in its place a choice of two ‘Ids between two mosques in your town, then, if there is a decision by the national authority, you should follow the mosque that follows the higher authority, even if you happen to know that the national decision is physically on the wrong day; but if there is no decision made by the authority, then you should observe the one you know to be the correct or the more obvious [Azhar] day.
Someone who follows the only local option or the national authority, even when, falak-wise, the day is physically wrong, is not wrong, fiqh-wise. This is known as the fiqh rule of ‘conforming with the local community’ [muwafaqa ahl al-bilad] above other considerations, and in this, there is wisdom: “If someone travelled from one [calendar] zone to another and find its people fasting or doing otherwise [because they follow a different calendar than his original one], he must conform with them [i.e., with their calendar], whether it is at the beginning of the month or at the end of it” [Nihayat al-Zayn, 184-5].
Furu‘: The following are two golden cases for Ramadan rehearsed by our jurists as an illustration of the rules on conforming with the locals [I‘anat, 2:220]:
A. The bonus case of fasting 31 days: If Kurayb travels from Damascus to Medina, wherein the people in Damascus started fasting a day earlier than Medina, and to his dismay finds that they are still fasting, then he must [Wajib] join them in their fast, even when he has already completed 30 days of fasting and could not wait to celebrate ‘Id as the people in Damascus are doing. In this case, he will be in the unique position of receiving the heavenly reward for a 31 days of the obligatory fast.
B. The exculpated case of fasting 28 days: If Kurayb travels from Medina to Damascus, wherein the people in Medina started fasting a day later than Damascus, and to his surprise finds that they are celebrating ‘Id, then he cannot [Haram] fast but must join them in breaking the fast, even if it means that he has only fasted for 28 days—short of the minimum lunar month. In this case, although he will have been forgiven since he has the legal excuse [‘udhr] for not completing the month’s fast, he will nevertheless be required to replace [Qada’] one day of fast after the ‘Id is over and before the start of the next Ramadan.
Manzuma: The poet and historian, Qadi Ibn al-Wardi (may Allah be pleased with him!) composed the following verses (in Rajaz) about the legal cases above for the benefit of all of us today:
wa-ba‘da an yamDiya thalAthUna akal # wa-man ilayhi yawmu ‘Idihim waSal
wa-in yaSum ‘ishrIna ma‘a thamAniyah # kAna qaDA’uhu li-yawmin kAfiyah
wa-in yusAfar li-makAnin lam yurA # fIhi fa-lA tujiz la-hu an yufTirA
[After thirty days have passed, then eat!
And also to those who arrive at their day of ‘Id!
Even if he has fasted twenty eight days:
He will only replace a complete day.
If he had traveled to a place that has not sighted,
There, he could not have feasted!]
Mas’ala: If someone said: “Shouldn’t the fast of ‘Arafa be on the day of the ‘Arafa itself? So whether we like it or not we will have to follow the Saudi calendar?”
We say: The fast of the ‘Day of ‘Arafa’ is on the 9th of Dhu l-Hijja (and in our school it is also better [Awla; but not Sunna Mu’akkada] to fast on the 8th as the fast of ‘Arafa too, as it is more precautionary [Ahwat], in the event that the physical day falls earlier than the local position [Fath al-Mu‘in: I‘anat, 2:265]), despite its name,* wherever you are, even if in reality the physical day of ‘Arafa is on a different day, albeit a day after [i.e., muqarana hukmiyya wa-law ba‘dahu]. It is easy for those who have no knowledge of fiqh to believe otherwise and conclude mistakenly that only with regards to ‘Id al-Adha, the Saudi calendar must be followed, at the exclusion of other calendars and different sighting- and time-zones. Not only is the fast not Wajib, it is also a legal fact that it does not have to coincide physically [muqarana haqiqiyya] with the wuquf [standing] at ‘Arafa, since the legal cause [sabab] for the fast is not the physical event itself, but the fast is for those who have not performed the Hajj that year, wherever they may be (and in our school for example, it could even be Khilaf Awla or Makruh for pilgrims at ‘Arafa that day to fast [Mahalli, Hashiyatan, 2:93]). A quick glance at one of our basic fiqh manuals is enough to dispel this flawed reasoning: “It is strongly recommended [Sunna Mu’akkada] for those not in the Pilgrimage [even if he or she is in Mecca, for example, or for those not traveling or sick] to fast the Day of ‘Arafa...and it is on the 9th of Dhul-Hijja.” [Fath al-Mu‘in: I‘anat, 2:265]. If he still believes that the ‘Id in the month of Dhul-Hijja must be physically connected to the Hajj, then he might as well call it the ‘Id al-Hajj, and not use the mutawatir-transmitted name of this ‘Id, namely, the “Festival of Sacrifice” or ‘Id al-Adha, which follow the great Hajj.
*Just as with the recommended fast of the first nine days of Dhul-Hijja, despite the traditional name of the fast being “ashr dhil-Hijja” [literally, the ten (days) of Dhul-Hijja]. We should heed the guidance of Imam al-Ghazali here: “once the meaning is understood, there is no need to quibble about names” [idhA urifa l-ma‘nA fa-lA mushAHHata fi ’l-asAmi]. The meaning of the ‘ashr dhil-Hijja fast is explained by Imam al-Tarmasi: “its meaning is [the first] nine days of it [and not ten], because to fast on the day of ‘Id is prohibited as we have already mentioned. It is likely that it is expressed by ‘ten’ because the Hadiths being transmitted concerning that [fast] come with the word ‘ten’” [Mawhiba, 4:299].
Tatimma: “My community shall never agree on an error”, is a well known Hadith, and indeed, a given in our religion. But if you thought that the “great parts of the Saudi-influenced world” (with the greatest respect to them, of course) equals the ‘greater group’ numerically, then, you must surely be mistaken! For the more than 200,000,000 Muslims of the Far East alone outnumber those in the Middle East.
It hardly needs mentioning in this article that there is already Ijma‘ in the Umma of the Seal of the Prophets (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him!) that the day of ‘Id al-Adha falls on the 10th of Dhul-Hijja, and ‘Id al-Fitr is on the 1st of Shawwal, and that they fall in their respective lands, countries and regions of the world following the decision of their Imams. As numerous contemporary jurists including eminent scholars from Saudi Arabia itself have written on the subject, to believe that the rest of the world should follow the Saudi’s local calendar for the months of Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul-Hijja, is a baseless innovation [bid‘a la asla laha], one for which no jurists properly schooled, today or in days gone by, have set a precedent.
Despite the modern age, the considerable confusion over the regulation of the calendar witnessed in parts of the Muslim world is a sad and appalling testament of our affairs; it is especially distressing to see some from the Umma defying both Fiqh and Falak as well as long established traditions from our history. There have even been cases when the beginning of a lunar month was announced in some countries on an evening when the moon had actually set before the sun—a situation inconceivable in medieval times and hardly in keeping with the spirit of Islam. As a nation, we have forgotten the courage that made us a beacon for the dark ages: al-muHAfaZatu ‘alA qadImi S-SAliHi wa l-‘akhdhu bi-jadIdi l-aSlaHi [to preserve the best of the ancients and to adopt the very best of the moderns].
O Lord, have mercy on us when we are called to judgment; forgive the Muslims for their shortcomings, and for their petty politics, and for their not being in synchrony with the heavens, Amin, ya Allah, Amin!
This, I hope will be sufficient; wa Allahu ta‘ala a‘lam wa ahkam!
May this be beneficial; and my best wishes of ‘Id and the blessings that come with it to you and to your family and for your community in Cambridge al-Mahzuza tomorrow.
allAhumma j‘alnA wa-iyyAkum mina l-fA’izIna li-riDA’i rabbi l-‘AlamIn, wa-a‘Adahu LlAhu ‘alaynA wa-‘alaykum sinInan ba‘da sinIn, wa-a‘wAman ba‘da a‘wAm, maSHUbIna bi l-luTfi wa l-‘Afiyah; wa-takarram ‘alaynA wa-‘alaykum bi-Hajji bayti LlAhi l-HarAm, wa-ziyArati qabri n-nabiyyi ‘alayhi S-SalAtu wa-s-salAm; wa-rzuqnA kamAla l-mutAba‘ati lahu ZAhiran wa-bATinan, wa-fahman thAqiban wa-‘ilman nAfi‘an wa-yaqInan SAdiqan wa-‘amalan SAliHan; Amin Amin Amin!
al-faqir dhu l-taqsir in Oxford al-Maghbuta,
Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
on Wednesday, the 8th of Dhul-Hijja 1425, or 19-I-2005.