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Was it wrong to start Ramadan 1434H on Wednesday 10th July 2013?

 The high court in Saudi Arabia requested people to sight the new moon of Shawwal for this year 1434H (2013) on Tuesday 6th Aug as there was a possibility that the first day of Shawwal (Eid al-Fitr) could have been Wed 7th Aug 2013. 

Was it wrong to start Ramadan 1434H on Wednesday 10th July 2013?

All praise be to Allah and may peace and blessings be upon His Messenger, salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam.

The high court in Saudi Arabia requested people to sight the new moon of Shawwal for this year 1434H (2013) on Tuesday 6th Aug as there was a possibility that the first day of Shawwal (Eid al-Fitr) could have been Wed 7th Aug 2013.

The consequence would be making our total number of fasts in Ramadan to be only 28 days. It is clearly established in Islam that the lunar Islamic month can only be either 29 or 30 days. It cannot be 28 or 31 days. This is due to a number of Prophetic traditions such as the hadith recorded by Imam Muslim in which Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with them both, reported Allah’s Messenger, salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam, as saying: “The month of Ramadan may consist of twenty-nine days. So do not fast until you have sighted it (i.e., the new moon of Ramadan) and if the sky is cloudy to you, then complete the period as thirty.” This is a matter of consensus between the Muslim ummah.

This announcement created some confusion and unfortunately was an opportunity for some opportunists to attack the Shari‘ah. What is more unfortunate is the negative comments from some of those who advocate astronomy over the sunnah of the Prophet regarding sighting the moon. This short article serves as a clarification for this matter.  First of all we have to realize that there is nothing in the Shari‘ah that suggests that this cannot happen or that its occurrence manifests a contradiction in the practise of the Sunnah in declaring the start and end of Ramadan. In fact, it is related that a similar incident happened during the time of the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, and he commanded the Muslims to make up one day of fast in order to make their fast 29 days, which is the minimum length of a shari‘ah month. (‘Abdurazzaq, Ibn Abi Shaybah and al-Bayhaqi)

This can happen to individuals, communities and even countries whenever Ramadan is started after calculating Sha‘ban to be thirty days because the new moon could not be sighted due to weather conditions or any other reason.

The start of Ramadan is declared by an authoritative body of Muslims based on one of two criteria. The first one is sighting the new moon and the second one is completing the month of Sha‘ban as thirty days. The second criterion is adopted once the first criterion is not possible due to weather conditions. This is the Sunnah of the Prophet, salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam. Numerous reports have confirmed this; Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: “The Messenger of Allah, salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam, said: “Observe the fast on sighting the crescent and terminate it on sighting it, but if the sky is cloudy before you, then complete the number (i.e., thirty days) of the month.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

This scenario can happen if we adopt the second criterion. The new moon might have already been born earlier and remained concealed behind the clouds and hence was not sighted, causing the Muslims to start Ramadan the following night. Therefore, there always remains the possibility of sighting the new moon of the following month (Shawwal) after only 28 days, whenever Sha‘ban is taken as thirty days due to the new moon not being witnessed. This should not be an issue of confusion or doubting the Sunnah of moon sighting or completing the count of Sha‘ban as thirty days. Allah knows that this could happen and he never told us to find an alternative route.  We also mentioned that the scenario did occur during the time of the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Numerous scholars from different schools of thought mentioned this possibility and provided this same solution of making up the missed day. For example, a number of Hanafi scholars quoted an incident that took place in Bukhara in the eighth Hijri century. Among them were Ibn Nujaym al-Hanafi (d 970 H) in his famous book al-Bahr al-Ra’iq, Shaykh Zadah (d 1078 H) and al-Zayla’i (743 H) in his book Tabyin al-Haqa’iq, Sharh Kanz al-Daqa’iq. It was also mentioned in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyyah. A number of Hanbali scholars also mentioned the case and its solution. Among them are al-Mardawi (d 885 H) in his famous book al-Insaf, and al-Bahouti (d 1051 h) in his famous book al-Rawd al-Murbi. It also occurred in 1404 H and the grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia at that time, my shaykh ‘Abdul‘Aziz ibn Baz, issued the same edict [fatwa].

So, do we say that in such cases Muslims started fasting on the wrong day? No, we do not maintain this as they fasted according to the Sunnah that directs us with ‘Fast when you all fast and stop fasting when you all stop fasting’. Many scholars from different schools of thoughts state that once the person follows the Sunnah and thereafter finds out that the actual matter is the opposite, then his action is absolutely valid. They provided many examples including starting the fast on a day different to the astronomical first day of the month. We have said in many previous articles that there are two months: the legal [shari‘i] one and the astronomical one. In some years they may concur and in others they may not – that is not an issue – but our ummah follows the legal one according to its effort and ability. Another example is the direction of the Qiblah, once you put your effort to find the direction of the Qiblah and pray accordingly, then your prayer is valid even if you later find out that you prayed in a direction 180 degrees opposite of the Qiblah. Allah says, ‘…He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty…’ (22:78) and He also said ‘So fear Allah as much as you are able…’ (64:16)

So, as a reminder, what would have been the consequence if the moon was indeed sighted on Tuesday the 6th August?

As we have just said, if this scenario had happened and we fasted 28 days, and since the Lunar Month cannot be fewer than 29 days, then we must make up the one day that we missed. We should make this up as soon as possible to free ourselves from the right of Allah upon us. We should fast it before we fast the six days of Shawwal, followed by the other days of Ramadan that we missed, if any. Once we fast the obligatory fast, then we should fast the six days of Shawwal according to the hadith of the Prophet salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam, ‘Whoever fasts Ramadan and then follows it up with six days from Shawwal it is as if they fasted the entire year.” (Muslim)

Allah knows best and Eid Mubarak to all.
Dr Haitham al-Haddad
29th Ramadan 1434H (7th Aug 2013)

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About Shaikh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.

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