Misconception: Different Matla`s
New Moons Determine Islamic Dates
Allah (Subhnahu wa ta`ala) has set crescent sighting as the
only means for establishing dates of various Islamic occasions
such as `Ids and Hajj. He says:
"They ask you [Muhammad] concerning the new moons.
Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for
men and for Hajj (pilgrimage)".
[Al-Baqarah (2) 189]
In particular, the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa
sallam) emphasized that crescent sighting is required in
determining the beginning and the end of the month of Ramadhan.
A large number of sahabah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) reported that
the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
Fast (Muslims) when you see the crescent. If it is
obscure to you, then complete thirty days in the count of
Sha`ban. And break your fast when you see the crescent. If
it is obscure to you, then fast thirty days.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) took great
care to determine precisely the beginning of Sha`ban, because
one can then count twenty nine days and watch for the crescent
of Ramadhan or complete thirty days before starting to fast. `Aishah
(Radiya 'Llahu `anha) said:
The Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) used
to be more concerned about [determining the beginning of]
Sha`ban than about other months. Then he used to fast at the
sighting of [the crescent of] Ramadhan. If it were obscure,
he would count thirty days [of Sha`ban] and then fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and Ahmad]
Witnesses Needed to Establish the Sighting
The `Ulama agree that two trustworthy Muslim witnesses are
sufficient to establish moon sighting. This is based on
reports by a number of the Sahabah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) that
the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
If two just Muslim witnesses testify [that they saw
it] then fast or break your fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Ahmad, an-Nassa'i and ad-Daraqutni]
Many ulam further believe that only one trustworthy
person's testimony may be accepted as a basis for determining
the beginning of the Month. The basis for this is that Ibn `Umar
(Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) said:
People were looking out for the crescent [of Ramadhan].
I informed the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) that
I saw it. So he fasted [on the following day] and ordered
people to fast.
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud and others]
Some people suggest using astronomical computations either
exclusively or partially for determining the visibility and
preciseness of crescent sightings. This is not a new
suggestion, as it was raised at the earliest times of Islam
and the Prophet salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) rejected it.
Ibn `Umar (Radiya 'Llahu `anhuma) reported that the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
We are an illiterate nation. We do not use
astronomical writing or computation [in our fasting]. A
month is so and so and so (and he pointed with his hands
three times, folding the thumb on the third time, meaning
twenty nine days) or so and so and so (and he pointed with
his hands three times, meaning thirty days).
[Al- Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and An-Nassa'i]
Abu Dawud's narration adds further:
Thus Ibn `Umar used to end his fasting with the rest
of people without relying on those computations.
This shows that the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa
sallam) wanted to keep this worship simple and at the level of
common people, away from the influence or control of
specialized scientific knowledge (whether sound or doubtful).
This shows as well, as Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu 'Llah) said,
that the description of this nation here as being illiterate
is a praise to it in that it is independent of any complicated
means in performing its basic worships.
Anyone who rejects this would indeed overstep the ijma`
(consensus) of the worthy `ulama, would be attempting to spoil
the beauty and simplicity of this Din, and, worst of all,
would be bluntly disobeying the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
Misconception: the True Beginning of a Month
A very common misconception and a great concern for many
people is that if we do not make our utmost best to confirm
the testimonies of those who claim moon sighting (by
astronomical evidence and other means) then we might be
risking nullifying some of our worship by fasting on wrong
days. This approach is rejected in Islam on several accounts.
a. It involves casting doubts about the
truthfulness of just Muslims (`udul). This is forbidden in
the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
b. It conflicts with the practice of the Messenger
(salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) who accepted the sighting
of people without delay and without comparing it with
c. It resembles the behavior of the Jews who
tightened the Laws on themselves; and Allah punished them by
making them even tighter. The Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) said:
Beware of [going to the extreme of]
over-exaggeration in Din. Indeed, those before you were
destroyed because of their over-exaggeration in Din.
[Authentic: narrated by An-Nasa'i and others]
d. It shows ignorance of when an Islamic month
really begins. This point is explained by Ibn Taymiyyah (Raimahu
Many people think that once the new moon rises in
the skies, that night would be the first of the month,
regardless of whether people see it or not. This is not
correct! It should appear to people and they should see it
to start a month. That is why the Messenger (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam) said: "[True] fasting starts on the
day that you start fasting ..." Which means: this is
the day that you know it as being the time to fast, etc.
If you did not know it, then it would carry no value for
[Al- Fatawa, volume 5, page 203]
This view is further clarified by this narration. Abu al-
We went to `Umrah and saw the crescent of Ramadhan at
Dthatu `Irq. It seemed to have been two or three nights old.
Later, we met Ibn `Abbas and mentioned this to him. Ibn `Abbas
(Radiya 'Llahu `anhuma) informed us that Allah's Messenger (salla
'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said: Allah has set crescent
sighting as indication of Ramadhan. Thus Ramadhan starts on
the night that you see it. If it is obscure to you, then
complete the count.
[Narrated by Muslim]
But what if those who claimed sighting of the new moon were
lying or mistaken? As long as they are apparently acceptable
and trustworthy Muslims then we must follow their testimony
and fast (or end the fasting). We have absolutely no right to
reject that without a definite proof (applying means which
conform with the Sunnah, as outlined above.) If they happen to
be indeed lying then the sin will be theirs only, and we would
still be (in sha'a 'Llah) rewarded for sticking to the Sunnah.
The above hadiths carry a general command to all Muslims to
abide by crescent sighting. In the same spirit, Abu Hurayrah,
`Aishah and others (Radiya 'Llahu `anhum) reported that the
Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam) said:
[True] fasting starts on the day that you start
fasting; [true] Fitr [`Id] is on the day that you end your
fasting; [true] Adha [`Id] is on the day that you offer your
[Authentic; narrated by Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidthi and
Thus when the moon is sighted anywhere on earth, by at
least one trustworthy Muslim, this means that the whole Ummah
has sighted it. Based on this, as the above hadiths indicate,
all members of the Ummah are required to observe the new month
as long as the information reaches them in a reasonable amount
of time to be able to act upon it.
Misconception: Different Matla`s
A large number of people misinterpret the following
narration by Kurayb.
Kurayb reported that Umm al-Fadhl Bint Al-rith sent
him on a mission to Mu`awiyah (Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) in
Damascus. He accomplished his mission and was still in
ash-Sham when Ramadhan started. He saw the new moon on
Friday evening. He then returned to al-Madinah, arriving
therein near the end of the month. He met Ibn `Abbas who
asked him when was the new moon of Ramadhan sighted in
ash-Sham. Kurayb said, We saw it on the night of Friday.
Ibn Abbas inquired, Did you see it yourself? Kurayb
replied, Yes I saw it; and People did too. Based on that,
they fasted and Mu`awiyah fasted as well. Whereupon Ibn
Abbas said, But we saw it on the night of Saturday; and
we shall continue to fast until we complete thirty days or
see it [the new moon of Shawwal]. Kurayb asked,
Wouldn't you accept Mu`awiyah's sighting and fasting.
Ibn Abbas answered: No! This is how Allah's Messenger
[Narrated by Muslim]
After discussing this narration, Shayk ul-Islam Ibn
Taymiyyah (Raimahu 'Llah) concluded:
To summarize: a person who learns about the sighting
of the moon in good time to be able to utilize it for
fasting, for ending his fast, or for sacrifice, he must
definitely do so. The texts [of Islam] and the reports about
the Salaf point to this. To limit this to a certain distance
or country would contradict both the reason and the Shar`
[Al-Fatawa, volume 5, page 111]
Imam Ash-Shawkani (Rahimahu 'Llah) cited this narration by
Kurayb and mentioned the different conclusions that the `ulama
have reached based on it. He then commented as follows:
You should know that the acceptable evidence is in
what Ibn Abbas (Radiya 'Llahu `anhu) reported explicitly
from the Messenger (salla 'Llahu `alayhi wa sallam). It is
not in his ijtihad which people tried to interpret, and to
which he pointed by saying, This is how Allah's Messenger
commanded us. His direct report from the Prophet (salla 'Llahu
`alayhi wa sallam) is what Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others
narrated as, Do not fast until you see the crescent, and
do not end your fast until you see it. This does not
apply to any particular location, but is a general address
to all applicable Muslims. Thus it is obviously an evidence
that a sighting in one location is binding to people in
other locations. This is so because when [Muslim] people in
a particular location see it, this means that all Muslims
have seen it. Thus what applies to them [those who saw it]
would apply to others [in other locations] Despite that
ash-Sham was not far enough from al-Madinah to warrant
different matlas (moon rising positions), Ibn Abbas refused
to follow the sighting of its people. This tells that his
behavior was based on his ijtihad, and is not, therefore, an
acceptable evidence [in this case].
[Nayl ul- Awtar, volume 4, page 268]
Siddiq Hassan Khan, one of the greatest ulam of the Indian
Sub- continent ever (Raimahu 'Llah), said:
If the crescent is seen by people in one location,
people in other locations must abide by their sighting. This
is based on the hadiths that declare the beginning and the
end of fasting at the sighting of the crescent. These
hadiths address the whole Muslim Ummah: when one Muslim sees
the crescent anywhere, his sighting would be a sighting for
all Muslims. It would not be correct to challenge this with
the hadith of Kurayb (in sahih Muslim), because Ibn `Abbas
did not declare in it that the Prophet (salla 'Llahu `alayhi
wa sallam) commanded them not to follow sightings of other
[ar-Rawdhat un-Nadiyyah, volume 1, page 224]
In this regard also, Muhammad Nasir ud-Din al-Albani, one
of the top hadith specialists, said:
Matla`s are relative. They have no definite
boundaries which people can distinguish and to which they
can refer. Most `ulama give no weight to differences in
matlas. This is based on the general meaning of the
authentic hadith: Fast upon seeing it; and break your
fast upon seeing it. This is the truth, and none else
can be accepted. One may not dispute this with the hadith of
Ibn Abbas ... It may be even better to say that the hadith
of Ibn Abbas concerns those who follow their locality's
sighting and later during Ramadhan learn that the crescent
was sighted elsewhere one day earlier. In such case, they
would continue to fast with their countrymen until they
complete thirty days or see their own crescent. This removes
the confusion and leaves the above hadith applicable in
general to all those who receive the news of seeing the
crescent from any location. It is well known that this
matter is very easy to accomplish nowadays.
[Tamam ul- Minnah, page 398]
The above discussion may be summarized in the following
a. The beginning of an Islamic month may be
determined (for purposes of fasting, Hajj, and other Islamic
occasions) only through naked-eye sighting of the new
b. Astronomical evidence may not be used to
establish moon sighting or to verify or revoke the sighting
of trustworthy Muslims.
c. Once the new moon is sighted anywhere on earth,
people in all other places who learn about the sighting in a
reasonable amount of time to be able to use it must do so.
d. A month starts when the new moon is seen
regardless of whether this occurred before, after or at the
actual possible sighting.
We ask Allah to show us the truth, and to enable us to
follow the Sunnah always. And let our final call be: Al-hamdu
li 'Llahi rabbil 'alamin.