Ascertaining the Crescent (Hilal)

Ascertaining the Crescent
 

Merits of Ramadan

When we speak of the merits of something (fadl or fadail), we
are actually saying the deeds in it are highly recommended and
the reward and benefits highly emphasized and guaranteed. I
would like to cite several Ahadith that address this issue of
fadail, merits of fasting during Ramadan, and filling the entire
month with more ‘ebadah than any other month.

Abu Hurairah (raa) relates the Messenger of Allah (saas) said
when one Ramadan came:

“A blessed month has arrived. Observing it in fasting is
mandated on you (the believers). During this month, the
gates of Paradise will be opened and the gates of Hellfire
will be closed. The evil ones (Shayaaiin) will be hand-
cuffed. In it there is one night, during which worship is
better than worship in a thousand months. Whoever is
denied its blessings has been denied the biggest bless-
ing.” (Ahmed, Nasaae, and Bayhaqi)

This hadith is similar to the previous one, except that it empha-
sizes the importance of being mindful and aware of the rules
that govern the ‘ebadah of fasting. For one of the key words in
every ‘ebadah is “muwafaqah Ash-Shari’ie, ” observing in ac-
cordance to the commands of the Lawgiver.

Neglecting Ramadan

The blessed month of Ramadan comes once in a lunar calendar
year for serious spiritual and physical training and rehabilita-
tion of the believers. To neglect this Islamic obligation, with all
its benefits, is a serious, unpardonable sin. Thus the warning
from the Prophet (saas). Abu Hurairah reports the Messenger
of Allah said:

“Whoever breaks one day’s fast of Ramadan without an
authorized permission from Allah, he will never be able
to redeem it (with another) day’s fast, even if he fasts to
eternity.” (Tirmidhi)

The stern warning in this hadith for breaking fast in Ramadan
is an indication of how serious the offense is perceived by the
Shari’e, the Lawgiver. You may think that if you break a day,
you can redeem it after Ramadan. Indeed, the missed day may
be redeemed after Ramadan, but the hadith indicates that fast-
ing for a lifetime (Siyaam Dahr), or to eternity cannot make up
for the spiritual loss due to a reckless and deliberate break of a
fasting day. It is abhorrent to neglect an Islamic rite which is
your duty, but worse to neglect an obligation that belongs to
Allah (SWT), such as the fast of Ramadan.

Ascertaining the Crescent (Hilal)

Ever since the Lawgiver (Shaari’e) prescribed fasting, the
method and the process of ascertaining the knowledge about
the starting and the ending time of fasting has been to physi-
cally sight (ru’eyah), the new crescent moon {hilal) of Rama-
dan. Thus, when the birth of the new moon, of the month of
Ramadan is ascertained, the fast begins. The fast ends with the
birth of the hilal of the tenth month, Shawwal. In the event that
clouds, smog, or fog block the sky, preventing eye sighting of
the hilal, we compute the days of the month. If after, or on the
evening of, the twenty-ninth day of Sha’aban, we are unable to
sight the hilal of Ramadan, due to cloudiness or obstruction in
the sky, we will complete Sha’aban thirty days, and the fast be-
gins the next morning. Similarly, if after the 29 th of Ramadan,
we are unable to sight the hilal of Shawwal due to cloudiness
or obstruction, we complete Ramadan 30 days. The next day
becomes ‘Eidul Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking.

Thus, the question of ascertaining the birth of the new Hilal
crescent before commencing and ending the fast is born out in
this verse, where Allah, the Almighty, says:

“Whoever is present during the month should
spend it in fasting…”

(AlQur’an 2:185)

Most translators of Al-Qur’an interpreted the key word in this
verse, shahida, to mean ‘to be present’ so as to exclude the
traveler, for he does not have to fast. That is very interesting
because, if shahida is general, al-‘aam, there should be more
than one case to exclude; for, we would have to exclude the
sick, minors, the insane, as well as the traveler. All these cate-
gories will be present, but yet fasting will not be mandatory for
some of them.

The word shahida should be translated “whoever witnesses or
gives testimony.” This will leave the verse’s general meaning
intact, then exclude from it whoever deserves to be excluded.

The verse (aayaf) is a conditional clause based on the condition
of ascertaining the hilal, with fasting as the result. That is to
say, if there is no witness, there is no fasting. The word month
is shahr. Linguistically it means crescent; so it indicates who-
ever witnesses any part of the crescent should observe the en-
tire month in fasting.

This is the ruling of the most recognized Muslim scholars of
Tafseer, Hadith and Fiqh. The basis for this ruling is derived
from several ahadith, which are overwhelmingly reported
(Tawatur).

Ibn Umar (raa) reported,

“During the time of the Prophet (saas), the companions
went looking for the new crescent. So I told the Prophet
(saas) that I saw it. So he fasted and told the compan-
ions to fast.” (Abu Dahud / Hakim)

This hadith indicates the process of hilal testimony, the believ-
ers should go out and ascertain the new hilal. It indicates also
when and how. As for when, that has been explained, but I
would like to add the legal sighting time begins on the 29 th of
the month, because unlike the Gregorian calendar, where the
days of the month are fixed, in the lunar calendar (Hijrah) they
are not. For instance, Sha’aban this year may be 29 days; next
year it may be 30.

As for the process of testimony (shahidah), it should com-
mence soon before sunset or soon after, while there is still
some light in the sky, for the Hilal does not remain in the hori-
zon very long.

How does one ascertain the hilal? The testimony of hilal can be
achieved by

(a) direct sighting, where you see it yourself, or

(b) indirect sighting, where someone sees it, and you rely on
his sighting.

If an individual who is reliable, upright, and trustworthy (W/)
witnesses the hilal, it becomes incumbent upon him to fast. If
he informs others about his testimony, according to the major-
ity of the scholars, it becomes incumbent upon them to fast.
This is the ruling that enjoys support in hadith.

The hadith poses a Fiqh question. That is: the testimony of how
many people would be enough? The minimum, according to
the hadith is one person who is ‘Adl. The Messenger of Allah
(saas) fasted and commanded the believers to do likewise, de-
pending solely on the testimony of one person, Abdullah bin
‘Umar. This is the opinion of the majority of the scholars,
which is near consensus. However, in the case of sighting the
hilal of Shawwal to end Ramadan, some said the minimum is
two or more.

This leads to disagreement among the scholars who debate
whether the testimony of one individual is valid to break
Ramadan. Some said because this is the ending of Ramadan,
there should be two witnesses instead of one. But the problem
with this opinion is that there is no proof to substantiate it and,
hence, no base for it. In the absence of proof {dalil), it remains
that one person’s witness is enough to end the fasting.

Abu Hurairah (raa) related the Messenger of Allah (saas) said:

“Fast by sighting the (new) hilal, and break your fast by
sighting. If there is a cloud, complete the counting of
Sha’aban 30 days.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The hadith of Ibn ‘Umar (raa) is a hadith of action (fi’el), how
the Prophet (saas) acted, that is, physical search of the edges of
the horizon to ascertain the testimony. The hadith of Abu
Hurairah is the hadith of saying, (qawl). Thus, both command

by action and command by a verbal expression are employed to
instruct the believers about the process of sighting hilal. This
should have made the case for starting and ending Ramadan.
But that is not the case. There is always a dispute among the
believers.

One age-old controversy is whether we should go by the order
of the Lawgiver or should we depend on calculations. The truth
of the matter is that there are two opinions, one the majority
and the other the minority opinion. The latter has no proof
whatsoever to substantiate their opinion except one word in the
other version of the hadith. The Prophet (saas) said: faqdiru,
meaning if it be cloudy, measure or estimate it. The minority
opinion says this is a proof that calculations can be used. The
majority says the word faqdiru is ambiguous. It has been ex-
plained in a hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah, which states, “fa
ak milu al- % edah “, complete the account. They added, “if the
Lawgiver (Shaari’e) wanted us to use calculation, He would
have just forgotten about the original ordinance regarding
sighting before fasting and sighting before ending. In the Taf-
seer of Al-Qurtabi, Ibn Nafi’e (ra) reported that Imam Malik
bin Anas (ra) said:

“If you see an Imam who does not begin and end fasting by
way of sighting, but begins fasting by calculation, he should
not be followed in prayer or emulated.”

The renowned scholar Ibn AlArabi said,

“Some of our people erred when they reported that Imam
Shaf e relied on calculations.”

Ibn Al-Arabi commented,

“The report is baseless and falsehood.” (Al-Qurtabi)

Essentials of Ramadan The Month of Fasting