Monday, September 5, 2011

Moonsighting: A Convincing Proposal

Below is the translation of a presentation in Urdu by Shaikh Tahirul Qadri on how to resolve the moonsighting issue. If you want to watch the video, please go to the link below:

The well known meaning of the word moonsighting  (royat-e- hilal) is derived from the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh,: Fast when you see (roya) it, and break your fast when you see (roya) it.” Now, the whole discussion depends on the meaning of the word “roya.”

The well known meaning of the word “roya” is seeing. That is why in the old days, people use to “see” the new moon and celebrate eid. If they didn’t see it they used to fast 30 days. That is the real rule about the moonsighting.

It is also recorded that people used to see the moon in different towns and celebrate eid according to their local sighting.

Those were simple times. As time goes by things develop, the society develops and things become complex. So, now, the question is how to define the word “roya.”

The first definition of Roya (Sighting)

The “naked eye sighting” meaning of roya makes the sighting of the moon possible only the night before the eid. This kind of sighting on the eve of eid makes it difficult for Muslims living as minorities in the western world to celebrate eid. Many people miss the eid.

You cannot go out of hadith to define “roya.” So this made it necessary to investigate whether there is another meaning of “roya”. And for sure there is one.

The Second Definition of Roya (sighting)

Then the fuqaha (jurists), ulama (scholars) and the astronomers came to the conclusion that another meaning of “roya” could be that moon attains conditions (age, height and angle from the sun) under which it becomes visible.

In the last few years the science has developed along with the development of telescopes, etc. So, the sighting of the moon using these equipment also came under the definition of “roya.”

If you studied the moon sighting history of the last 100 years, you will find that the naked eye sighting of the moon is possible only if the new moon was at least 12 hours old. Any moon that was younger than 12 hours was still not sighted even with telescopes. Only 4 or 5 cases of moon sighting, either naked eye or with the aid of telescope, where the moon was just 12-13 hours old has been reported in the last 100  years.

There are reasons for the invisibility of the younger than 12-hour old moon. For the moon to be visible to a naked eye, it has to meet certain minimum conditions: It has to be at a certain height from the horizon, it has to be at a certain angle from the sun, and it has to be on the horizon for certain duration. When it attains these conditions only then it becomes visible to the naked eye. These are some of the astronomical details for the visibility of the moon.

These are the ways of sighting of the moon with the naked eye. This can be done only on the eve of the Eid and it is not much helpful for Muslims living in the US or the UK. So they had to take one more step.

This step was to define “roya” as the attainment of the conditions that makes the moon visible rather than the actual sighting. This would help with the possibility of finding out dates many days or months in advance.

The information about visibility of the moon is available through published resources. We can find out the moonrise time, the angle of the moon, the altitude, etc. This information can be used to announce eid several days or weeks in advance.

But this caused a difference of opinion. People were not ready to arrive at one formula. The scholars initially used 16 hours as the minimum age of the moon. As I mentioned earlier, the 12-13 hour old moon was sighted only 5-6 times in about hundred years. The normal average sighting age of the moon is 16 hours because it meets attains certain height and certain angle that makes it visible. So this 16-hour age became a standard principle.

I had in an article described in detail three or four astronomical principles of the moon’s visibility, and they have been published. But whether you make 16-hour age or even 13-hour age of the moon as the minimum age to call it a “sighting,” it is not workable because some countries cannot wait for even 13 hours.

In some countries, the eid is announced hours after the moon is born. Sometimes the birth of the moon happens after the sunset. So there is not one rule defined for “conditions fit sighting.” Unless this rule is standardized, the sighting will always be a problem.

The Third Definition of Roya (sighting)

So I came up with the third definition of “roya”. This is neither actual sighting with the naked eye nor the moon attaining conditions to make it visible (attaining age, height in the sky and attaining an angle from the sun). The third definition of “roya” is knowledge.

أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِأَصْحَابِ الْفِيلِ

 “A lum tara kaifa faa’la rabbuka bi ashaabul fil.”

Some scholars question how could one announce the new moon so far in advance. I am giving you evidence for that.

The event of the companions of the elephant led by Abraha that tried to attack Kaabah happened 50 days before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him received a revelation (Wahi) describing the event:

“Did you not see how your Lord dealt with the Companions of the Elephant?”

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was not even born yet when this event happened. So there was no question of him seeing the event with the eye.

Then what is the meaning of the word تَرَ (tara)? In what context was this word used?

The word is used to mean: “Are you not aware of this event?” or “Did you not get the news of this event?” or “Did you not hear about this event/”

So, without seeing anything with your own eyes, when you get the knowledge, news or information from a reliable source, it is called “roya” because the objective of “roya” is knowledge. What is the objective of seeing? It is attaining knowledge that moon is born. So if the knowledge is attained through either seeing with naked eye or receiving news from other source is acceptable.

Just like we testify, “There is no God but Allah.” The testimony happens when you “see” something. When the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, testified, he testified after seeing. And we relied the sighting by the Prophet, pbuh. We testified without seeing Allah because we received the news from the Prophet, peace be upon him.

Same is the case of “roya,” We get the news that the new moon took birth. With this definition, we need not wait for the moon to become visible. Whenever the new moon takes birth, and we get this information from scientific calculation that the new moon will take birth on certain day at certain time and there is no error of even a minute and that is as accurate as 2+2=4, then in what in the old days the work the eye used to do is being done by the science. The scientific calculations have become our eyes.

So if the science shows you that the new moon will take birth on such a day at such a time, make the new moon announcement relying on the information. This could become our formula for moonsighting.

And I often say that one day the ummah will have to agree on this formula. It will not take many years and you will see it in your life that this formula will be ultimately adopted. Everyone has to come to this conclusion. Today you may call it illegal and reject it, there will be no resolution without this if we wanted uniformity.

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