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Monday, September 1, 2008

Calculations vs. MoonSighting

2:183 O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God:
Alhamdulillah! We are close to beginning our Holy Month of Ramadan, and for some it has already begun today (last night). It is reported the Messenger of Allah (saw) addressed his companions on the last day of Sha`ban, saying,
"O people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all." [Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah]
So, Ramadan is such a blessing and I am sooooo excited to take part in it. People all over the world are anticipating this month and preparing to fast for the sake of Allah. And as Muslims we have a clear methodology for determining the beginning of Ramadan. To put it simply, the Messenger of Allah, peace upon him, has said: “Begin your fast upon sighting [the crescent moon] and end your fast upon sighting [the subsequent crescent].” Allah also says in the Qur'an, "They ask thee concerning the New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for Pilgrimage...(2:189)".

However, in the year 2006, the Fiqh Council of North America took the position that the scientifically authenticated astronomical calculations are a valid Islamic source of confirming or negating a lunar Islamic month. They claim that the physical sighting of the moon is not a form of Ibaadah (usually translated as "worship"). They also mention that the Qur'an only obligates the witnessing of the month, not the physical sighting. They follow their decision with a request to unite the ummah with a "more objective and accurate standard".

Shaikh Hamza Yusuf has really been a forerunner among those who negate the new method. In his writing, Hamza Yusuf insinuated that such a position was nothing short of deliberately opposing the “infallible” (mutawatir) commandments of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and was equal to following the pitfall of the Children of Israel all the way to their lizard hole. His articles are well worth the read and can be found here:

Article 1

Article 2

My Islamic Perspective:

In a nutshell, I say follow your local Imam or leadership. I think this is the best advice and is unanimous among both perspectives. Personally, Ramadan for me will begin tonight (Sept. 1st) and my first day of fasting will begin tomorrow (Sept. 2). I consider myself apart of the community at the Islamic Center at NYU. So, they have made the ruling:
there were no credible reports of a local moonsighting in the United States. The Islamic Center at NYU, in conjunction with various masajid and organizations in the New York City area and around the country, will be observing Tuesday, September 2nd as the first day of fasting for the month of Ramadan.
Also, as a student of Imam W. D. Mohammed, I follow the belief that the physical moonsighting takes precedence over scientific calculations. No one can deny that the practice of the Prophet, saw, was to physically sight the Hilaal (crescent). And we know The Prophet (saw) stated, “I have left you two things; as long as you hold to them, you will never stray: the Book of God and my Sunnah.”

I think that Islam was designed for all times and all circumstances. Islam is perfect and complete. Therefore the best example, the safest way to go, is to just follow the Prophet. Especially if its known exactly what we should do as an ummah. I don't think there is anything wrong with calculations*, but they should not be the SOLE FACTOR in our decision of when Ramadan begins. This sunnah of the Prophet (moonsighting) forces man to engage himself with creation. It forces man to follow his leadership and unite with his own community. We should seek to understand our religion and we may better understand al-furqaan (the criterion between right and wrong).

"Surely in the creation and the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for people…."

*According to Imam al-Qarafi: Why is it that we can determine prayer times by calculation and the use of instruments, yet in the case of crescent moons for the determination of our Ramadans, it is not permissible to use [instruments and calculation] according to the accepted position? The difference is that God has stipulated in our devotional practice [of fasting] the sighting of the crescent moon and if that is not possible then the completion of thirty days of Sha'ban, and He did not stipulate the astronomical new moon. On the other hand, in the case of prayer times, He stipulated simply the entrance of the times and their self-determining times. Hence, we are able to determine them by any means possible. For instance, a prayer is conditional upon the occurrence of the sun’s postmeridian phase. [With Ramadan] however, it was not linked with the conjunction’s separation but with its physical sighting. And should the crescent be obscured, we complete thirty days.


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