The Moon Sighting Controversy
Local Moon Sighting, Global Moon Sighting or with Saudi Arabia
The moon sighting controversy arises every year as Ramadhan approaches. The major differences among the scholars will be discussed here in this blog along with few other related issues.
There is no doubt that scholars are divided on this issue and I have listened and read numerous lectures/talks/discussions etc of different scholars on both the major opinions.
Local Moon Sighting Opinion
The scholars of this view state that all regions, countries should observe new moon sighting locally because of difference in latitudes (matla) in different parts of the world
Global Moon Sighting Opinion
The scholars of this view state that a new moon sighting (by 2 witnesses) in any one part of the world makes it compulsory for all Muslims of the world to start fasting and similarly a single new moon sighting in any part of the world makes it necessary for all Muslims of the world to end fasting.
Fasting and Eid with Saudi Arabia
There is also a minority opinion of starting and ending fast with Saudi Arabia but this is not supported by most scholars.
Basis of Differences
- Differences among scholars in interpretation of Quran and Ahadith related to moon sighting. Difference not due to Islam, but ldue to Muslims having different interpretations of Quran, Ahadith & even related scientific proofs.
- Worldwide Communication now possible through TV, Internet etc and information can be conveyed within seconds or minutes.
- Lack of Official State/Country wise sighting and official/legal statement (and implementation) of sighting or no sighting of the moon where government is Non-Muslim (e.g. USA, Canada, Europe, India etc)
- People creating mischief and disunity among the Muslims in the country (e.g. in Pakistan)
Also read: Planning for the Holy Month of Ramadhan:
Major References from Quran and Sunnah Regarding Moon Sighting
References from Quran:
- ‘So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it;’
(Holy Quran 2: 185)
- ‘And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the sunset’ (Holy Quran 2: 187)
- ‘And We have made the night and day two signs, and We erased the sign of the night and made the sign of the day visible that you may seek bounty from your Lord and may know the number of years and the account [of time]. And everything We have set out in detail.’
(Holy Quran 17: 12)
- ‘It is He who made the sun a shining light and the moon a derived light and determined for it phases – that you may know the number of years and account [of time]. Allah has not created this except in truth. He details the signs for a people who know.’
(Holy Quran 10: 5)
References from Ahadith:
- The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: Whenever you sight the new moon (of the month of Ramadhan) observe fast, and when you sight it (the new moon of Shawwal) break it, and if the sky is cloudy for you, then observe fast for thirty days
(Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
- The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said “Fasting is the day when you (i.e., the Muslim community) fast, iftaar is the day when you (all) break your fast and adha is the day when you (all) offer your sacrifice.”
(Tirmidhi and Abu Dawood)
Points for Global Moon Sighting
- Interpretation of the Hadith
- (When you sight the moon, you start fast……)
- This is a general order for the whole Muslim Ummah. Interpreted as general statement for the world, when moon is seen any place over the world
- According to these scholars, it requires any person or two witnessing the new moon sighting and the rest hearing of the sighting, which was the norm at the time of the Prophet (PBUH).
- Global moon sighting helps in uniting the Ummah. Instead of having 3-4 Eids for Muslims around the world, we should have only one Eid.
- Many renowned scholars of the past and present support this view including Imam Malik, Imam Hanbal, Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Hasan Basari, Ibn Tamiyyah and others (with a condition and counter argument given ahead)
- There is no specific Hadith on local moon sighting.
- It is a solution for unity among Muslims especially in Non-Muslim countries. Some people follow local moon sighting, some follow Saudi Arabia and some follow global moon sighting. But there is no legal authority to enforce as mentioned above as one of the reasons for differences in opinion among scholars on this issue. So every Muslim there has to follow his or her own conscious. If global moon sighting is adopted, this problem will not arise.
- Their objections/clarifications
- Who will decide the latitudes and how much latitude? There is difference of opinion in latitudes among scholars of local moon sighting.
- Difference among the Ummah will arise when there will be 3-4 days of Eid around the world with local moon sighting for which they become laughing stock of Non-Muslims
- On the tradition of Hazrat Kuraib (mentioned ahead also) in which he came to Madina from Damascus in Syria and related to Ibn Abbas.
- The main objection made to this tradition is that Hazrat Ibn Abbas got this information in the middle of the month because of the time taken for travel and communication in those days. So that is why Hazrat Ibn Abbas did not change date of fasting. They say that if he had got the information on 1st night then he would have also announced the fast.
- Also they say that Syria’s new moon is always same day as Saudi Arabia’s, so how could have this difference in sightings have happened at the time (answer may be because the weather in Madina at the time may have been cloudy and the new moon was not sighted).
- Because of local moon sightings, countries will have different Odd and even nights and different nights for laila-tul Qadr and Itikaaf
Because of local moon sightings, people may be fasting on the Eid day which is haram, if Eid day is different from the Eid day observed by global moon sighting.
Sunan Ibn Majah Hadith no: 1653
Narrated / Authority Of: Umair bin Anas bin Malik
‘My paternal uncles among the Ansar who were among the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) told me: The new crescent of Shawwal was covered with clouds, so we fasted the next day. Then some riders came at the end of the day and testified to the Prophet (saw) that they had seen the new crescent the night before. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) commanded them to break their fast and to go out to offer the Eid prayer the following morning. ( the other interpretation of this hadith given ahead).
References of Global Moon Sighting
Points for Local Moon Sighting
- There are different regions or latitudes in the world.
- “So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month” 2: 185)
- Interpreted as that everyone should sight the moon in his region, locality or matla (latitude), because it has been seen that moon sighting is different in different latitudes
- 2 day difference in moon sighting around the world is very common, sometimes there is a 3 day difference and once in a blue moon there can also be 4 day difference in moon sighting around the world
- It is scientifically not possible for the new moon to be sighted around the world on one day. So starting Ramadhan and celebrating Eid on same day around the world will be un-scientific.
- Based on this, it is not possible to expect all the Muslims to start fasting at the same time, because this would mean that some of them were starting to fast before the new moon had been sighted and even before it had appeared.
- So moon can be observed from country to country and this is being done officially in all Muslim countries
- Because the moon cannot be sighted throughout the world on one day and this is a scientific fact.
- So if the people of Makkah, for example, see it, then how can we expect the people of Pakistan and countries further east to start fasting, when we know that that the new moon has not yet appeared in their region, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) connected the start of fasting to the sighting of the moon?
- Muslims in China could not have known of the sighting of the moon in Andalus and vice versa
- Thus in early times, until 12-13 centuries, Muslims started fasting and celebrated Eid based on the local sightings of the moon. In this sense they were never ‘united’, meaning starting and ending Ramadhan on one day. This never caused any problems.
- The governor, Khalifah or every local leadership would announce the sighting and the whole portion under his area would follow along.
- There is no difference in opinion among scholars that one has to start daily fast and end daily fast on local sunrise and local sunset in the area.
- So as we follow the sun, we should follow the moon in the same way.
- So people around the world start and break the fast everyday from sunrise till sunset
- Muslims around the world cannot start daily fast at the same time. This also applies for places within a country; each city starts and breaks fast daily according to the local time of sunrise and sunset
- In one place of the world it is night time, the other place it is day time. This is a natural scientific phenomenon. The time difference around the world differs is 24 hours.
- Depends on longitude of the area. The world is divided into 360 longitudes. Each longitude differs by 4 minutes. So if one travels 4 longitudes, then there will be difference of 1 hour.
- Some countries with greater breadth have greater longitudes, and may have different time zones from East to West side of the country like USA.
- So even then Muslims will not be celebrating Eid at same time, around the world; it is not scientifically possible.
- When no one has seen the moon in the area, it means the moon has not yet entered your locality, so how can one start or end fasts?
- Similarly each time zone has its own time for prayers, Fajr, Zujar, Asr Maghrib and Isha. They are not same times for prayers around the world. Where does the logic for unity go here?
- Allah has given a specific function of ‘account of time’ for both moon and the sun as mentioned in the Holy Quran. The sun gives us indications for times of daily prayers in one’s area/locality, while the moon gives us indication for start/end of the month in one’s area/locality.
Support of Scholars for Local Moon Sighting
- Sheikh Ibn Taimiyyah states that one cannot have all Muslims in the world fasting together
- He also says that astronomically and scientifically it is not possible
- Never have Muslims around the world followed only one moon sighting
- Even old scholars who are said to follow ‘one moon sighting’ (like Imam Malik), they believed in ‘one moon sighting’ for cities/countries close by and did not allow for ‘one moon sighting’ for the whole world.
- Many ulema have given consensus that for areas far away from another, the moon sighting will be of their own area:
- Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked about those who call for the Ummah to be united in fasting and for the moon sighting to be based on its sighting in Makkah. He said:
- This is impossible from an astronomical point of view, because the sighting of the new moon, as Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said, differs, according to the scientists who are well-versed in this field. Because it differs, then each country should have its own ruling, according to the reports and according to science.
- Scholars say one should follow the majority.
- Imam Shafi also supported this opinion
Fasting is when you all Fast
- Sahih Tirmidhi: Book of Fasting: ‘the fast is when you all fast, and break of the fast is when you all break the fast’ Hadith mentioned above.
- It means people should fast with the people and break their fast with the people, and they should offer the Eid prayer with the Muslims in their city/locality or country
- Meaning even if a mistake was made in sighting of the moon, the fasting would still be considered as accepted. It is the intention and unity that counts. (Discussed in more detail ahead)
- So if someone says that the government/members of the moon committee made a mistake, that this looks like a 2nd day moon etc., they should remember this Hadith and should not raise Fitnah
- Also there is a Hadith clarifying the complaint some people make about seeing a larger moon the next day than expected:
- So as long as people of the area, locality, country fast, it is sufficient
- This was never a problem in early times.
- Almost all Ulema and scholars, even those who follow global moon sighting, agree that one person or few group of people should not celebrate Eid separately from the rest of the people of the area/locality or city or country
- Support from Hazrat Koraib Tradition, mentioned below.
- Unity Among Muslims in the Community/Country:
Unity Among Muslims in the Community/Country
Local moon sighting especially in Muslim government states creates an atmosphere of unity among the Muslims in the community or country. This has been accepted as majority opinion in these countries like Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries, Pakistan etc.
Hazrat Koraib Tradition
- NARRATOR Abdullah ibn Abbas
“Hazrat Kurayb said: Umm Fadl, daughter of Harith, sent him (Fadl, i.e. her son) to Hazrat Mu’awiyah in Syria. I (Fadl) arrived in Syria, and did the needful for her. It was there in Syria that the month of Ramadan commenced. I saw the new moon (of Ramadan) on Friday. I then came back to Medina at the end of the month. Hazrat Abdullah ibn Abbas asked me (about the new moon of Ramadan) and said: When did you see it? I said: We saw it on Friday night. He said: (Did) you see it yourself? I said: Yes, and the people also saw it so they observed fast and Hazrat Mu’awiyah RA also observed fast. Thereupon he said: But we saw it on Saturday night. So we shall continue to observe the fast until we complete thirty (fasts) or we see it (the new moon of Shawwal). I said: Is the sighting of the moon by Mu’awiyah not valid for you? He said: No; this is how the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) has commanded us. ”
- It was understood that there would be different moon sightings in different areas of the world. Hazrat Koraib travelled from Damascus to Madinah. Hazrat Ibn Abbas in Madinah asked him when did you start fasting and he stated we started on Friday.
- Hazrat Kuraib asked him if the witness of the people of Damascus was not enough. Hazrat Ibn Abbas said we started on Saturday and we will continue as such until we complete 29 or 30 days and will not change based on the Prophet’s Hadith. (The people in whole of Madina had not seen the moon, so how could they change the date of fasting based on a sighting far away from Madina i.e. in Syria?
- Even if Hazrat Kuraib had arrived late to inform people of Madina, the people of Madina did not accept it and fasted according to their own moon sighting.
- “This is how the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) has commanded us” this phrase almost confirms that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) asked people to sight the moon locally.
- Meaning that only local sighting is valid and sighting from far away may not be valid.
- Neither said that how can the Ummah be divided and no ruling or Fatwa was issued after this episode happened.
- For those objecting to this tradition, saying that now a days, moon sighting in Syria is always same as that in Saudi Arabia, (cannot verify this objection), the answer could be that Hazrat Koraib came from an area of Syria where the skies were clear and saw the moon which had not been possible in Saudi (supposing if both countries are in the same longitude).
- Also in this tradition, only the cities of Damascus and Madina were in focus and not the countries of Syria and Saudi Arabia.
- This tradition also indicates that days of Itikaaf and odd and even nights of last days of Ramadhan can also be different places and thus each place also had its own Laila tul Qadr. Allah is capable of all things.
- About objection that in this way there will be many nights of laila tul qadr when there is mention of only one night in the Quran (laila not layala), the answer is that each locality will have its own ONE laila tul qadr.
- Many Ulema and Fuqaha have relied on this important Hadith, stating that it is a strong indication that local moon sighting should be followed.
- This tradition also proves that it is not necessary to follow Saudi Arabia for moon sighting
- Call for unified sighting has never existed in the Ummah
Fataawa Arkaan al-Islam
- Supporting the argument of those who say that there should be different moon sightings:
- They say that the monthly timings should be like the daily sightings. Just as different countries vary in the start and end of the fast each day, so too they must differ in the start and end of the month-long fast. The difference in daily timings is well known according to Muslim consensus; those who are in the east start fasting before those who are in the west, and they also break the fast first.
- If we accept the differences in sighting with regard to daily timings, then we should also accept it with regard to the month.
- The Council of Senior Scholars issued an important statement on this topic, the text of which is as follows:
- Firstly: The difference in moon sighting is something which is well known, and there is no difference among the scholars concerning this. Rather the difference of scholarly opinion has to do with whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not.
- Secondly: The issue of whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not is a theoretical matter in which there is room for ijtihaad. Even people of great knowledge and piety differed concerning this matter.
- This is a type of difference which is acceptable, where the one who makes ijtihaad and gets it right will have two rewards, one for his ijtihaad and the other for getting it right, and the one who gets it wrong will be rewarded for his ijtihaad.
- Based on the considerations that the Council has seen and examined, and based on the fact that the difference of opinion on this matter does not have any effect that may lead to undesirable consequences, since this religion appeared fourteen centuries ago and we do not know of any period during which the Ummah was united in moon sighting, the members of the Council of Senior Scholars think that matters should be left as they are and that this subject should not be stirred up.
- Each Islamic state should have the right to choose whichever opinion it wishes, based on the suggestions of its own scholars, because each view has its evidence and proofs.
The times for starting and ending the fast each day should be worked out in each country on its own, according to the local times of sunrise and sunset. This is a point on which there is scholarly consensus. So you see the people in east Asia starting their fast before the people of west Asia, and breaking their fast before them, because dawn breaks for the former before the latter, and the sun sets for the former before the latter.
Once this is established with regard to the times for starting and ending the daily fast, it also applies to the start and end of the monthly fast. There is no difference between them.
But if many regions come under the same government, and the ruler gives the command for the fast to start or end, then his command must be followed, because this is a matter of scholarly dispute but the command of the ruler dispels that dispute.
Based on the above, you should fast and break your fast along with the people of the country where you are living, whether that is in accordance with your country of origin or not. Similarly on the day of ‘Arafah you should follow the country where you are living.
Written by Muhammad al-Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen, 28/8/1420 AH.
Answer to Hadith of Ibn Majah 1653 (mentioned above)
The people who came to give witness of the Shawwal moon must have come from a close by area, not from a far off country, as one day travel was not that quick to cover that many miles. So they must have come from an area with same moon latitude. The same can be said about similar Ahadith.
Objections to Global Moon Sighting
Creates Disunity among Muslim Communities
The Global Moon sighting movement is actually increasing disunity among the Muslim populations; a phenomenon which they claimed the movement would decrease. This is probably because majority of Muslims still believe and follow the local moon sighting process. If they did want unity they should have said to follow Saudi arabia, which many countries are doing now (because of unity and convenience). However following Saudi Arabia does not have much legal basis in Islam except for keeping Muslims united.
Many People Not Aware of Global Moon Sighting
Many people in the world are not even aware of this relatively new global moon sighting movement. Frankly speaking I wasn’t either. So these people are in the minority and if they start and end fast contrary to majority of the population, they would go against the Hadith of Tirmidhi quoted above.
Sighting of the Moon is an Act of Worship is Diminished
If global moon sighting is adopted, then once first new moon is sighted, other Muslims around the world will stop sighting the moon, because the moon has already been sighted. This act of worship (moon-sighting) will suddenly freeze after the 1st global moon sighting.
There is a special supplication dua for sighting of the moon:
Announcement of New Moon Can only be done by Khalifah/Head of State
It is stated by proponents of local moon sighting that announcement of the new moon can only be done by the Head of state or government especially in a Muslim country. Any individual person or individual group cannot make the announcement, for this may create confusion, chaos and division among the community. This would also ensure the fulfillment of the Hadith of Tirmidhi mentioned above.
Global Moon Sighting may go Against State
It is stated that global moon sighting may go against the Muslim state. If people start observing fast and Eid based on global moon sighting and state announces start of fast and end of fast based on local new moon sightings, problems will arise.
This will cause disunity among the Muslim community and 2 Eids may be celebrated.
Even Saudi Arabia Does Not Follow Global Moon Sighting
Although Saudi Arabia is NOT a total example for Muslims, but it is a fact that even Saudi Arabia does not follow Global Moon Sighting as some people claim. Its government makes its own independent announcement every year.
I personally was in Saudi Arabia and in the late 1980’s, Saudi Arabia announced Eid after 28 days of Ramadhan. The government apologized and clarified that the moon of Shawwal had been sighted and the moon of Ramadhan had been missed. The government told the people to make up one missed fast later after Eid. This incident can be verified. If Saudi Arabia had followed Global Moon Sighting, this would not have happened.
Global Moon Sighting May not be Practically Possible
Suppose a person listens or reads the announcement of sighting of new moon of Ramadhan on tv or internet and there are only 1-2 minutes left for Sehri to end, or Sehri has already ended and he has eaten & drank. What will he do now? He will have to fast the next day.
So practically it is often not possible for Muslims all over the world to start and stop fasting on the same day.
References for Local Moon Sighting
Starting and Ending fast with Saudi Arabia
There is no basis of this trend in the Holy Quran, Ahadith or any Fiqh opinion to support this. Saudi Arabia is not a Hujja (example) for Muslims. Some scholars however still allow because it sometimes creates harmony and unity among Muslims in a community, especially in cities and towns of a Non-Muslim country like USA.
Moon Sighting Should Not be Based on Astronomical Calculations
Visual sighting is necessary by two witnesses (few scholars say one) of the new moon sighting. Starting Ramadhan based on astronomical calculations of the new moon has no reference from the Holy Quran, Ahadith or most scholars.
Astronomical calculations can be given as a reference but cannot formulate the opinion. As mentioned above sighting the moon is an act of worship and should be done with the eyes.
Differences in Start and End of Fasting within Muslim Countries
- Hadith Tirmidihi: Your fasting is considered the day when you begin your fast and your Eid is considered the day you celebrate Eid.
- Meaning even if a mistake was made in sighting of the moon, the fasting would still be considered as accepted. It is the intention that counts.
- For the sake of unity, discipline and order, the orders of the local Khalifah, head of state, establishment etc have to be followed regarding moon sighting
- Thus if the state has officially announced the sighting of the moon, based on witnesses it should be accepted by all people living under the state. If the state has officially announced non-sighting of the moon, based on lack of valid evidences, then it should be accepted by all the people.
- Because even if a mistake has been committed by the government, and it issues a legal notification concerning the moon sighting, and people start fasting, then the Hadith stated above would be applied. So majority in this case also applies which is following state orders and for the sake of unity among the Muslims in the country. So for example if it found afterwards that some people actually had seen the moon but they had not come forward to give witness in time, then no problem. It is an unintentional ‘mistake’ that has been allowed by this Hadith.
- Scholars say that according to this Hadith, majority decision should be followed i.e. when they all agree that fasting has started, then fasting should be agreed. This is what happens when state gives official announcement after the Moon sighting committee of the country has unanimously announced sighting/non-sighting of the moon.
- Therefore any people or group of people going their own way in an Islamic country, like is happening in Pakistan, are committing a grave mistake and they are said to be dividing the nation. Some minority follow Saudi Arabia, another minority follow global moon sighting etc resulting in 2-3 Eids every year which is not a good thing and the fault lies in the leaders who instigate such differences in the Muslim community.
- This ‘clergy’ below in Pakistan, Mr. Populzai, creates mischief almost every year at Ramadhan only, declaring sighting moon on his own, going against the government and provinces decision, even when meteorologists clearly state there is no chance of sighting of the moon
Differences in Start and End of Fasting in Non-Muslim Countries
- The Muslim administrators in Non-Muslim countries should follow the regional sighting of the moon to determine the beginning and end of the month of Ramadhan
- And the people in these countries should follow majority opinion of the Muslim administrators according to regional sighting
- It has been seen in most of the places in these non-Muslim countries, minority of administrators are those who follow moon sighting in Saudi Arabia or global moon sighting.
Problems Faced with Number of Fasts when Traveling
- Suppose if a person starts fasting in a country where new moon was sighted 1-2 days earlier than other countries. Then suppose he travels by airplane to a country where the new moon was sighted in a country 1-2 days after other countries.
- He may end up fasting more than 30 days. Scholars say he should break the fast with other Muslims in the community of arrival based on the above Hadith. The extra number of fasts will be considered as Nafl (optional) fasts.
- In converse, suppose if a person starts fasting in a country where new moon was sighted 1-2 days after other countries. Then suppose he travels by airplane to a country where the new moon was sighted in a country 1-2 days earlier than other countries.
- He may end up fasting less than 29 days. Scholars say he should break the fast with other Muslims in the community of arrival based on the above Hadith. He will have to fast later after Eid to complete the minimum number of fardh (compulsory) fasts which is 29.
Since scholars say this is an issue of Ijtihad (independent reasoning by Islamic Jurists) and Ijtihad issue can never be said to be wajib or compulsory farz. Intention is also important and all fuqaha have good intentions.
Some Scholars also say one should follow majority opinion in ones town or country. However one should never impose one’s opinion down other’s throats and disrespect one another.
Personally, I believe the local sighting opinion is much stronger than the global moon sighting. The objections raised to local sighting are secondary. However, I have always stressed upon unity of the Ummah; that we should hold on to the rope of Allah and shun our differences. It often becomes a controversial topic which is sometimes endlessly debated on and on as I witnessed when I joined a whatsapp group of scholars discussing this specific issue.
One thing is probably certain. This issue will not be resolved until the coming of Imam Mehdi and Hazrat Isa AS and they will give the solution once and for all in sha Allah 😊. Arguments will continue to be given for and against and the debate will continue to linger on endlessly. So I believe we should move on to other more important issues.
Despite all the religious, scientific, social, geopolitical etc differences on the issue, would it not be better if we respected each other’s opinions instead of labeling each other with the most unbelievable expressions?
After all, it is Allah who is ultimate Judge and who has authority to accept our worship, no matter how many mistakes it may have, especially if done with good intention.
And Allah knows best.