The Messenger of Allah
said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." narrated Abu Huraira
(Al-Bukhari Vol. 3: No. 123).
The arrival of the month of Shaban offers a tired old subject to participants in Muslim events, even informal dinners and celebrations, and Internet chat groups: the day to start and end the month of Ramadan.
The issue of moon sighting has become moon fighting. In this case, both sides of the divide are divided over the question that what is really the
'new' moon. Interestingly, both sides of the divide base their arguments on the Hadith: "Do not fast unless you sight the crescent, and do not break your fast till you sight the (following)
crescent." (Al-Bukhari, Vol.
The Islamic Shura Council of North America (ISCNA), in consultation with the Fiqh Council of North America, has adopted the position that a confirmed crescent sighting report in North America will be accepted as long as such a report does not contradict indisputable astronomical information. ISCNA comprises the four major Islamic organizations in the U.S.: the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Ministry of W. Deen Mohammad, and Community of Imam Jamil al-Amin). The Fiqh Council viewpoint is also supported by the research done by eminent scholars such as Dr. Yousuf Al-Qaradawi and Shaikh Mustafa Al-Zarqa.
Syed Khalid Shaukat, national coordinator, and moon sighting consultant to ISNA, expressing his disappointment over the issue, says:
"In the present era of scientific and technological advancement, three decades after man landed on the moon, some Muslims are still avoiding the use of scientific knowledge for making an Islamic calendar and get over with the feuds and having to wait till midnight for a confirmation of moon
Shaukat stresses, "Today, Muslims have expertise and access to technology to understand the calculations of when and where the sighting occurs. Recorded data shows how the science of moon sighting is compared with the actual observations. The results show that calculations of sighting and observations have matched every month since 1993. Calculations of moon sighting and actual sighting are not two different things for an Islamic Calendar when it was found that they both
He stresses that the results show that with today's technology, calculations are far more accurate than the claims of sighting, which we all have experienced, that often people mistake other objects for the crescent moon.
Shaukat points out that calculations for sighting are surety (haqqul-yaqeen), while claims of sighting may be suspicion (zann) or mistake. He says that Allah
has given us the knowledge about the motions of earth and moon, and an Islamic calendar based on calculations that has proven to match with actual sighting would enable us to plan ahead of time, while actual sighting will prove to be confirmatory. This, he says, only meets the intent of
Qur'an and Sunnah and its benefits greatly surpass the consequences faced by false claims of sighting and waiting for a decision until midnight.
The most misunderstood question is whether the sighting is a means or a requirement of ascertaining the beginning of an Islamic month. Shaukat says that the answer to this question is better understood by people in the Caribbean (Caribbean Islands, Trinidad, and Guyana) where they have a 6-month long rainy season and sighting is not possible because of clouds. If they count 30 days for 3 or 4 months in a row, the moon is then sighted on the 28th or 27th day. This, he says, is a clear indication that the Sharia did not intend the sighting as an only requirement but simply as a facility, that was the sole method available to the Muslims of that era.
The opponents of scientific calculations also cite Bukhari, Vol. 3:130, and maintain that the people at the time of the Prophet
were illiterate and thus physical sighting was the method prescribed by Allah
and thus cannot be changed. Among this group, there are differences on the number of witnesses needed for confirming such a sighting.
The Fiqh Council's view that physical sighting must go hand in hand with scientific calculations finds numerous grounds in the Hadith. ISNA, which serves as coordinator of the ISCNA moon sighting program, has set up a system where people who claim sighting the moon call the headquarters. The scientists then examine this information and discuss the various nuances with the reporter to establish the veracity of his sighting.
The need for such dual sighting is only strengthened by the fact that in contemporary times when the skies are also inhabited by numerous man made objects that may befool the viewer.
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