by S. Harbi, U of U student, Vice President MSA
هُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَ الشَّمْسَ ضِيَاءً وَالْقَمَرَ نُورًا وَقَدَّرَهُ مَنَازِلَ لِتَعْلَمُوا عَدَدَ السِّنِينَ وَالْحِسَابَ مَا خَلَقَ اللَّهُ ذَلِكَ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ يُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ
[يونس 5 ]
It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light (of beauty), and measured out stages for it; that you may know the number of years and the count (of time). Allah has not created this but in truth. (Thus) does He explain His signs in detail, for those who understand. (10:5)
Glory be to Allah (SWT) who has made Islam an easy and accommodating religion for all of us. A conflict arises in many Muslim communities around the world. The debate has been over what methodology to utilize when determining the sight of the new Moon to begin the holy month of Ramdaan. Moon-sighting has been a controversial topic that has been clouded over by sheer ignorance. There are various factors that many Muslims utilize to seal the fate of their fast. Inshallah in this paper I will attempt to go over three of the main aspects:
- Astronomical calculations
- “Whatever the Sheikh of Saudi-Sudan-Pakistan-Indonesia-pick the country of your choice-says”
- Unification with other Muslim communities
Bukhari reported on the authority of [Abdullah] Ibn Omar, radi’allahuanhum, who said that the Prophet sallahu alayhi wa salaam, said on the day of the [battle of] Alliances: “No one should pray asr except in the [territories] of Banu Qurayzah.” Some were still on the road at the asr time and said: “we will not pray asr until we reach it [Banu Qurayzah]. Others said: “we will indeed pray; this is not what was intended.” The Prophet Sallahu alayhi wa salaam was informed about [the disagreement], and he did not rebuke any of them.
Three important observations must be highlighted from that hadith
- Some of the sahabis took the Prophet’s words literally did not perform Asr salah until reaching Banu Qurayzah
- Some of the sahabis did perform Asr salah while on the road.
- and lastly the Prophet Sallahu alayhi wa salaam approved the actions of both groups. He did not point out who was right and who was wrong
Now from those three observations we can now conclude that the Prophet Sallahu alayhi wa salaam approved the actions of both, signaling that differences in opinion are abound to arise, and that the ijtihad of one group does not invalidate that of another.
I do not plan on going into detail in which opinion is correct and which is not, but rather weigh each opinion to give each their fair due, and also to provide a practical resolution Inshallah.
Contention 1: Astronomical calculations
We live in the day and age where science has surpassed its own heights.
The debate over the determination of the birth of the new crescent (Hilal) has taken a new priority in North America after the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) announced, in August 2006(still going on today), its new ruling (fatwa) on the use of calculation for establishing the beginning of the Islamic lunar month(1). The ruling established for the first time in recent history astronomical calculations as the sole criteria for deciding the birth of the new crescent.
With this new fad of utilizing astronomical calculations many questions arise. The greatest question of all is Does this method provide the highest degree of certainty compared to other methods?
When naval scientist attempt to answer that given question they use four basic factors to determine the beginning lunar month: Complexity of the movement of the moon, Size and brightness of the lunar crescent, Sky conditions, and the observers situation and conditions.
1. The complexity of the movement of the moon in relation to both the earth and the sun, and the degree of precision of the mathematical formula used to calculate the moment of conjecture;
2. The size and brightness of the lunar crescent, which depends on the apparent angular distance between the centers of the moon and the Sun. This distance is what astronomers call the elongation of the moon from the Sun.
3. Sky conditions, including air density and humidity, the presence of objects in the sky that obscure the young crescent. In recent times, the increase in the level of air pollutants, particularly around cities, has impacted negatively sky conditions.
4. The observer’s situation and conditions, including location, experience, and preparation. An observer who is located at low latitude and high altitude, and who knows where and when to look for the waxing crescent has a better chance of observing the new Moon.
Astronomical knowledge, have improved greatly over the last two centuries. Today, astronomers can calculate with great precision the date and time of conjuncture, i.e. the birth of the new Moon.(2) Now we see why FCNA is wooed by Astronomical calculations. But what is it that makes other Sheikhs go against it?
Contention2: Astronomical Calculations does not provide reliability
(to be continued…)
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