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A response to ISNA - Astronomical Data and Ramadhaan

The ensuing discussion is a response to the discussion paper by Dr Zulfiqar Ali Shah entitled, �Astronomical Calculations � a Fiqhi Discussion�. This presentation attempts only to briefly highlight a few pertinent oversights by the Respected Doctor and should in no way be considered as exhaustive.

The commencement and ending of Ramadhaan has always been a hotbed of contention and dispute amongst communities globally especially in the North American States. So far reaching are the effects of these disputes that, at times, communities would be divided multipally and at times families. It is the dictate of Imaan, that it should be the heartfelt desire of every believer to see a united Muslim Ummah and to contribite to the realisation thereof.

Having appreciated this need and desire, it should be borne in mind that true unity can only be achieved on the purport of the Shari�ah enshrined in the Qur�aan and the Hadith as expounded by the illustrious scholars. Unity at the expense of the dictates of the Shari�ah, although outwardly seems workable, translates only to destruction.

Having the commendable desire to see an United Ummah, the Respected Doctor, identifying a method that will facilitate its realisation, adopts a policy of academic gymnastics and pooling together of solitary opinions of scholars in an attempt to galvanise support for this theory.

A few pertinent errors and the responses thereto follows:

1.     Harj (difficulty): The Respected Doctor contends, seeking support with the opinion of Dr Yusuf al-Qardhawi, that not accepting astronomical calculations is a cause of great difficulty in that the month of Ramadhaan cannot be predicted beforehand creating amongst others logistical problems. He mentions, �Therefore, the argument of hardship levelled by al-Nawawi and others loses its ground.�

At this juncture, we wish to clarify that the ruling of non-dependance on astronomical calculation only is not based on Harj (difficulty). The ruling is based on the Hadith �soomuw li ru�yatihi� which requires physical sighting of the moon. Harj was only cited as one of the possible wisdoms and rationale behind basing the ruling on actual sighting. Therefore, irrespective of the existence of Harj (for which one will be greatly rewarded) or not, because the fundamental requirement of actual sighting is proven from the Hadith ofNabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam], this ruling can never be changed.

2.     The Respected Doctor then attempts to prove that Ru�yah (sighting) is not an Ibaadat in itself and that this should not be understood literally. He points out that we rely on astronomical calculations for Salaat times without physically observing sunset, sunrise, etc. For Iftaar and Suhoor purposes, one is not required to physically observe the dawn signalling the commencement of fasting. He further quotes various verses of the Qur�aan and Ahaadith which contain variables of the word �Ru�yah� in which context it does not constitute physical observance. He contends that being sure of the precondition being found is sufficient and one needs not physical observance thereof.

In response, any person possessing an elementary understanding of Usool-ul-Fiqh will know that the literal meaning of a word must always be adopted. One may only move away from the literal meaning of the word if it cannot be applied in the context of the scenario in question. The Respected Doctor has cited examples where the literal meaning cannot be applied thus necessitating another meaning to be adopted. In the Hadith, �soomuw li ru�yatihi� the literal meaning of the word can be applied and therefore one may not adopt any other meaning.

Physical observance of the crescent is not an Ibaadat in itself. However, it is a precondition for the commencement of the month. For Salaat times as well as the dawn signalling commencement of the fast, physical observance is not a precondition. Once the precondition is found, e.g. sunset, Zawaal, etc. and one is sure thereof, this is sufficient irrespective of whether it was observed physically or not. However, in the case of the crescent, physical observance is a precondition in itself and surety only is not sufficient.

The doctor further makes an erroneous analogy with the incident when Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] took an oath to be away from his wives for a month and then emerged from his chambers after a mere 29 days without physically observing the crescent and also not enquiring about the crescent. When asked why he emerged after 29 days, Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] replied that a month is 29 days. In response, this incident can never be used to prove that physical observance is not a condition. The Hadith does not point out that Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] went into seclusion in the first of the month. Why would he be required to sight the crescent? What if he made his oath on the 10th. Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] mentioned that a month is 29 days indicating that since he made an oath of seclusion for a month, he had fulfilled his oath by staying away for 29 days. To use this incident to prove that physical observance is not a condition is absurd.

3.     The Respected Doctor presented the different narrations of the Hadith that asserts physical observance of the crescent and then contends that the ending portion of the Hadith which requires completion of the month with an additional day in the event of non-observance of the crescent cannot be relied upon. The above contention is a glaring example of to what extent the Doctor will go in order to assert his opinion. It is surprising to note that great Fuqahaa, Muhadditheen and Mujtahideen of the past had never mentioned this nor alluded to it. But, alas, in the 21st century, the Doctor and his contemporary has beefed up the courage to declare these narrations as unreliable. The narration in question are sourced from the most authentic books of Hadith including Bukhari and Muslim. It is further interesting to note that the great Muhaddith, Hafiz ibn Hajar al-Asqalani in Nukhbatul Fikr, quotes the same narrations refuted by the doctor as example of Ahaadith that support one another in meaning.

One who has studied Hadith and Usool al-Hadith will be aware that narrators do not narrate the Hadith exactly with the words they had heard it. The majority of the Ahaadith are narrations where the narrators use their own words to convey the Hadith yet maintaining the meaning and purport of the Hadith. If we were to reject a Hadith merely because the narrator was using his own words, we would be required to refute majority of the Ahaadith found in the books of Hadith. Moreover, even if we accept that the narrators had expounded the meaning of the Hadith of their own, who would better understand the meaning of the Hadith than the narrators of the Hadith themselves. Notwithstanding, if we accept that the ending portion of the Hadith cannot be relied upon, the beginning of the Hadith as also conceded by the Doctor cannot be refuted. Therefore, the precondition of physical sighting of the moon still remains as required by beginning portion of the Hadith.

4.     The doctor cites the practice of ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] of fasting on the day after the 29th of Sha�baan if the moon was not sighted due to some obscurity, contesting that the Hadith of which ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] himself is the narrator would best be explained by his own actions. The doctor questions, �Is ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] going against the Prophet�s command which he himself is narrating by fasting on the day next to the 29th day of Sha�baan in case of obscurities?�

In response, the Hadith of ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] also requires the commencement of the month with the physical sighting of the moon. Is the Doctor suggesting that ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] would go contrary to the teachings of Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] (which he himself is narrating) without physically sighting the moon? The day after the 29th of Sha�baan is called the �day of doubt� if there is speculation of the moon being sighted but it is not confirmed. The learned would fast on this day as a matter of prudence. This was the practice of ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu]. This practice cannot be used to prove that ibn Umar [radhiallaahu anhu] considered this day as the first of Ramadhaan. This is merely an assumption and is not proven from the narration. Had this been the case, he would have announced to the people (being the narrator of the Hadith) and compelled the people to fast the Ramadhaan fast. No narrations alluding to this exist. Why has the Respected Doctor conveniently not mentioned the practice of the galaxy of other Sahaaba on this issue who were also narrators of the very same Hadith?

In conclusion, we reiterate that physical sighting of the crescent signalling the commencement of a month is a precondition because it is proven from multiple Ahaadith of Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam]. This has always been the opinion of the vast majority of scholars as the doctor himself concedes repeatedly. What then is the rationale of moving away from the ruling of the majority? Would it be prudent to follow the majority or the minority?

On majority of the rulings of the Shari�ah, there exists the opinion of the minority. If we were to accept the minority view on all these issues, the result would be propesterous. If not, then why make an exception for the sighting of the Hilaal?

The contention that surety of the presence of the Hilaal (and not physical sighting) is also erroneous due to the fact that Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam] was receiving divine revelation and could easily have established surety of the presence of the Hilaal. However, the method that he advocated was the physical sighting of the moon. Furthermore, the contention that in the past astronomical calculations were rejected due to their inaccuracy is also erroneous. This was never cited as a reason by the Fuqahaa. Allaamah Subki [ra] who was a scholar of 7th century, reports that astronomical calculations are conclusive. The view was to reject reliance on astronomical calcultations only without establishing physical sighting of the crescent.

It is, therefore, our humble view that unity is of paramount importance and every attempt should be made to create a united Ummah, but this should never be at the expense of the teachings of Nabi [sallallaahu alayhi wasallam]. The commencement of the Islamic month is dependent on physical sighting of the crescent (or completion of 30 days) as has always been the opinion of the vast majority of the Ummah. Astronomical calculations will not be rejected. They will be used to authenticate reports on physical sighting.

And Allah Ta�ala Knows Best

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