Determination of the New Moon
|by Prof. ABU ZAFAR translated by SHAHID AZIZ, M.Sc., ENGLAND|
They ask you concerning the new moon. Say: They are times appointed for (the benefit of) men, and (for) the pilgrimage; [Quran 2: 189]
"An astronomer, and any one who has faith in such computation, can rely on a statement (of the appearance of the new moon)."
Al-Fiqh `ala al-madhahib al-arba`
"In a writing of his, Imam Subki Shafi'i has also inclined to relying on astronomers because computation is definite..."
'lbn Arabi has quoted Ibn Suraij's statement that “faqduru lahu" (estimate it) is for those who have knowledge of astronomy..."
Determination of the times of starting and ending daily fast is a religious matter and yet we find that these time-tables are published months in advance.
(Traditionally. the commencement of a Muslim month, which begins with the appearance of the new moon, has been determined by observation by eye. For some years now a debate has been going on in the Muslim world about the use of scientific computations to determine the moon. We produce on authoritative article below which shows conclusively that there is nothing "un-Islamic" in the use of such modern methods. - Editor)
dealing with this topic it is wrong to call those having a different
point of view from one's own as insincere, or to issue some kind of a
religious decree against them. All the contending parties may be
sincere. I am not hinting
at any person or group in
writing this article but want only to bring to the public's notice some
academic research I have carried out. The Holy Prophet had this to say
about observing the moon to determine the beginning or end of the month
"We are an unlettered people; we neither write nor keep account.
Some times a month is this much and sometimes that much, so that it is
sometimes twenty-nine and sometimes thirty days" (Bukhari).
"Ibn Umar related the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah
be upon him) as saying: When you see it (the moon) start the fast, and
when you see it (again) end it (i.e.Ramadan) ; if it is cloudy then
estimate it" (Bukhari)
"The Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
said: Look for the moon to
start the fast and look for it to end it (i.e., Ramadan). and if
it is cloudy then complete
thirty days" (Bukhari).
of Ru'yat ("Seeing")
and Fuqduru ("Estimate")
issue becomes clear if the words ru 'yat
Iahu meaning "seeing" and "estimate it"
are explained. Literally,
to see with one's eyes or sense or heart. All lexicons of Arabic (al-Munjid,
Aqrab al- Muwarid, aI-Qamus, Lisan aI-Arab, Mantaha al-Arab) contain
all of these alternative meanings.
Further, Imam Raghib
in the Mufradat gives examples of the various meanings in which
the Quran has used this word:
"Ru'yat (or to see)
is of many different kinds in accordance with human faculties.
First, as perception e.g., "you will surely see hell". Second
"if only you as imagination, e.g., if only you ould see him
when he was taking the unbelievers’
soul". Third, an intellect, e.g., "you do not see what I am
seeing". Fourth, as
understanding, e.g., "there was no shadow of doubt in what the
heart saw" (Mufradat, Letter ra followed
by ya, p. 208).
seeing by eye, by imagination by intellect, or by understanding. So, ru'yat
means to gain knowledge of a thing by any of the methods described
above. The Holy Quran uses ru'yat
(to see) thirty or forty different times in such a way that it
cannot possibly mean "to see with the eye". For example
"Did you not see how your Lord dealt with Aad" (89 :6).
"Did you not see him who argued with Abraham” (2:258)
neither of these verses can one take "to see” to mean
"to see with the eye", for none of those who witnessed these
events were alive at the time of the
revelation of the Holy Quran. Therefore, in these verses;
"to see" means to
gain knowledge from historical or technical sources. So when the Holy
Prophet said, even when you see
the other phrase or the
tradition, faqduru lahu, literally means "estimate it".
Since the early days of Islam the elders of religion have been
interpreting this phrase in two ways:
Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Ali of Baghdad (d. 370 A.H.) famous as Imam Jasaas,
writes in Ahkam aI-Quran (vol. i p.236):
"Some people say that this
tradition means to rely on stages of the moon. Therefore, if the
location ; such that, had there not been cloud or dust, the new moon
would have been visible, then both (or the beginning and end of the
month of Ramadan, the order of "seeing with the eye" would be
applicable otherwise not. Others contend that if it is cloudy then
thirty days of Shabaan (month preceding Ramadan) should be
are not concerned in here with discussion of the correctness or
otherwise of either of these interpretation. However, it is clear from
this that from the very inception there were at least some people who
felt that astronomical calculations could be relied upon. In fact both
interpretations are correct because the two different traditions (nos. 2
and 3 above) deal with two different situations. One relates
to completion of thirty days for those places where astronomers
or astronomical data are not available. The other to where such experts
or data is available, so that the day and the time of the new moon can
be determined by computation.
ibn Abdullah of Basra (d. 87 A.H.), a leading personage from the
generation after the Companions, gave the same interpretation (Hadaita
al Mujtahid lil-Qurtabi, p. 275):
the new moon is hidden by clouds then the knowledge of the movement of
the sun and the moon shall be referred to."
Some members of the Shafi'i school of jurisprudence also agree
'ala l-madhahib al-arba' (vol.1, p.551) states:
astronomer, and any one who has faith in such computation, can rely on a
statement (of the appearance of the new moon)."
Imam Subki Shafi'i
considered computation to be more reliable than the evidence of
two eye-witnesses. In Rad al-Mukhtar (vol ii, p. 100, published
in Egypt) it is said:
a writing of his, Imam Subki Shafi'i has also inclined to relying on
astronomers because computation is definite..."
Qazi Abdul Jabbar and the author of
Jam' aI-UIum also
adopted this position. In vol. ii (p.100) of the above mentioned book we
Abdul Jabbar and the author of Jam,'
al-Ulum have already been quoted
as saying that there is no harm in relying on astronomers."
In the same place the author of Quniya is quoted as giving
the view-point of Ibn Muqatil as follows
used to consult astronomers, and when a group of them concurred he used
to accept their advice."
Allama Subhi Mamsani
quotes Ahmad Shakir's Awail al-Shahur in
falsifatu al-Tashri as saying that it is a unanimously
agreed principle of jurisprudence that an effect remains only for the
duration of its cause, and then it ends. He then goes on:
it is on the basis of this principle that some jurist: declared the use
of astronomical computation to be, lawful
Muslim months, particularly the month of Ramadan. The explanation Is
that the tradition which commands that only "seeing with the
eye" of a new moon can he relied on, was related to a special
reason. That was that the nation being addressed was unlettered and
could not compute. Now that this nation has come out of its state of
illiteracy and is literate and can compute with certainty, it now
becomes incumbent that they should
refer to certainty (computation) to determine the new moon, and only on
the previous method where astronomical computation is not known."
According to Muwahib al. Din, a commentary or the
Hadith collection Muwatta of Imam Malik, (vol ii, p.85):
Arabi has quoted Ibn Suraij's statement
that “faqduru lahu" (estimate it) is for those who
have knowledge of astronomy, and fakmilu aI-'Iddah: ("complete
the term" of thirty days) is addressed to the ordinary
is nothing in Islam which makes the use of knowledge for religious
purposes illegal. Here four examples are quoted. Firstly, law of
heritage is a religious matter. However, the Holy Prophet (peace be upon
him) himself used tile science of physiognomy to determine lineage.
punishment of a thief is a religious matter in Islam. However, if a
thief is apprehended by the use of fingerprints or tracker dogs this
would not be unlawful.
determining times of daily prayers is a
religious matter. Scholars of the past had decreed that the use
of computation was unlawful even for this.
today we find such timetables in every mosque and every home.
fourthly. determination of the times of starting and ending daily fast
is a religious matter and yet we find that these time-tables
are published months
in advance. What makes these lawful?
the scholars should
direct themselves more to declaring the computed timetable for
prayers unlawful, rather than the determination of the new moon by
computation. For prayer has a higher place in Islam than fasting and it
is said that after death one will be questioned about prayer first!
this day and age, astronomical
computations are as certain as two plus two makes four, and experts can
compute times of all events related to heavenly bodies so that there is
not a hair's breadth of difference between the occurrence and the
computation. The Lord, did not create these bodies to deceive us, or so
that we may ignore them. On the contrary, they were created so that we
may make use of them to determine the calendar. “Allah has ordained
stages for the moon so that you may be able to compute the calendar from
them" (10 5). These stages are predestined so that there can be no
deviation and this leaves no doubt in computation. That is why the Holy
Quran exhorts us to use rather than ignore them.
is the best dispenser of religious decrees. When the loud-speaker was
invented its use was
declared unlawful for sermons, but now it is used even for prayers.
Paper currency was also declared unlawful, yet there is not a single Muslim
country without it now. Of course, there are differences of opinion on
all matters of jurisprudence; if these are going to make us unacceptable
to each other then we will have to wash our hands of all of these.
Indeed, as Astronomy
and astronomical computation have reached a pinnacle, and the time when.
as they improve in scholarship, all Muslims accept them is not far, these
problems will, in fact, find their own solution
automatically and the world will bow its head to the commandments
of Islam. It is a sad commentary on our intellectual state that at a
time when men are landing on the moon we are involved in heated debates
on whether it is lawful to determine a new lunar month by computation.
May' Allah grant us the wisdom to understand and act upon the
Holy Quran and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings
of Allah be upon him).
The question was whether ru'yat can be applied to determine the new moon by astronomical knowledge. In the light of the Holy Quran, traditions of the Holy Prophet, and the views of the elders of religion, our honest opinion is that, because knowledge of astronomy has reached such a level of certainty. there is no danger to our faith to do so. If you disagree with us, then wait a few years, and you will find, insha Allah, that all Muslim countries will begin to have confidence in these calculations.