Moonsighting: Where are you looking?

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Kurayb relates that Umm Fadl sent him to Mu’awiyah in Shaam (the Levant):

I arrived in Shaam and discharged her affairs. Ramadan then dawned upon me whilst I was in Shaam and I saw the new moon myself on Friday night. Later I arrived at Madinah at the end of the month. Abdullah b. Abbas enquired, mentioning the new moon. He then said: ‘When did you seen the moon?’ I said: ‘We saw it on Friday night.’ He said: Did YOU see it?’ I said: ‘Yes and so did the people, they fasted and so too did Mu’awiyah (the caliph).’ He said: ‘We saw it on Saturday night and we’ll continue to fast until we complete thirty (days) or we see the new moon.’ I said: ‘Does the sighting of Mu’awiyah and his fasting not suffice you?’ He said: ‘No, for this is what the Messenger of God commanded us to do.’

Muslim

Some interesting points:

  • Al Tirmidhi titled a chapter in his Sunan: ‘the people of each land/country to determine their own sighting.’
  • Those who argue for global sighting do not have a specific narration, but rely on the generality of the prophetic command to fast when you see the moon, where ‘you’ is said in the plural. So they take the plural to infer all Muslims, rather than a specific community of believers. However, the narration of Kurayb above clarifies how the use of plural pronoun is to be taken.
  • Abul Abbas Al Qurtubi inferred from Ibn Abdil Barr that the disagreement over the obligation (as stated by other Imams), or otherwise, of following other places was only if they were close. Ibn Abdil Barr relates a juristic consensus (ijma) that the moon being sighted in one location is not considered where there is significant distance between the two lands, such as between al-Andalus (Spain) and Khurasan (Afghanistan). The modern notion of global sighting was a redundant issue back then simply because of the lack of modern communication and transportation. It would have been untenable. Often, we impose the modern context on the past and miss what they were exactly debating.
  • Given the concerns that some have over the processes behind sighting in other countries, bodies have already been setup in the UK to look out for the moon.
  • Much of the debate in this country, in the end, tends to boil down to sectarian allegiences rather than a pragmatic resolution to administrative processes.

I believe that the longstanding debate could have (and still can be) easily resolved with a bit of intelligence, pragmatism and maturity. In fact, the whole debacle is indicative of why Muslims are woeful at politics (which is effectively communal decision making).

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