The Almighty has prescribed
the month of Ramadān for keeping fasts and the month of Dhū al-Hajj for offering
the hajj. Since both these months belong to the lunar calendar, the issue
of ascertaining the days of these months has always remained under discussion.
Even before the recent advances made in the science of astronomy, people were
aware that a lunar month could not exceed thirty days; however, general
observation showed that a lunar month could also be of twenty nine days.
When the Qur’ān directed
people to keep the fasts of one whole month, it was suspected that people would
insist on completing thirty days while complying with this directive.
Consequently, the Prophet (sws) cautioned people to begin the month of Ramadān
when the moon was sighted and to end it too when it was sighted; it was not
essential to complete thirty days and in case the sky was not clear, thirty days
must necessarily be completed. It is this very directive of the Prophet (sws)
which was given an entirely different form by various narrators: as per this
changed scenario, it was thought that the Prophet (sws) had bound people to
observe the moon for ascertaining the commencement of Ramadān. It is our good
fortune that in one variant of this narrative, this directive of the Prophet (sws)
has been reported in its original form. He is reported to have said:
الشَّهْرُ تِسْعٌ وَعِشْرُونَ فإذا رَأَيْتُمْ الْهِلَالَ فَصُومُوا وإذا
رَأَيْتُمُوهُ فَأَفْطِرُوا فَإِنْ غُمَّ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاقْدِرُوا له
(مسلم ، رقم: 1080)
A month can also be of twenty
nine days; so if you sight the moon, begin the fast and if you sight it break
the fast; if the sky is not clear complete the days. (Muslim, No: 1080)
This narrative is reported by
‘Abdullāh Ibn ‘Umar (rta). A variant from Abū Hurayrah (rta) is reported
precisely in the same words.
It is evident from this
discussion that sighting the moon for ascertaining a lunar month was never made
incumbent; on the contrary, it was made incumbent to begin a month after
sighting the moon so that people should not insist on completing thirty days
thinking that one whole month’s fasts have been made mandatory for them.
Consequently, the very words reported from the Prophet (sws) begin thus: “a
month can also be of twenty nine days.”
The purpose of sighting the
moon is to determine a lunar month. If thirty days are completed in a month,
moon-sighting is not required since in this matter we are absolutely certain
that whether the moon is sighted or not, the previous month has ended and a new
month will now begin. With advancement of technology, we are now in a position
to determine if a lunar month can be of twenty-nine days. We are now in a
position to know with full certainty when the moon is born for this earth each
month. Hence, there is nothing wrong if the lunar calendar is instituted on the
basis of the moon’s birth with respect to Makkah, and if all religious festivals
are celebrated in accordance with it. The purport of religion is ascertaining
the lunar month. If it can be ascertained by sighting the moon, it was adopted
in the past, and if now it can be determined through some other way, then no
objection can be raised against it. After the invention of watches, just as we
no longer need to observe sunrise and sunset to ascertain prayer timings,
similarly, we are not required to ascertain a lunar month through moon sighting.
The issue of sighting the moon has arisen because of misreporting of the
narrators. After collating all the variants on this topic, it becomes evident
that the Prophet (sws) had an entirely different objective before him.
Should one still insist on
sighting the moon after all this? Our scholars need to deliberate on this
(Translated from Maqāmāt
by Shehzad Saleem)