Arguments for Calculations

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People have landed upon the Moon and Muslims are still fighting about the moon sighting. Islamic Shari’ah is not static. It responds to people of all times and differing circumstances. Actual moon sighting is a mean to determine Ramadan and not an objective in itself. Islam requires certainty regarding the sacred timings. During Prophetic era this certainty was achieved either through physical moon sighting or through estimation or completion of thirty days. Currently the astronomical calculations about the birth of new moon are so accurate that astronomers can determine moon birth dates years in advance. The Qur’an in Surah Yunus authenticates calendar based upon such precise astronomical calculations. “It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light, and measured out stages for it (moon); that you might know the number of years and the calculations. (10:5)...

The Qur’an in Surah Yunus authenticates calendar based upon such precise astronomical calculations. “It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light, and measured out stages for it (moon); that you might know the number of years and the calculations. (10:5) There is absolutely nothing in the Qur’an which categorically mandates actual moon sighting for confirmation or negation of Ramadan. The Qura’nic exegetes universally agree that the verse of Surah al-Baqarah (2:185) “So whosoever witnesses the month among you should fast in it” does not require physical moon sighting but mandates residential presence and knowledge of Ramadan as the legal cause of fasting. The original linguistic meanings of the word hilal revolve around announcement with loud voice, cry of joy and sharing news publicly by raising voices. The new moon was metaphorically called al-hilal because the Arabs at its first sight used to express joy and publicly announce coming of the new month. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing in the Qur’an that requires actual moon sighting as the only means of determining Ramadan. The supposed Prophetic supplications (Dua’s) at first glance of the new moon are based upon weak Ahadith. Moreover these supplications can be recited at any time the person sees the new moon first time.

The Prophetic commands “fast by sighting it”, both positive and negative, in reality require certainty. The goal is certainty about arrival of Ramadan and moon sighting is just a mean. If the moon is not sighted on the evening of the 29th day of Sha’ban then nobody is required to go out on the evening of the 30th day. Announcement is usually made on the 29th day that the day after will be the first day of Ramadan because certainty about Ramadan’s arrival is achieved. Therefore no sighting is needed on the 30th day. Had the actual moon sighting been required as a prerequisite to fasting then fasting without actual moon sighting would have been absolutely prohibited even after the 30th day. That is not the case.

At the time of Prophet (PBUH) and later centuries actual moon sighting was the most authentic way of attaining the certainty. We in the modern times can reach the same goal through precisely accurate astronomical calculations. Scientifically computed astronomical calculations were not available during the Prophetic times. Those who make such claims have yet to bring a single authentic Islamic reference to substantiate their claims.

The Jews and Makkan polytheists used to synchronize their lunar calendar with the civic solar calendar by arbitrary intercalations. The lunar year consisted of 354 days while the solar year was 365 days. The Hajj would fall sometimes in winter and on others times in spring or summer. The Polytheists wanted Hajj to fall during specific seasons for political and economic reasons. That is why they intercalated a thirteenth month after each three or four years to synchronize the lunar with the solar year. That changed the Hajj from its original sacred timing of Zil Hajjah to other months like Muharram, Safar or Rabi’ al-Awwal. The Qur’an abolished that practice and brought the time back to its original form. (Qur’an 9:36–37) The Prophet (PBUH) commanded Muslims to connect the sacred months of worship back to their original timings. The only mean available at that time to determine the month was either by physical moon sighting or completing 30 days in case of climatic obscurities such as clouds. That is why the Prophet (PBUH) emphasized either actual moon sighting or completion or counting. The lawgiver has not confined the method only to moon sighting. He has given us choices between sighting, completion, counting or calculations.

Islamic history has witnessed two conflicting tendencies among jurists throughout the past fourteen centuries. Some jurists stick to the letter of the text while the others try to implement the text in spirit. Some earlier jurists literally applied the Prophetic words and connected the five times daily prayers with the poles, shadow and movements of the Sun. They categorically prohibited use of astronomically calculated clocks in determining prayer timings. The later jurists allowed clock timings and currently it is a norm. Likewise calculations were not permitted to determine Qiblah directions. Presently the compasses are a norm. In old times Muslims looked at the black and white thread, as the Qur’an stated, to determine the Suhur and Imsak timings. Currently we use calculated timings of clocks for both Suhur and Iftaar. The classical books of Islamic Fiqh are replete with arguments against the use of calculations in determining the daily prayer timings, Imask, Suhur and Qiblah directions. Currently these discussions are outmoded as irrelevant.

I am dead sure that after few years the astronomically calculated lunar calendar will also become a norm. Such a calendar will fulfill the spirit of Islamic Shari’ah and also help achieve the main objectives of Islamic religion. Islam wants Muslims to focus more upon unity, completing days of Ramadan and spiritual reformation. Moon sighting turned moon fighting is no objective of Islamic Shari’ah. The Prophet (PBUH) was the most practical man ever created. He would have not preferred a Zanni (probable) method of moon sighting over a Qatt’ai (categorical) method of calculations. “Allah intends ease for you; He does not want to put you in difficulties. [He wants you] to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful. (2:185)

For more details on the subject read my book “The Astronomical Calculations and Ramadan: A Fiqhi Discourse” published by IIIT, Washington-London.