Many of the rituals in Islam require one to know when the lunar month begins, like fasting during the month of Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr [عيد الفطر] and Eid Al-Adha [عيد الأضحى]. 

However, on many occasions, the beginning of the month becomes a matter of dispute amongst the community.

In this episode we will try to explain what causes dispute and how the beginning of a new Hijri or lunar month can be proved.    

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The period in which the moon orbits around the earth once forms one lunar month. During its orbit the moon reflects the light of the sun and based on its position, exhibits different shapes. So, it appears as a crescent in the beginning of the month, then becomes a full moon during the middle of the month and then appears once again as a crescent. Finally, it disappears completely in the shadow of the earth. This stage is called Al-Muhaq [المٌحاق] in Arabic or wane.

Once the moon is out of this stage, and sunlight shines on it, it appears as a very fine crescent which marks the beginning of a new lunar month.

So, we know that the movement of the moon and the stars can be predicted and calculated, so why is there dispute over the beginning of the month?

The answer is that there are various opinions on determining the beginning of the month:

  • The first is that the beginning of the month only occurs by sighting the moon with the naked eye.
  • The second is that it occurs by sighting the moon, even if it means using magnifying devices like telescopes.
  • The third is that the month begins if the sighting of the moon is possible but it is covered behind a barrier like dust or clouds.
  • And finally, that the beginning of the month is determined through the astronomical calculations that prove that the new moon is born, even if its sighting is impossible.

The second area of dispute is the issue of the horizon.

If we assume that the beginning of the month is proved in one place, does this prove it in other places?

Here too, there are different views:

  • The first view is that having proved it in one place only proves it in other places if the two places share the same horizon or if their horizons are very close to each other.
  • The second view is slightly broader and states that by proving the month in one place, it is proved in every other place that shares with it a portion of the night.
  • And the third view is even broader and states that proving the month in one area, proves it in the countries of the Old World which is Asia, Africa and Europe.

Well, you’ve now learnt that jurists have different opinions on the issue of moonsighting, and since people are following various jurists, it’s very natural to have different results.

But the question is: is it compulsory to follow a jurist in determining the beginning of the month?

The issue has two components:

  • Firstly, for the principle and the method of determining the beginning of the month, like the principle of sighting with the naked eye or sighting with devices,  it is compulsory to follow the jurist.
  • Secondly, regarding the application of these principles and determining the beginning of the months practically, the jurist need not be followed. In fact, it is the duty of the follower himself to do this. So it is possible that the follower sees the moon and the beginning of the month is proved for him legally even though  his believing brothers or the jurist himself have no proof for it .

Now after having presented the differences of opinion, we will mention the ways that the beginning of the month can be proved based on the opinion of Ayatullah Al-Sayyid Al-Sistani:

  • First, that the beginning of the month is proved by sighting the moon with the naked eye. You are allowed to use magnifying devices to determine the position of the crescent but you have to see it with the naked eye
    Keep in mind that sighting the moon only using magnifying devices will not prove the beginning of the month.
  • Secondly, is to become assured about the possibility of seeing the moon with the naked eye. Meaning that it is confirmed with convincing and undeniable evidence that the moon exists and that seeing it with the naked eye is possible, however it has been covered with clouds or dust, for example. Keep in mind that this evidence must be convincing to astronomers, scientists and specialists.
  • Thirdly, is by proving the new moon in other regions. This method requires some geographical and astronomical conditions between the two regions, and they should be united or very close in their horizons.
    Understand that this requires technical knowledge specialty and therefore one should refer to experts and specialists. As an example, it’s mentioned that if the new moon is proved in Najaf, this normally means it’s proved for Bahrain. But having it proved in Bahrain does not necessarily mean it is proved in Najaf.
  • The Fourth way of proving the monthis through widespread news of proving that the month has begun which gives one certainty. So for example, if a large number of people say that the month has been proved, and the follower is sure of what they say and the proving method goes in accordance with his jurist, then the month is proved for him too.
  • The fifth way is by legitimate affirmation. This means that one takes the testimony of two just men that the month is proved according to the principles of one’s jurist. 
  • And lastly if the beginning of the month has not been proved with any of the previous ways, then by the passing of thirty days, the current month ends and the new month begins.

In this episode we tried to explain the most important issues of sighting the moon and what causes the dispute over it. 

We should remember that various views on the first of the month still exist and will continue to do so. What remains for us is to understand other opinion and to respect them.

We ask our Lord to join our entire Ummah to celebrate the next Eid under the flag of our Imam, may Allah hasten his appearance, Amen.