Moon Sighting and Dates Solution by Salman Zafar Shaikh, Ph.D

 This Post is intended to present facts, through knowledgeable scholars and scientists, and is intended only for increasing knowledge and encouraging unity of brothers ( No intention to criticize or belittle any group).
   I am not an Astronomer, nor a religious Scholar, however I've some basic knowledge of Astronomy, and I've created an Intuitive Application for Lunar(Hijri) Calendar as well in past. Please also see for Islamic Most Probable Dates 2013.
 Blog: Islamic Dates 2013: Preventing different /Wrong dates for Essential Events (Ramadhan and EIDs) 
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Any error from my part, please let me know, so that I can correct it.
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"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." Noble Qur'ân 16:125

"And say: My Lord increase me in knowledge."(Qur'an, Ta-Ha 20:114)
"For him who embarks on the path of seeking knowledge, Allah will ease for him the way to paradise." (Related by Muslim)
"He who calls another to guidance will have a reward equal; to the reward of him who follows him without diminishing the reward of either of them." (Related by Muslim)
"But none will grasp the message except the men of intellect."(Quran 2:269)(It takes only minutes for man of reasoning and who seek knowledge,to grasp the message)

"And He lays abomination upon those who do not reason. (10:100) (Islam is a strong proponent of using reasoning in every affair, and leave aside one's Ego and personal benefits.)

"Say: Bring your proof if you are truthful. (2:111) (Any proposed Truth should be supported with historical/logical/scientific evidence.)

  • Islam is a strong proponent of using reasoning in every affair, considering the dynamics of issues, people face in different places and times.
  • Muslim communities today, on an average find it difficult to keep a balance between Faith, Politics and Science, and therefore we witness disputes and arguments over petty issues that lasts for years. 
    • Those petty issues can actually be solved within minutes, if just each one of us understand dynamics of problems, seek some Basic knowledge in Faith and Science/Astronomy, do some homework, independent research and then sit together for resolutions/agreements.
  • Today biggest challenge is "How to Integrate various Stakeholders "Religious Leaders / Scientists / Social Workers / Political Leaders", and that's achievable, if we all sit together to understand each other.

                  This article is presented to ensure we just got basic knowledge of Astronomy, faith and related issues, so that it becomes easier for us to ponder and   locate the missing pieces, and help improve our standpoint over Hilal Sighting. 

Please find some spare time to go through this video from Salman Zafar Shaikh, Ph.D (Hilal Sighting Committee of North America International Moon Sighting Reports:
Also download His presentation in "pdf" file, if you are good in reading as compared to watching video.

Below are some extracts / facts in Brief format from knowledgeable scholars and scientists.

  • Use Calculations to Negate False sighting, but NOT to completely Replace Sighting
    • Shawwal 1 1432 (August 30, 2011 ). Various news agencies (Al-Arabiya Aljazeera) had reported that the planet Saturn has been mistaken for the Hilal (crescent moon), and this means that what was announced as the first day of Eid al-Fitr was supposed to be a day of fasting, rather than celebrations.
    • The use of Technology(Visibility Curves) to assist in implementing the religious criteria’s is an accepted practice in Islam, however, use of technology is complimentary or supplementary in its scope and technology may not be used to change or replace an Islamic criteria.
  • The Qur’an talks about the visible Hilal with the characteristic shape and NOT “Qamar Jadeed” nor “New Moon” nor “Iqtiran/Mahaq”(Conjunction) nor “Wiladatul-Qamar” (Birth of Moon).
  • Sighting the Hilal is a Fard Kifaayah (Obligation).
  • The Prophet (S) fasted the first Ashura in Medina by the Jewish calendar (Calculated one) (Ahadith). After Ramadan fasting became obligatory, the Prophet (S) followed the Arab tradition of the “sighted moon”. The friction with the Medina Jews started for both the “sighted vs. calculated” start of the lunar month.The Jews started questioning his “Prophet-hood”. (How could he be a (“Nabi”) when he could not even tell the start of the month?) (Tabari and other Tafaasir on “Shaan al-Nuzuul of Aayah 2:189). See further
  • Muslims have been preparing Islamic calendar for hundreds of years , but their fixed dates were never “final” and had to be adjusted by the sighting.
  • A simple way to verify/check a sighting claim is: "Seen at a place X MUST BE SEEN at all other locations west of X within the parabola."
  • Sheikh Yusuf AlQaradawi (Egypt) issued a Fatwa in year 2000 "He who believes in the credibility of the astronomical calculations (to Negate False sighting) and feasted on Eid ( due to false sighting), should fast a day instead of it (make up one missed Ramadaan fast)".
  • Imam Zaid Shakir (U.S.) writes, “It is well-known that the Hilal first appears at a different point in the moon’s orbit each month. This may be over the Middle East one month, over Africa the next, over the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, or over North America. This divergent pattern is a manifestation of the justice of Allah. Eventually, every land will have the honor of first sighting the crescent moon. To fix the timing of all of the Islamic occasions, Ramadan, ‘Eid al-Fitr, Hajj and ‘Eid al-Adha on any one country, year after year, with total disregard of the actual sighting, is an extremely problematic practice.
  • Famous Saudi Aalim and Faqih, Sheikh Mohammad Ibn Salih Al-Uthaimeen tells Muslims about the correct date of Eid al-Adha in N. America to be on 10th Zul-Hijja of North America, and not the day after Arafah in Makkah, as some claim.)
  • The decision of the Saudi government is not only against the established principles of the Hanafi Fiqh, it is also against common sense.... The Saudi government often decides Ramadhan on a single witness and Eid and Dhul-Hijjah on a minimum of two witnesses…(Ahsanul-Fatawa, Volume4/Page 417)
  • Previous Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz is reported to have ruled: As for those who say that it is necessary to follow the sighting of Makkah, then let it be known to them, that there is no proof or basis for this in the Qur’aan and Hadith”. (Sheikh Abdullah bin Baz RA AlBa’ath ul Islaaami Zil Hijjah 1399 Hijri)
  • One Islamic basis for "Local sighting", comes from “Hadith Kurayb (RA)” where the report of Hilal sighting from Damascus(Syria) was not used by Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) for Medina. Indeed calculations show that sometimes it is possible to see the Hilal in Damascus and not in Medina!
    People asked whether Ibn Abbas (RA) would defer to the sighting in Damascus since it was the capital city of the Muslim state , but he said: Each have their own sighting. This is a clear answer to those people by one for whom the Prophet prayed to be a scholar. Needless to say, he was a scholar of high distinction. -
  • "When you see the crescent (of the month of Ramadan), start fasting, and when you see the crescent (of the month of Shawwal), stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast (and you can't see It), then complete thirty days (of Sha'baan/Ramadhan)". This gives a Muslim the flexibility to wait instead of jumping to act upon and accept hasty sightings in Saudi or pre-calculated calendar.
  • Advancement of Science
          Muslim astronomers in this age of technology are now in a position to calculate the dates for possible/impossible moon sighting. So the validity of sighting claims can be easily verified for correct moon sighting.
         Islamic months begin at sunset on the day of visual sighting of the lunar crescent. Even though visual sighting is necessary to determine the start of a month, it is useful to accurately predict when a crescent is likely to be visible in order to produce lunar calendars in advance and to guide the watchers where to look. Since ancient times, astronomers have tried to predict the likelihood of visualizing the new crescent using different 'minimum visibility criteria'. This should not be difficult as Allah has created the solar system subjected to precise calculations: "… The sun and the moon (are subjected) to calculations." (The Qur’an 55:5)
            Every year the astronomers, the people who know, publish their calculations that predict the first day of Ramadan or Eid with 99% accuracy, but mostly many countries (partiularly MiddleEast) start Ramadan or Eid, one day before the predicted day! Is it possible that the astronomers could be wrong every year? Can the astronomical calculations be so inaccurate for crescent sighting and yet absolutely correct for other phenomena? Eclipses occur always at the same instant that the astronomers predict. Occultation’s too. Stars disappear or reappear at exactly the same second that it is predicted. 
     Qur’an tells us quite clearly that the motions of the celestial bodies are fixed and so are the mathematical formulae controlling them. 

    Presence of 2-3 Groups in West, celebrating EID based on different methods, has some serious ramifications .
    • It demonstrates disunity when brothers in same Time Zone, celebrates EIDs on different days. One group blaming on Fasting of other person, while other group blaming upon Feasting on the day of Fast.
    • Causes arguments/long debates and issues (psychological etc) because both groups don't have sufficient scientific knowledge to settle debates, nor they got patience to listen and understand other's point of view.
    • The argument that Clouds/weather conditions hamper moon vision remains Valid as long as the chosen area is a City or a particular State.But when we focus on the entire Country / Continent, these weather issues/excuses becomes Ir-relevant.
    • if the Moon is supposed to be Visible astronomically, it should be visible to the naked eye, certainly. But, It implies that the criteria used by ISNA/FCNA is not on the basis of Visibility Graphs of Crescent Moon, instead some particular Straightforward calculations.
    • It is understood from Fiqh that any form of Ibaadah is unacceptable before the due time, but is accepted if it is performed later than schedule time due to any valid excuse and the responsibility of fulfilling that ibaadah is discharged. e.g. 
      • Zuhr Salaah 2 min before Zawal will not be accepted under any circumstances at all. But if it was prayed late close to Asar time, it would be accepted and no sin committed if there was a valid excuse.
      • Qurbani can be made on the 11th or 12th, but under no circumstances can it be made on the 9th.
      • If fast or Eid is celebrated before time it will not be accepted, but if there is a delay because of sighting failure of moon, this Ibaadah will be accepted and the responsibility discharged.
      • It's permissible for those who believe in the incorrect early date to still delay and pray Eid on "their second day", Insha'Allaah, since the Eid prayers are permissible on any of the 3 days ? But those who follow the correct date can't pray a day 1 day early after making sure, moon was not sighted.
       Consequences of premature announcements ( in Saudi or elsewhere)
    • Wrong Miqaat (Eid al-Fitr on the last day of Ramadan, and Adha on 9th D.Hijja)
    • Wrong Lailatul Qadr (Night of Power prayers). When do the possible nights of Laylatul Qadr (Nights of Power) fall (since one group’s odd days will be another’s even)? more->
    • Wrong day of Hajj (7th or 8th of D. Hijja, and Eid al-Adha on 9th of D. Hijja)
    • Missing the day of Allah’s forgiveness from Samaa-al-Dunya
    • Invalid sacrifice (on 8th or 9th of D. Hijja)
    • Wrong Tashreeq days (from 8th to 11th, instead of 9th- 13th)
    • Wrong Arafah day fast (on 7th or 8th of D. Hijja)
    • Wrong 9th and 10th of Muharram
    • Missed Ayyam al-Beed, every month, etc. etc.

    Some Basic Knowledge on Astronomy

    • When the Earth, Moon and Sun are roughly in a Straight line, it is the instant of “Conjunction” or the “Astronomical New Moon”. This is completely Dark / Invisible / “no-moon”. This is not the Hilal. 
    • As the Moon moves along further from Sun, it appears to lag behind the apparent motion of the Sun, thus causing the Moonset to be become later and later compared to Sunset, until at optimum angle of separation, the reflected sunlight appears as the Crescent shape Hilal.
    • Angular separation of the moon and sun (vertex angle as seen from earth) and the Moon's altitude Φ above the horizon after Sunset, determines upto 95% chances
      of visibility of Moon in that area.
      • On New Moon , when the S-M-E are in straight line, vertex angle = Zero,  altitude Φ = Zero, crescent Size = Zero  ), and moon sets = Sun Set Timing.
      • After 24 hours, vertex angle increases to ~12.2 degree, Φ and crescent Size increases proportionately, moon sets approx 1 hour after Sun Set.
      • After another 24 hours, vertex angle increases to ~24.4 degree, Φ and crescent Size increases proportionately, moon sets approx 2 hour after Sun Set.
      • From above its clear, that with every hour that passes by, the Angular separation,altitude Φ, crescent Size, and the moon-set and Sun-set Difference increases,
        thereby increasing chances of visible crescent, and when the Angular separation reaches a particularly decent value (12-15 degree), moon crescent visibility becomes certain.
    • Any place around the earth (closer to the equator) can be the point of first visibility of Hilal. Sometimes India/Pak could see the Hilal first, Sometimes Saudi first, Sometimes Virginia, Sometimes California,  All equal likely.
      • Then as we go west of this place (which saw Hilal first), Hilal should be bigger and easier to be seen. Thereon, places on west should see the moon.
    • When Earth rotates from Saudi to California (in 11 hrs = time difference), the Solar date remains same, whereas, when Earth rotates from California to Saudi  (in 13 hrs), the Solar date becomes +1. 
      • So above implies, The chances of the Hilal being seen in California one day before Saudi are quite high. Assuming no false sighting in both place, then out of 24 EIDs,  11 EIDs will witness CA celebrating one Date BEFORE the Saudi, while 13 EIDs will witness Same day ( Saud and CA ) 
      • CA and India are 14.5(time difference) hrs separate. Using same analogy as above, Out of 24 EIDs,  14-15 EIDs will witness CA celebrating one Date BEFORE India and 9-10 EIDs will witness Same day ( India and CA )( and This happens the way it looks, becoz There are authentic moon sighting reports in Indian Subcontinent) 
      • To sum up, "the greater the time difference between 2 regions, greater are the chances of the region in West celebrating EID one day prior to the region in East."
    • The Saudi Calendar as well as the ISNA/FCNA Calendars are not based on calculations for Hilal Visibility, instead they refer "New Moon Dates" Chart.( See this link), and decide the calendar based on certain time range of New Moon( e.g. If New Moon Date < X Time, choose todays date for moon sighting, otherwise choose tomorrow's date).
    • The Calculations for Islamic Dates should be for the Visible Crescent, and not for the dark invisible astronomical new moon (no moon), which is typically one day before the Hilal.
    • Similarly Moonset after Sunset does NOT mean that the Hilal will be visible. (So current Saudi Calendar does not work).
    • 2006 criterion of ISNA/FCNA uses age of the moon (in hours) as the Only or Main criteria (which is actual a partial criteria). However, instead The criteria for Hilal visibility are many e.g.
      • The angular separation between the Sun & Moon at sunset.(preferably 11 degrees+).
      • Time lag: How many minutes the Moon will stay after Sunset.  i.e. Moonset - Sunset.(preferably 40 minutes+).
      • Moon's altitude above horizon at Sunset (preferably 5 degrees+).
      • Twilight factors after Sunset. ( Higher latitudes have longer Twilights after sunsets, so poses problems for moon sighting)
    • Saudi Calendar "UmmUlQura" is currently based on "If the Moon sets after the Sun and conjunction has occurred (even if by just a second), the next day is new month. This is still quite simplistic and often Ahead of Hilal Sighting Possibility by one or two days and sets early expectations. It is substantially worse than what was followed in 1950-1972 criterion! Read further
    • Saudi Calendar's method causes new month to start one or two days ahead of Hilal Sighting, while  ISNA/FCNA Calendarscurrent method causes new month to start either one day Ahead of Hilal Sighting, or the actual day of sighting ( ~50% correct, ~50% wrong).

    Also read
          A. Download the pdf file from  Hilal Sighting & Islamic Dates: Issues and Solution from Salman Zafar Shaikh, Ph.D 
        B. Hilal Sighting in Saudi Arabia: A First Hand Report
    1. Islamic Crescent Observation Project
    2. Hilal sighting committee of North America
    3. Hilal sighting process in Saudi Arabia and its implications worldwide - Salman Z. Shaikh

    6. Moonsighting for the month of Ramadan By Shaikh M. Ibrahim Memon, Darul Uloom AlMadania, Buffalo, NY, USA

    7. Islam, Astronomy, Hilal, New Moon and Cyberspace – Dr. Mohibullah N. Durrani
    9. Committee for Crescent Observation International Dr. Omar Afzal,
    10. Muslims are united to follow the Qur’an and Sunnah, Br.ZaheerUddin,
    11. Response to ISNA’s wrong position by Hafiz Aejaz
    12. Axing of Methodology, By: Dr. Hafiz Abdur Rahman Aejaz
    13. A Refutation to ISNA/Fiqh Council’s Decision
    14. Position Statement by CFCO Intl. Ulema
    16. DHUL HIJJAH & 'EID AL-'ADHA - Zaytuna Institute, By Imam Zaid Shakir