Picture of Moon Sighted Around Paris on July 8th

Monday night witnessed the anxiety, anger, confusion and perplexity of the Muslim community regarding FCNA’s Ramadan announcement.  Majority of the Muslim world was to begin fasting on Wednesday while countries like Pakistan and India were to fast on Thursday. The question raised by almost every caller was and still is that how come FCNA announced Ramadan for Tuesday while the moon was not sighted anywhere in the world on Monday night.

The picture on the right shows that the new moon was sighted on Monday evening at 6:08 pm local time in the Ploynesian Islands west of North America. In addition to that, the above picture shows that also on Monday, July 8th, the new moon was sighted and photographed around Paris long before its sighting in the Polynesian Islands. This picture was taken by the astrophotographer Thierry Legault, who routinely takes extraordinary photos. He shot it from his backyard near Paris on Monday at 07:14 UTC, when the Moon was a mere 4.4 degrees from the Sun. For comparison, the Sun and Moon are about the same size in the sky, just 0.5 degrees in diameter. The vast majority of the Moon was dark, with only the narrowest sliver lit at the top. (See The Newest New Moon)

If the new moon was sighted and photographed around Paris long before its arrival in the American horizons then its sighting was quite possible in North America. Astronomical calculations indicated that the new moon was born on Monday and its age was between 18 to 22 hours depending upon its location in the US. Therefore calculations and possibility of sighting were sufficient enough of Sharai’ proofs that Ramadan in North America was on Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

There is not a single verse in the Qur’an that requires physical Moon sighting as the legal cause for fasting. The Qura’n’s required legal cause for fasting is “witnessing the month”. It is an agreed upon fact among all the Qur’anic exegetes that the Qur’anic phrase “whoever witnessed the month” means whoever is present in his residential place and gets to know about Ramadan’s arrival through any kind of knowledge, including sighting but not confined to sighting, should fast. The Prophetic reports apparently asking for sighting to begin or end Ramadan, in reality, require “certainty of knowledge” vis-à-vis arrival and end of the month of Ramadan. The pre-Prophetic Arabs of Jahiliyyah, following the Jewish lead, were arbitrarily intercalating their lunar calendar so that Hajj and other religious acts could fall in specific seasons and not in extreme cold or hot seasons. They used to add a thirteenth month to a 12 months lunar year to realize this goal. Their arbitrary methodology of intercalation changed the actual Hajj timings from the month of Zil Hajjah to other lunar months such as Muharram or Safar. The Prophet (PBUH) brought the sacred times back to their divinely defined timings by connecting the lunar months with the actual new Moons. The physical sighting of the new Moon was prescribed as a mean to achieve that certainty. The actual Moon sighting was the only available method during those times to attain certainty. Actual Moon sighting has never been the objective of fasting but what it proves i.e., the month of Ramadan, as the famous classical Hanafi jurist Sa’ad al-Din Mas’ud bin U’mar al-Taftazani describes:

أَنَّ قوله تعالى { فَمَنْ شَهِدَ مِنْكُمْ الشَّهْرَ } مَعْنَاهُ شَاهَدَ الشَّهْرَ فَالشُّهُودُ عِلَّة وَأَيْضًا قَوْلُهُ عليه الصلاة والسلام صُومُوا لِرُؤْيَتِهِ} يَدُلُّ عَلَى ذَلِكَ إذْ لَيْسَ الْمُرَادُ حَقِيقَةَ الرُّؤْيَةِ إجْمَاعًا بَلْ مَا يَثْبُتُ بِهَا وَهُوَ شُهُودُ الشَّهْر]

“The meanings of the Qura’nic verse “whosoever witnesses the month” means (person) witnessing the month (being present in the month). Consequently, witnessing the month is a cause “’illah” (of fasting) and the Prophetic statement “fast by sighting it” proves that. All the Muslim jurists agree that the actual sighting is not meant here (meaning it is not the objective) but (the objective is) what the sighting proves and that is the witnessing (coming of) the month.”

Moreover, the verb “Ra’a Yar’a” which is usually used to denote actual act of physical sighting is linguistically not confined to it. It has been used in a number of other instances in the Qur’an as well as in the Ahadith where the meanings cannot be actual sighting but pondering or certainty. The verb “ra’a” along with its many derivatives has occurred in the Qur’an for 328 times. In a number of these verses the Qur’an has used the verb “seeing” in the context of pondering, certain knowledge or ascertaining, without any allusion to the act of sighting by human eyes. For instance verses 2:242 and 2:46 use the verb not in the primary sense of actual sighting but in the secondary sense of pondering and knowledge.

ألم تر إلى الذين خرجوا من ديارهم وهم ألوف حذر الموت فقال لهم الله موتوا ثم أحياهم إن الله لذو فضل على الناس ولكن أكثر الناس لا يشكرون(243)

Didst thou not turn thy vision to those who abandoned their homes, though they were thousands (in number), for fear of death? Allah said to them: “Die”: then He restored them to life. For Allah is full of bounty to mankind, but most of them are ungrateful.

ألم تر إلى الملإ من بني إسرائيل من بعد موسى إذ قالوا لنبي لهم ابعث لنا ملكا نقاتل في سبيل الله

Last thou not turned thy vision to the Chiefs of the Children of Israel after (the time of) Moses? They said to a Prophet (that was) among them: “Appoint for us a king, that we may fight in the cause of Allah.”

Same can be understood from the other Qur’anic verses such as 2:258, 3:23, 4:44, 4:49, 4:60, 96:9, 96:13,107:1 and many more.

Also the Prophetic Hadith has used the same verb “ra’a” in relation to fasting but in the secondary meanings. In the following Hadith actual sighting does not seem to be the goal. It is the certainty what is being required:

حدّثنا مُسدَّدٌ حدَّثَنا عبدُ الواحدِ حدَّثَنا الشَّيْبَانِيُّ قال: سمعتُ عبدَ الله بنَ أبي أوفى رضيَ الله عنهُ قال: «سِرْنا معَ رسولِ الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وهوَ صائمٌ، فلما غَرَبتِ الشمسُ قال: انزل فاجدَحْ لنا، قال: يارسولَ الله لو أمسَيتَ؟ قال: انزِلْ فاجدَحْ لنا، قال: يارسولَ الله إِنَّ عليكَ نهاراً، قال: انزِلْ فاجدَحْ لنا، فَنَزَلَ فجدَحَ، ثم قال: «إذا رأَيتُم الليلَ أقْبلَ مِن ها هنا فقد أفطَرَ الصائمُ»، وأشارَ بإِصبَعِه قِبَل المَشرِق.

“We traveled with the Prophet (PBUH) while he was fasting. At the Sunset he (PBUH) said, “Get down and mix the drink for us”. He was told what if we wait for the night! He said,”prepare the drink”. He was told that the daylight still seems to be there. He again asked for the drink which was prepared for him. Then he (PBUH) said,” when you see the night approaching from there (and he pointed towards the East), then the fasting person should break the fast.”

In these Ahadith the word “Raa’ytum” is used by the Prophet (PBUH) in connection with the act of breaking the fast in the evening. He said, “if you see the night coming from the East”. If we were to take his words literally then we will have to go out every evening to actually see the night coming from the East to break our fast. Presently nobody goes out in the evening to see the night coming from the East to break the fast. Muslims all over the world just follow the astronomical calculations and know the Iftar schedules in advance. At the time of the Prophet (PBUH) Muslims did not have many choices. That is why they adopted the most certain method of seeing the night coming from the East to break their fasts. Currently that method has been replaced by the astronomically calculated calendars and no jurist has any problem with that replacement. They readily agree that the Prophetic command “raa’ytum al-layl” “sighting the night” requires certainty about the night’s arrival and not its physical sighting with the naked eye. Once that certain knowledge is precisely achieved by the calculated watches and calendars, their use is in absolute conformity with the Prophetic command of “raa’ytum”. Here they do not object to moving from the primary meanings of “raa’ytum” i.e., seeing to its secondary meanings denoting certainty and knowledge.

Additionally, it is an agreed upon fact among all the jurists that actual Moon sighting is not required to confirm Ramadan on the 30th day of Sha’abaan. In fact many Muslim countries announce Ramadan in advance (as they did on Monday, July 8, 2013 that first day of Ramadan will be on Wednesday, July 10th) to be on the next Islamic day (31 day of the month) if the new Moon was not sighted on the 29th day of the month. Nobody is asked to look for the actual Moon on the 30th day except as a Sunnah and, not as an act of obligation. The reason is that it becomes certain that the new moon will be in the horizon on the evening of the 30th of Sha’abaan. Once the certainty about the new moon is attained then sighting is not required.

The FCNA was dead sure that the new moon was born on Monday, July 8, the new moon was old enough that it was possible for human beings to sight it either in the US or immediately west of it, the areas which share the night with us. Just the certain knowledge of this fact was sufficient enough of a Sharai’ proof to declare Ramadan on Tuesday, July 9th. Alhamdolillah, the moon sighting around Paris and in the Polynesian Islands has substantiated the FCNA’s position. In all fairness Tuesday was the first of Ramadan for Muslims of North America and the communities west of us. The West is not always dependent upon the East’s sighting. Scientifically it is possible that the moon may not be sighted in the East while easily sighted in the West due to the time difference. That is exactly what happened this year. We do not do Juma’ with Makkah, even though we could see it relayed on TV, because the Sun of Juma’ has not arrived in the US yet and our obligation of Juma’ is linked to the movement of the Sun.  Likewise the act of fasting is connected with the moon’s movement. The moon reaches us long after the East and at times we can see it because of its age while it may have not been possible to be seen in the East. Fasting of Ramadan becomes obligatory for the Muslims living in the West once there is a possibility of moon sighting in the West irrespective of such a possibility in the East. The condition is that such a possibility of sighting must be proven by certain knowledge i. e., either by actual sighting or scientifically authenticated astronomical calculations. That condition was fulfilled on the evening of Monday, July 8th.

In conclusion, our fasting on Tuesday, July 9th was valid and our Eid will also be valid, insha’Allah.

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