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July 24th, 2011

Starting Ramadan / holding Eid on same day across Muslim world

Rizwan Jamil has asked for the following question to be posted.

Can you please open a new thread with the topic relating to moon sighting? I want to inquire what is Ahmadiyyah’s stance regarding this controversy i.e. Should the Muslims of the whole world start Ramadhan and celebrate Eid on the same day on the testimony of the sighting of the moon anywhere in the world? Or that the Muslims should respect the borders of their countries or nation states (created by the Non-Muslims by ending the Ottoman Caliphate on the basis of their “divide-and-rule” policy) and start Ramadhan and celebrate Eid on the testimony of the sighting of the moon in their own country only, irrespective of its sighting anywhere else in the world?

8 Responses to “Starting Ramadan / holding Eid on same day across Muslim world”

  1. July 24th, 2011 at 12:22 pm
    From Zahid Aziz:

    This question would still have arisen even if the Ottoman Caliphate still existed, or even if all Muslim lands of the world were under one rule. Even in Pakistan, which is just one country and state, people start Ramadan on two, or even three different days every year, and the same happens Eid-ul-Fitr. So if all Muslim lands constituted one country and state, it would not make the least difference to this disagreement!

    As to relying on reports of sighting, it is an established fact, observed over several years, that in Saudi Arabia they often announce the sighting of the moon when it is impossible that anyone in Saudi Arabia could have seen it. I personally have monitored this for many years.

    Apart from this deliberately false testifying (is it allowed in Islam?), there are also erroneous sighting reports. Muslim astronomical organisations have asked observers to record and send in details of where and when they sighted the moon, which way it was pointing, etc. It has been found that many claimed sighting were impossible! How did these organisations and their specialists know that the sightings were impossible? Because the sightings conflicted with the scientific data about the position of the moon!

    So the first question to settle is: Should the scientific data be used to determine the new month? After that, would come the question whether the “birth” of the moon (which is independent of where you are on the earth) should herald the new month, or its visibility somewhere on earth.

    This Ramadan, the birth of the moon is on 30th July at 18.40 GMT (UT) but it can’t be seen anywhere in the world that evening, even though in, say, California, sunset is about 9 hours after this on the 30th. On 31st July, it still won’t be visible in Muslim countries except possibly West Africa, but will be easily visible in South America and South Africa. So which visibility will you accept?

  2. July 28th, 2011 at 11:11 am
    From Rizwan Jamil:

    Actually my question was that what do you think is correct? I mean what does Ahmadiyyah deems as correct? Either, Muslims all over the world starting & ending Ramadhan on the same day irrespective of where the moon is sighted or on different days depending upon the sighting of the moon in the countries they live in?
    Regarding the number of witnesses, please read the section “Witnesses Needed to Establish the Sighting” at the following link:

    Regarding the validity of usage of scientific methods or astronomical calculations, please read the section “Astronomical Evidence” of the same link.

  3. July 28th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
    From Zahid Aziz:

    Why should there be one Ahmadiyya viewpoint on this question? There is no single viewpoint on this among Muslims generally. There is no harm if Muslims in different countries start or end Ramadan on different days, but obviously there shouldn’t be a difference within the same city or province. What is more important is to set the date well in advance (e.g. at the start of the year), so there is no confusion and chaos near the time of the actual event, as we see now.

    I have looked at the section “Astronomical Evidence” in the above link that you sent, and I quote it here for the amusement and astonishment of our blog readers (bolding is mine):


    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 salla ‘Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) rejected it. Ibn `Umar (Radiya ‘Llahu `anhuma) reported that the Messenger (salla ‘Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:

    “We are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing or computation [in our fasting]. A month is so and 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 so (and he pointed with his hands three times, meaning thirty days). [Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and An-Nassa’i]

    Abu Dawud’s narration adds further: “Thus Ibn `Umar used to end his fasting with the rest of people without relying on those computations”. This shows that the Messenger (salla ‘Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) wanted to keep this worship simple and at the level of common people, away from the influence or control of specialized scientific knowledge (whether sound or doubtful). This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu ‘Llah) said, that the description of this nation here as being illiterate is a praise to it in that it is independent of any complicated means in performing its basic worships. Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the ijma` (consensus) of the worthy `ulama, would be attempting to spoil the beauty and simplicity of this Din, and, worst of all, would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger (salla ‘Llahu `alayhi wa sallam).


    Which calculations were available in the time of the Holy Prophet, whose use he rejected?

    Why are tables published for the daily times of starting and ending the fast? Why not then determine these by eye-sight?

    Is it wrong to be under the control of “specialised scientific knowledge” for any religious purpose (e.g. designing a mosque using computer software, listening to a digitally-recorded Quran recitation)?

    Is it better to be under the control of Mullas whose decisions about these dates are motivated by mutual rivalry with other Mullas, or under the control of Saudi rulers who manipulate the dates for their convenience?

  4. August 9th, 2011 at 5:07 am
    From Rizwan Jamil:

    AOA again!

    First of all I apologize for such a delayed reponse. Initially I was out of city, than I had an exam. So I am just available now. But in the mean time I managed to find out Maulana Muhammad Ali’s opinion on this issue from his urdu translation/explanation of Sahih Bukhari as well as from chapter “Id Service” from his book “A Manual of Hadith”.

    The issue pertains to the following three ahadith:

    HADITH # 1:

    Sahih Bukhari, Vol 3, Book 31. Fasting. Hadith 133. (Translated by Mohsin Khan)
     Search Result Narrated By Abu Huraira: The Prophet or Abu-l-Qasim said, “Start fasting on seeing the crescent (of Ramadan), and give up fasting on seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast (and you cannot see it), complete THIRTY days of Sha’ban.”

    HADITH # 2:

    Sahih Bukhari, Vol 3, Book 31. Fasting. Hadith 130. (Translated by Mohsin Khan)
    Narrated By Abdullah bin Umar: Allah’s Apostle mentioned Ramadan and said, “Do not fast unless you see the crescent (of Ramadan), and do not give up fasting till you see the crescent (of Shawwal), but if the sky is overcast (if you cannot see it), then act on ESTIMATION (lit. FAQDIRU LAHU).

    HADITH # 3:

    Sahih Bukhari, Vol 3, Book 31. Fasting. Hadith 137. (Translated by Mohsin Khan)
    Narrated By Ibn ‘Umar: The Prophet said, “We are an ILLITERATE NATION; we neither write, nor know accounts. The month is like this and this, i.e. sometimes of twenty-nine days and sometimes of thirty days.”

    MMA reconciles the above three ahadith by concluding that; for simple people who do not know calculations (as alleged to be the case also with the arabs at that time) the Prophet s.a.w. has prescribed completing the month with 30 days if they find the sky overcast (as per Hadith # 1 and 3). However the Prophet s.a.w has also allowed the use of calculations for those who are knowledgeable in this field (on the basis of Hadith # 2).

    But in my opinion this interpretation/reconciliation of the above ahadith is not correct. The reason for that is provided in the following lines:

    The Arabic word used in Hadith # 2 for “estimate/count/calculate” is FAQDIRU LAHU, on the basis of which it is said that the Prophet s.a.w allowed the use of calculations. However the following three ahadith, pertaining to the same topic, also exactly the same words:

    HADITH # 4:

    Sahih Muslim. Book 6. Fasting. Hadith 2364. (Translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui)
    Ibn Umar reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) made a mention of Ramadan and he with the gesture of his hand said: The month is thus and thus. (He then withdrew his thumb at the third time). He then said: Fast when you see it, and break your fast when you see it, and if the weather is cloudy calculate it as thirty days (lit. FAQDIRU LAHU SALASEEN).

    HADITH # 5:

    Sahih Muslim. Book 6. Fasting. Hadith 2366. (Translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui)
    ‘Ubaidullah narrated on the authority of the same chain of transmitters that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made a mention of Ramadan and said: The month may consist of twenty-nine days, and it may be thus, thus and thus, and (he further) said: CALCULATE it (lit. FAQDIRU LAHU), but he did not say THRITY (lit. SALASEEN).

    HADITH # 6:

    Sunan Abu Dawud. Book 7. Fasting. Hadith 2312. (Translated by Prof. Ahmad Hasan)
    Narrated By Abdullah ibn Umar: The Prophet (pbuh) said: The month consists of twenty-nine days, but do not fast till you sight it (the moon) and do not break your fast till you sight it. If the weather is cloudy, calculate it thirty days (FAQDIRU LAHU SALASEEN)…

    From the above three ahadith, it is clear that the use of only FAQDIRU LAHU (i.e. calculate) in Hadith # 5 (of Muslim) and Hadith # 2 (of Bukhari) also means FAQDIRU LAHU SALASEEN (i.e. calculate as thirty days) and not just “caluculate”. So FAQDIRU LAHU in Hadith # 2 and Hadith # 5 can not be taken as meaning only “calculate” which is prohibited specifically in Hadith # 3 (of Bukhari) as well as in the following ahadith of Muslim and Abu Dawud:

    HADITH # 7:

    Sahih Muslim. Book 6. Fasting. Hadith 2376. (Translated by Abdul Hamid Siddiqui)
    Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with both of them) reported Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: we are an UNLETTERED PEOPLE who can neither write nor count. The month is thus, and thus, folding his thumb when he said it the third time…

    HADITH # 8:

    Sunan Abu Dawud. Book 7. Fasting. Hadith 2311. (Translated by Prof. Ahmad Hasan)
    Ibn ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with both of them) reported Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) as saying: we are an UNLETTERED PEOPLE who can neither write nor count. The month is thus, and thus. On the third time narrator Sulayman folded one of his fingers meaning twenty-nine or thirty days.

    Moreover, saying that the Prophet s.a.w allowed calculating for those who can do it or who are knowledgeable in this field is only an assumption. Because there is no mention in Hadith # 2 (taken as a proof for the legitimacy of calculations) that it is being allowed for those who have knowledge for that. Also there is no mention in Ahadith # 3, 7 and 8 that only the arabs of that time were asked not to use calculations. Furthermore, the arabs were not illiterate in this field. The prohibition of using calculations in Ahadith # 3, 7 and 8 itself shows that such calculations existed at that time and those people who had knowledge in this field used such calculations. The reason why the Prophet s.a.w called us unlettered because we do not use calculations in moon sighting and we act like unlettered people in this respect. So it is not the other way that as we are unlettered so we do not use calculations.

    Regarding the legitimacy of using Quran softwares, DVDs, calenders for sehr-o-iftaar (dawn and sunset) timings; none of such kind has been prohibited in Islam. What is prohibited in these Ahadith # 3, 7 and 8 is the use of calculations only for the sighting of the moon, and not in any other case.

    Moreover the reasoning, behind such a prohibition, provided by a specific scholar may not be correct or rational (as you have pointed out by highlighting the text from that link) and thus can be challenged but rejection of that reasoning of that particular scholat, does not make the prohibition (made by Allah s.w.t or Prophet s.a.w) null or void. So even if we are unable to find wisdom behind any of Islam’s authentic commandments, we are still obliged to follow it with full spirit and conviction. However, behind the prohibition of using calculations for moon sighting, the wisdom according to my own humble opinion is the same that the Prophet s.a.w wanted to keep this moon sighting ritual simple. The calculations may introduce many complications. Because the birth of the moon is a separate thing while the formation of the crecent is another thing. According to science, the crescent starts to form when the moon is already 17 to 18 hours old. Which means that the formation of the crescent starts 17 to 18 hours after the birth of the moon and this happens when the angle which the moon makes with the earth and the sun exceeds 10 degrees. However, as per Islam, the 1st lunar day starts when that crescent is “sighted” anywhere in the world (and not when the new moon is born) or when 30 days of the last month are over (if the moon can not be sighted in anywhere in the world due to overcast sky). So when would the calculations consider the start of a lunar month? When the moon is born or when the crescent is formed? And when how much crescent is formed? When it is just formed which is not sight-able or when it is formed to some extent? And to what extent exactly? How much percentage of it? 

    So the avoidance of calculations for the start of new lunar month keeps the things simple and the moon-sighting ritual (in which supplication is also made after sighting of the moon) retains its spirit.

    However, I like the motivation of MMA behind this interpretation to enable all the Muslims of the world to celebrate Eids together. The only correction in this is that it is possible even without the use of calculations. All the Muslims can (and infact they should) start/end their months together on the basis of the moon sighting reports of the countries of the whole world, not of their own country only. 

    The day of Eid-ul-Fitr at end of Ramadan depends upon number of days in preceding month of Ramadan. Whether we witness a new moon or not, we do not fast less than 29 nor more than 30 days. As to how many days should one actually fast, Quran gives us the general guidelines of fasting for a month, without fixing the number of days:
    2:184. (You are required to fast) for a prescribed number of days
    2:185. The (lunar) month of Ramadzân is that in which the Qur’ân (started to be) revealed as a guidance for the whole of mankind with its clear evidences (providing comprehensive) guidance and the Discrimination (between right and wrong). Therefore he who shall witness the month, should fast (for full month) during it, but he who is sick or is on a journey shall fast (to make up) the prescribed number in other days. Allâh wishes facility for you and does not wish hardship for you. (This facility is given to you) that you may complete the number (of required fasts) and you may exalt the greatness of Allâh for His having guided you, and that you may render thanks (to Him).[Nooruddin]
    NOTE: Quran is only interested in witnessing (and fasting) the month, not in witnessing the moon.
    Significance of lunar months is to coordinate the annual gathering of Muslims and not for Ramadan per se:
    2:189. They ask you about the lunar months. Say, `They are appointed periods of time for (general convenience of) people and for determining the time of Pilgrimage[Nooruddin]
    NOTE: According to Quran, the lunar months are appointed periods, which clearly signifies their predictable and repeatable nature. We do not need a Mullah’s eyes to find that predictability, as it is beyond his physical and intellectual capacity. For that one needs a meteorologist’s foresight, instruments and knowledge.

    Lets not forget that Islam is not for subtropics of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia alone, which might have a common experience of the same moon. It is also meant for polar regions. How will Inuits determine the month of Ramadan – by witnessing the moon? Can both poles have moon sighting for Eid-ul-Fitr in the same year, always?
    If the whole Muslim world can agree for same Hajj Day, then why can’t it retroactively agree on same start day of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr.
    Why do Muslims the world over use Greenwich Mean Time for starting and ending fasts(- see Dr. Zahid Aziz above), even though we can have our own “lunar hours, minutes and seconds?” Thankfully, we don’t use it, else the Islamic world and all its commerce will come to crashing halt with the “lunar clock,” which will need constant resetting from region to region with its baggage of fatwas with each passing second.
    Muslims have to learn to use science which is governed by Allah’s Laws of physics, else wouldn’t they become “Kafirs” i.e. someone who does not believe in His Laws, both by acts of omission or commission? Even worse, “Monkeys” who imitate each others gestures, be it of religious nature, and without much thinking:
    2:65. And indeed you have come to know (the end of) those of you who transgressed regarding the Sabbath. Thereupon We said to them, `Be you (as) apes, despised.’
    2:66. Thus We made this (incident) an example to learn a lesson from, for those present at the time (of its occurrence) and (also) for those who came after it and an admonition to all those who guard against evil. [Nooruddin]
    The nitpicking in this day and age (- when space probes are heading towards Pluto to map it) of giving preference to sighting the new moon rather than calculating the appearance of new moon is sheer ignorance or Jahala. Necessity of Mullah’s witnessed new moon and thereafter the fasting calendar is more of a Jewish path of following one’s faith, who similarly asked minutest details for a simple cow slaughter. Quran mocks such a nonsense:
    2:67. (Recall) when Moses said to his people for their own good, `Verily, Allâh commands you to slaughter a cow.’ They said, `Do you make a mockery of us?’ He said, `I seek refuge with Allâh from being (one) of the ignorant.’
    2:68. They said, `Pray for us to your Lord to make clear to us what (kind of a cow) it is.’ He replied, `Says He, “It indeed is a cow neither too old nor too young, (but) of middle age, in between.” Now do as you are commanded.’
    2:69. They said, `Pray for us to your Lord to make clear to us of what colour it is.’ He replied, `Says He, “It is a cow fawn of colour, is intensely rich in tone, very pleasing to the beholders.”‘
    2:70. They said, `Pray for us to your Lord to make clear to us what it (- the cow in question) is (definitely like); for (all such) cows are much alike to us, and we shall indeed, if Allâh will, be guided to the right goal.’
    2:71. He said, `He (- God) says, “It is indeed a cow neither broken in to plough the land nor to water the tillage, perfectly sound (without any blemish), no spot on her”, (she is of one colour).’ They said, `Now you have (after all) brought the exact truth (with the necessary description).’ So they slaughtered her, though they had no mind to do it. [Noourddin]
    This moon sighting is a classical case where one can say that Muslims have preserved the body by killed the soul of Islam.
    Even though Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and An-Nassa’i state the Hadith – “We are an illiterate nation. We do not use astronomical writing or computation [in our fasting]…” but nowhere have I come across an equivalent Hadith that“We WILL REMAIN an illiterate nation. We WILL NOT use astronomical writing or computation [in our fasting]…”

  6. August 10th, 2011 at 9:38 am
    From Zahid Aziz:

    You say that you have read Maulana Muhammad Ali’s explanation from his Urdu translation of Sahih Bukhari. But it appears not. Here is a link to the relevant note from that book (v. 1, p. 422).

    Your comment implies that the Maulana was not aware that some people take “calculate” to mean “calculate it as thirty days”, but he mentions this opinion. Then you call it the Maulana’s interpretation that the sighting method is for people who are illiterate, and those with knowledge may use calculation. But he has quoted the opinions of several authorities that “calculate” (faqdiru lahu) means faqdiru bi-hisabi manazil , that is, calculate it according to the computation of the phases (of the moon). He has quoted an authority as saying that “calculate” is addressed to those having the requisite knowledge and “complete thirty days” is meant for the ordinary people. He has referred to the well-known commentary of Bukhari, Fath-ul-Bari, as giving an interpretation that by “a people who neither write nor know accounts” are meant the Muslims present at the time when the Holy Prophet uttered these words. Yet you call it Maulana Muhammad Ali’s own conclusions, while he cites sources for his views.

    Then you have given a strange interpretation to the words “We are an unlettered people, who neither write nor keep accounts” by turning the cause into the effect. You say this does not mean: ‘we don’t calculate the new moon because of being illiterate’, but that ‘we are called illiterate because (despite calculations being available) we don’t use calculation’.

    But the Holy Prophet made it as a general statement, and not in connection with determining the new moon, that “We are an unlettered people, who neither write nor keep accounts”. It is absurd to suggest that Arabs were being called Ummi merely because they didn’t use calculation for the new moon, and that later Muslims, while being educated and knowledgeable in all spheres of life, should also not use calculations for the moon so that they continue to be called Ummi!

    Then you claim that calculations introduce complications because it cannot be decided how to define at what stage of its development after birth the moon is new. But you forgot that with the sighting method currently used, the same kind of questions arise:

    1. You yourself began this thread by asking, should all Muslims follow a sighting from anywhere in the world, or the sighting in their own countries? This Ramadan the first sighting was in Chile ( on 31st July. So, whatever answer you may give to it, the fact remains that this question arises.

    2. Does sighting mean sighting by naked eye only, as in the Holy Prophet’s time, or is it allowed to Muslims to see the new moon using an aid which would show it before it is visible to the naked eye? For example, using telescopes, or from an aircraft.

    3. If a visual sighting is reported which is impossible according to calculations, should it be accepted or rejected? See the following examples from Eid-ul-Fitr of 2008 on the Muslim moon sighting website:

    Read this webpage, from under “Sighting Reports”, and see the comments made by that website in bold in blue colour. It says: moon sighted in Nigeria before birth, sighted in Phillipines when too young to be seen, Saudi Arabia’s official authority declared moon as sighted there when it was below their horizon. The website comments: “It was impossible to see the moon in Saudi Arabia. The moon set before sunset. It was not even above their horizon. So how can anyone see a moon that is not there.”

    You have a stark choice here: either accept the official Saudi sighting and say the calculations were wrong (proving the science to be wrong), or admit that the sighting was in error.

    Please do answer the above three questions.

    You say at the end that by taking sighting reports from all over the world, Muslims everywhere could start/end Ramadan on the same day. But to gather that information, you need to use modern instant communication technology! So according to you it is allowed to use modern technology for determining moon sighting, but not allowed to use calculations. You missed Maulana Muhammad Ali’s footnote in A Manual of Hadith, saying that with the advent of radio, there can be uniformity of dates even if actual sighting is relied upon (p. 167). So he allows, as an alternative, the same method as you support. Therefore you have no cause to disagree with him!

    Finally, an interesting news. Muslim scholars in Dubai have ruled that people living on the upper floors of the Burj Khalifa tower must end the fast two to three minutes later than those on lower floors because they can see the sun for two or three minutes more after it has set on the ground! So people living in the same city in the same building can’t end the fast at the same time.

  7. August 10th, 2011 at 5:02 pm
    From Muhammad Ali:

    @Rizwan Jamil: I have only one question for you. Have you ever been to Norway. Normally the weather there is most of the times cloudy. And there are even some regions in Norway, where the day and nights are six months long.
    If the lunar month should be decided only after the sighting of moon. Then it will happen in Norway most probably that we have an Islamic year constituting of 360 days. Because the sighting of moon in Norway is very difficult in winter due to clouds. And in summer it is difficult, as the sun sets very late and there is not complete darkness at night. Beside that it is also most of the times cloudy weather in summer.
    Similarly what should people do in regions in Norway, where the day and night is six months long? How the Islamic calendar works there.
    Please answer my question quoting Quran and Hadith only.

  8. August 11th, 2011 at 4:23 am
    From Zahid Aziz:

    It is simply incorrect to say that by relying on worldwide reports of moon sighting, Ramadan could begin (or end) on the same day all over the world.

    This Ramadan the first worldwide reported sighting of the new moon was in Chile on 31st July, where sunset was local time just after 6 p.m. Therefore the sighting would be after, say 6.15, p.m. At that time, in Pakistan it would be 1st August, 3.15 a.m., and in Malaysia 6.15 a.m.

    In Malaysia the time for starting the fast would already have passed. And considering that the news from Chile would take sometime to reach other countries and then be broadcast to the public, even in Pakistan and all points east the fast starting time would have passed. So while in Chile Ramadan would begin on 1st August, in Pakistan and further east it would begin on 2nd August.

    Relying on calculations, you could say long in advance that as the moon would be born on 30th July (18.40 GMT) but would not be visible anywhere in the world on that date, and would be visible somewhere in the world on the evening of 31st July (locally), therefore Ramadan everywhere should begin on 1st August.