Monday, 27 June 2011

Moon Sighting: The Evidence from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim with commentary by Sheikh al-Islam Yaḥyā An-Nawawī

In the Name of Allah, The All Merciful, The Most Merciful

2. The Chapter on the obligation of fasting Ramaḍān upon seeing the crescent and breaking it upon seeing the crescent and if it is obscured at the beginning or the end the month is completed as thirty days.

(#1080) Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā has related to us. He said: ‘I read under Mālik, from Nāfiʿ, from Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with both of them, from the Prophet, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, that he mentioned Ramaḍān and said: “Don’t fast until you see the crescent, and don’t break [your fast] until you see it. And if it is obscured from you then count it (faqdurū lahu).”

Abū Bakr ibn Abī Shayba related to us. Abū Usāma related to us. ʿUbayd Allah related to us from Nāfiʿ, from Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with both of them, that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, mentioned Ramaḍān and brought his hands together, saying: ‘The month is such and such and such (and he tied his thumbs when saying the third) so fast upon seeing it and break [your fast] upon seeing it, and if it is obscured from you then count (faqdurū lahu) thirty.’

Imam An-Nawawī: (faqdurū lahu) In a narration we have ‘count 30 days’, and in another narration we have ‘If you see the crescent, fast, and if you see it, break [your fast], and if it is obscured from you, then count it.’ In another narration: ‘If it is obscured from you then fast thirty days.’ In another narration: ‘If it is obscured from you then complete the number.’ In another narration: ‘If the month is obscured from you then count thirty.’ In another narration: ‘If it is obscured from you then count thirty.[1]

All these narrations are in the book in this order. In the narration of Al-Bukhārī: ‘If it is not known to you then complete the number of Shaʿbān[2] as thirty.’ The scholars differ as to the meaning of ‘faqdurū lahu’. A group of scholars have said: ‘The meaning is “confine it and count it under the clouds.” Amongst those who said this is Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, and others who hold it permissible to fast on the day following a cloudy night of Ramaḍān, as we will mention if Allah the Exalted so Wills.[3] Ibn Surayj said, along with a group that includes Maṭraf ibn ʿAbdullah, Ibn Qutaybah and others: ‘The meaning is to count it by calculating lunar phases.’ Mālik, ash-Shāfiʿī, Abū Ḥanīfa and the majority of the Salaf and the Khalaf[4] hold that the meaning of qadurū lahu is to complete the thirty days. The people of language say…[5]

The majority use as their evidence the mentioned narrations and complete the number as thirty, and this is the explanation of qadurū lahu and for this reason the two are not gathered in one narration. Rather, sometimes this one is mentioned and sometimes that one is mentioned, and the previous narration of ‘then count (faqdurū lahu) thirty,’ strengthens this. Al-Māzarī[6] said: ‘The majority of jurists hold that the meaning of his saying, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, ‘faqdurū lahuis to complete the number as thirty as has been explained in the other ḥadīth. They say: “It is not permissible to hold that it means the calculations of the astronomers because the people, if they are made responsible for this, will be put in a difficult situation because only a few people know [the science of astronomy] and the legislation is that the people know what the masses of them know[7], and Allah knows best.

As for his saying, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him: (if it is obscured from you) means that there are clouds between you and it. It is said…[8]. In these aḥādīth are evidences for the madhabs of Mālik and Ash-Shāfiʿī and the majority that it is not permissible to fast the day of doubt[9] nor the day of the 30th of Sha’ban as Ramadan if the thirtieth night is cloudy.

His saying, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him: (fast upon seeing it and break [your fast] upon seeing it). The meaning here is the sighting by some Muslims. It is not a condition for every individual to see it; rather the sighting of two upright witnesses is sufficient for everybody, and likewise one [upright witness], according to the strongest position, for fasting. As for breaking the fast, the witness of one upright person of the crescent of Shawwāl[10] is not permissible according to all the scholars, except for Abū Thawr, who holds one as permissible.

His saying, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him: (The month is such and such). In a narration: ‘The month is twenty-nine days.[11] The meaning is that the month could be twenty-nine days. The gist is that, with consideration of the crescent, the month could be complete as thirty or incomplete as twenty-nine. The crescent may not be seen and therefore it would be obligatory to complete the number of thirty. They say: ‘The incompleteness [i.e. 29 days] could be continuous for two months, or three, or four but not more than four. In this ḥadīth is the permissibility of relying upon the understood indication in something like this.

[Translated from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim bi Sharḥ An-Nawawī v.7 p.165-7]

5. The Chapter clarifying that every locality has their own sighting and if they see the crescent in a locality its ruling is not established for those who are far from them.

(#1087) Yaḥyā bin Yaḥyā has related to us, and Yaḥyā ibn Ayyūb, and Qutaybah, and Ibn Hujr (he said Yaḥyā bin Yahyā: informed us, while others said: Ismāʿīl related to us, and he is Ibn Jaʿfar) from Muammad (and he is Ibn Abi Ḥarmalah) from Kurayb, that Umm al-Faḍl, the daughter of al-Ḥārith, sent him to Muʿāwiya in Shām.[12] He said: ‘I arrived in Shām. I carried out her [Umm al-Faḍl] task and the month of Ramadan came in, and I was in Shām. I saw the crescent on Friday night.[13] Then I arrived in Madīna towards the end of the month. ʿAbdullah ibn ʿAbbās, may Allah be pleased with him, asked me questions. Then he mentioned the crescent and said: “When did you see the crescent?” I said: “We saw it on Friday night.” He said: “You saw it?” I said: “Yes. The people saw it. They fasted and Muʿāwiya fasted.” He said: “But we saw it on Saturday night, and we will not stop fasting until we complete thirty days, or we see it.” I said: “Isn’t the sighting of Muʿāwiya and his fasting sufficient for us?” He said: “No, and this is what the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, commanded us.”’

Yaḥyā bin Yaḥyā was not sure whether he said ‘sufficient for us’ or sufficient for you’.

Imam An-Nawawī: In this [chapter] is the ḥadīth of Kurayb from Ibn  ʿAbbās and it is clear evidence of the Tarjima[14] and the strongest position amongst our companions[15] is that the sighting is not general for all people, but rather it is specific to whoever is close by a distance in which one does not shorten the prayer.[16] It is also said that if there is agreement of the region[17] they are necessitated. It is also said that if the locale (iqlīm) agrees [they must fast] and if not then no. Some of our companions hold that the sighting is general for all the people of the earth[18], and regarding this we say that Ibn ʿAbbās did not act on the information of Kurayb because it was one testimony and it cannot be established by one person. However, the outward purport of the ḥadīth is that he [Ibn ‘Abbas] did not reject it for this reason but he only rejected it because the ruling of the sighting cannot be established for those far away.

[Translated from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim bi Sharḥ an-Nawawī v.7 p.172]

Conclusion: The objective of this article is to provide the evidences for reviving the Sunnah of sighting the moon in western lands, as it still remains in the Muslim heartlands. In order for there to be unity amongst Muslims in the United Kingdom, United States, and other western countries, what better way than to return to the Sunnah of sighting the moon and establishing your own lunar calendar?



[1] All of these narrations can be found in the same chapter of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.
[2] This is the month that precedes Ramaḍān.
[3] For further details on this position, which is unique to the Ḥanbalī school, please listen to this lecture by Al-Hajj Abu Jaʿfar Al-Hanbali, which is available from the Reasons for Faith Channel.
[4] The Salaf are the first three generations of Islam, and the Khalaf are those who come after.
[5] The part is left untranslated because the Imam goes into lexicography, which is of little benefit to the non-Arabic speaker.
[6] Imam al-Māzarī is Abū ʿAbdullah Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī, d. 536/1141, a Mālikī scholar of Sicilian origin who settled in Al-Mahdiyya and wrote a commentary on Al-Burhān by Imam al-Juwaynī.
[7] In other words, this religion is accessible to the layman in its foundational form. Moon sighting is not the exclusive property of so-called experts, intellectuals, academics and self-appointed spokesmen for Islam in the west.
[8] The part is left untranslated because the Imam goes into lexicography which is of little benefit to the non-Arabic speaker
[9] This is the day that could be either the 30th of Shaʿbān or the 1st of Ramaḍān.
[10] This is the month that follows Ramaḍān.
[11] This and other narrations on the month being twenty-nine days can be found in chapter 4 of the Book of Fasting.
[12] Shām includes modern-day Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. Muʿāwiya was the Khalīfa at the time and based in Damascus.
[13] This means the night before the day of Friday.
[14] Ibn Abbas is called ‘Tarjima al-Qurʾān’, which means the Interpreter of the Qurʿān. The Prophet, may Allah’s prayers and peace be upon him, made a supplication for him in which he asked Allah to bless him with this ability.
[15] i.e. the Shāfiʿīs
[16] That distance is approximately 50 miles. (Reliance of the Traveller p.190) N.B This is not the limit of the sighting zone in the Shāfiʿī school. Please see following note.
[17]An example of a region, or sighting zone, would be the Ḥijāz, or Iraq, or Egypt. (Reliance of the Traveller p.281)
[18] The idea of a global lunar calendar is inherently flawed. Lunar calendars are based on moon sightings, which differ from region to region.  Furthermore, there is no precedent for this from the first three generations, as this ḥadīth demonstrates. Some ʿulamāʾ, particularly ʿAlā u-Dīn Al-Mardāwī Al-Ḥanbalī (d. 885 AH) and others, explain that when the Khalīfa, the chief Qāḍī, or his representative, see the crescent moon, they declare it for all seven domains, those being the seven jurisdictions of the Khilāfa, stretching from areas in South America to China. They then start their own Ramaḍān from that day and the nearby cities and areas do the same, an example being Baṣra and Baghdād. However, faraway lands, which have not seen it, follow suit but according to their peculiar calendar, i.e. they hear that the chief Qāḍī has announced it but it may only be the 28th where they are, so they wait a day and then start fasting.