Standardization of Islamic Dates
Research and notes Part 3
by Shah Nawaz Khan,  Free Lance Internet Journalist

1. Origin of Islamic Calendar - Part 1
2. Related Verses of Holy Quran and Hadiths - Appendix
3. Facts about the moon - Appendix
4 Difference of Opinions in Interpreting Hadiths - Part 2
5. Fuqaha Positions on Regional and Global Sighting - Part 3
 ‘Ikhtilaf vs. Ittihad al-Matali 
6. The Excellence of Friday
 Fuqaha Positions on Regional and Global Sighting -‘Ikhtilaf vs. Ittihad al-Matali'

Muslims since the dawn of Islam have been depending on lunar visibility to determine the dates of their important   religious occasions like the beginning of Ramazan, Eidain and Hajj. As there were no printed calendars the crescent sighting every 29th day of the month was the usual traditional way for centuries and easy to follow in climates where weather and atmospheric conditions were clear. 

Travelers in the first century of Hijri calendar found that the dates differ by a day or two between different towns located in close proximity because of impact of weather conditions on crescent visibility. There arose number of questions regarding the number of fasts and observance of Eid when moving away from a place where Ramazan began earlier or later. In that age astronomical knowledge was scant and the  means of communications primitive, which appear to have influenced early fatwas.  For instance in second century Hijri Imam Shaafi fixed a limit of distance in which the moon sighting at one place was good for other places in the nearby towns even if the moon was not sighted at all in those places. That limit of 24 fursaks appears to be based on the facility of communication by dispatch riders. 

 
Example of bigotry and despotism
Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, Supreme religious authority, Saudi Arabia and author of a Muslim religious edict, 1993: 

"The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be punished."


Early Shari'a and Fiqha positions for beginning of a new month related mostly to local sightings as Imam Muslim, Imam Tirmidhi and many Muhadditheen clearly stated: FOR EACH TOWN ITS OWN VISIBILITY
That was apparently based on the means of communications available in that era.


The early Fuqaha position for the beginning of a Hijri month favored regional sighting of the crescent moon by naked eye at a place, where one is located. That was the only convenient way those days for determining if the new month has begun. One could begin the fast in Ramazan , based on "local" sighting (IKHTILAF AL-MATALE') or based on sighting anywhere in the Muslim World (ITTEHAD AL-MATALE').  Although different, both of these positions have been considered valid Fuqhi positions but have often been a major cause of many quarrels among mullahs specially in Pakistan and India.

Early Shari'a and Fiqha positions for beginning of a new month related mostly to local sightings as Imam Muslim, Imam Tirmidhi and many Muhadditheen clearly stated: FOR EACH TOWN ITS OWN VISIBILITY. It is said that there is a consensus of the ‘knowledgeable on this position ("Li Kulli Baladin Ru'yatuhum...wa Alaihi Ijma'-u Ahlal Ilm”). 

The Muslim Jurists and Imams of early days realized that Allah does not want to put un-necessary burden on the believers in carrying out the religious duties and obligations. Therefore, the early Shari’a  positions for the beginning of a Hijri month favored regional sighting of the crescent moon by naked eye at a place, where one is located. That was the only convenient way those days for determining if the new month has begun. 

One could begin the fast in Ramazan, based on "local" sighting (IKHTILAF AL-MATALE') or based on sighting anywhere in the Muslim World (ITTEHAD AL-MATALE'). However, now Ulema in many countries think that the moon sighting at Kaaba applies to the whole world under principle of ITTEHAD AL-MATALE and sighting in any part of the world earlier than Kaaba must be ignored. 

 

In the light  of these and other verses Islamic calendar must conform to lunar cycle as well as the solar day. Only prayer timings are regional. Days, months and years are global. We cannot have separate calendars for different time zones as it is against the principle of unity.

 

 

 

 

That seems to be the reason that In Egypt they require moonset to be at least 5 minutes after sunset. In Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf countries they start the new lunar month if the new crescent sets after the Sun on the 29th day of the current month, as seen from Makkah. The limit of 5 minutes in Egypt corresponds to the first sighting in Makkkah as the moon in the far West of Makkah often becomes visible for a short while a day earlier than Mecca. 

All these positions were apparently in accordance with the means of communication available in that age and were meant for people of their era. This is apparent from Imam Shafi’s ruling about fixing a limit distance for making moon sighting at one place applicable to the entire region within his prescribed limit as no such limit is indicated in Quran or sayings or practice of the Holy Prophet (sws). The logical conclusion is that the advice to start and end fasting on seeing the crescent was meant for people of that era, as there were no calendars or watches. 

As interpreted by Egyptian Imams in tenth century A.D. the underlying principle of all such Hadiths is to consult lunar calendar. It is logical to concluded that the advice of Holy Prophet as mentioned in hadiths was meant for people of that age whom Holy Prophet himself described as illiterate and in that era there were no printed calendars or standard dating procedures. The moon is not an object of worship but merely a sign to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for Pilgrimage i.e. an object that serves as calendar as its phases facilitate counting of days and nights.

 

Conservatives still support local sighting!

Quite a few Ulema think that crescent sighting at Holy K’aba is good for the whole world as we are commanded to face toward K’aba when offering prayers. But Saudi religious scholar Sheikh Al-Othaimeen is said to have supported Ikhtilaf Al-Matale (local sighting) and opined that Muslims outside Saudi Arabia should do their own local sighting (instead of calling Saudi Arabia). This is already published in the book: Fatawa Islamiya (Sheikh Bin Baaz, Sheikh Al-Othaimeen & Sheikh Al-Jibreen, published by Darul-Watan Lil-Nashr. His views appears to ignore the fact that this gives rise to operation of Islamic calendar from different weekdays and multiplicity of Eidain on different days. His views reminds us the views of Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, Supreme religious authority, Saudi Arabia and author of a Muslim religious edict, who is attribute to have stated in 1993: "The earth is flat, and anyone who disputes this claim is an atheist who deserves to be punished."  However, later it was clarified that he was referring to the fact that the earth appears to be flat.

Because sighting of crescent by naked eye entail uncertainty, till the last minutes and reliability of the witnesses is often problematic, Muslim astronomers' attempt to search ways to accurately predict the lunar visibility did not bear fruit. The date and time of each New Moon can be computed exactly for any given location but the time that the Moon first becomes visible after the New Moon depends on many factors and cannot be predicted with certainty because of weather conditions, air pollution, atmospheric conditions to absorb solar radiation at given locations and the fact that the slight crescent disappears often in twilight within few minutes or seconds. 

According to Islamic concept of unity only prayer timings are regional, but days, months and years are global. It is fallacious to believe that just as prayer timings differ from place to place, Ramazan dates and Eid days can also differ. On the contrary just as Juma prayers are offered within 12 to 15 hours around the globe, we should be able to start and end Ramazan other months within the same constraint  – and not with the gap of one to three days. 

Those who oppose sighting at Mecca valid for the whole world say that when Ramazan crescent appears in Mecca it is already too late in many Asian countries and Australia to offer Traweeh prayer usually offered after Isha prayer. This question would need to be resolved by Ijtehad. Such situations have often arisen in Pakistan when the decision of Ruyiet Hilal committee had been announced after 11 pm.

Some of those scholars who support Global sighting -  Ittihad Al-Matale, say categorically that one cannot fix any one point on earth (e.g. Saudi Arabia) for worldwide decision on date. They opine that , sighting in USA / India / Yemen / Nigeria / Fiji etc. should be as valid in establishing the date worldwide including Saudi Arabia as the sighting in Saudi Arabia. Further, if we fix Saudi Arabia sighting to decide the Eid in America, what if Hilal is sighted in America before Saudi Arabia (the world is round, in certain years this should be true). Would we then ignore our earlier sighting in America? 

Comments: The proponents of the First Sighting on the globe are obviously ignoring the fact that Holy K'aba is center of Islamic world and we have to face toward it when offering prayers. It ideally serves as date line for Islamic month. Earlier sighting in any other place remote to K'aba would need to be ignored. We can follow calculated appearance of crescent at K'aba or actual naked eye sighting by the custodians of Holy K'aba. In verse 055.005 Allah (swt) tells us:
"The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed." In the light of this and other verses Islamic calendar must conform to solar day as well as lunar cycle. In verse 036.037 we are told, "And a Sign for them is the Night: We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness;" 

Another objection is that ignoring earlier sighting in the far West of Mecca would violate the hadith of fasting on seeing the Hilal and breaking on seeing it. 

Comments: This objection is not valid because the underlying principle of Hadith is to consult the calendar and Islamic calendar based on appearance of crescent at Holy Ka'ba is in conformity with the command to face K'aba when offering prayers. At many places some time moon is seen even in day time before sunset and that is ignored. 

Arguments for and Against the Astronomical Support for Ikhtilaf Al-Matale (Local Sighting)

Since the world is round like a globe, the first Hilal sighting ("Lunar Date Line" for a month) can occur anywhere around the globe. Programs like MoonCalc of Dr. Monzur Ahmed (obtain software from http://www.ummah.net/ildl/mooncalc.html) can predict the first Hilal sighting curve.

Thus we see that Astronomy supports Ikhtilaf Al-Matale (Local sighting) since areas outside the "Lunar Date Line" curve see the Hilal on the next day (Cross International Solar Date Line). Hence we should aim towards Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha celebration around much of the world in about 24 hours (But two "solar dates" because of the artificial International solar date line). We should not force an effort to artificially make the worldwide lunar date coincide with a solar date. Also, note that at any one given moment of time, one part of the world has one solar day/date while another part of the earth has the next solar day /date! For example, at the exact time of my writing this sentence, it is Wednesday evening in USA, but Thursday morning in China / Japan! So we should focus on Eid prayer around the globe in about 24 hours rather than one solar date. Local sighting for Eid is as natural as local timings for prayer. After all, New York does not pray Fajr by Tokyo time!

Prof. Muhammad Ilyas of Malaysia, a pioneer in the calculations of Hilal prediction, has hence proposed for civil use, a Tri-zonal Hijri calendar: dividing the earth into 3 zones: Americas; urope-Africa-West Asia; Asia-Pacific and calculating Hilal visibility separately for each region. Please see http://www.starlight.demon.co.uk/ildl/zone3 for details. Thus for example, sometimes Hilal sighting in North America can be one date before Hilal sighting in Saudi Arabia. See http://www.ummah.net/moonsighting for more details.
http://www.albalagh.net/general/hilal_sighting.shtml

Comments: In verse 055.005 Allah (swt) tells us:
 "The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed." 
In verse 010.005  we are told, "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 her; that ye might know the number of years and the count (of time).

In verse 6.96 of Surah Al-Anaam we are told: "He it is that cleaveth the day-break (from the dark): He makes the night for rest and tranquility, and the sun and moon for the reckoning (of time): Such is the judgment and ordering of (Him), the Exalted in Power, the Omniscient. 

In another verse we are told that (Allah) and maketh the sun and moon, constant in their course, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day. _14.33. 

In the light  of these and other verses Islamic calendar must conform to lunar cycle as well as the solar day. Only prayer timings are regional. Days, months and years are global. We cannot have separate calendars for different time zones as it is against the principle of unity.

 


Dr. Mohammad Ilyas is a well-known figure for his work on topics related to Islamic calendar. His contributions for the development of an Islamic lunar calendar are remarkable despite some glaring discrepancies in data analysis and faulty stipulations. 

Dr. Ilyas was instrumental in establishing the International Islamic Calendar Program (IICP) at University Sains Malaysia, and for creating broad awareness about the need for a unified Islamic calendar. The works under review are important to understand the development of his ideas, and in identifying the perplexing problems.  His search for answers to perplexing Islamic calendar issues started in 1974. During Phase I (1974-1983) his concern was to find a reliable criterion to accurately forecast the beginning of an Islamic month and the lunar dateline (ILDL). During Phase II (1984-1989) he collected data, refined his proposed criterion and worked towards a global network. In Phase III (1990-1994) he concentrated on popularizing his ‘regional’ Islamic calendars. During Phase IV (1995-2000) his emphasis was on gathering support from religio-political establishments of the Islamic world for his ‘Imakane Ru’yah’ (possibility of sighting) proposal.
 

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Facts about Moon
 Part 1