My personal style of writing is more BLOG-ish in nature. So in an effort to remain a bit more objective, and a whole more accurate & articulate, I opted for the following introduction by Dr. Waleed A. Muhanna:
1. HISTORY AND MOTIVATION
The Islamic Calendar, which is based purely on lunar cycles, was first introduced in 638 C.E. by the close companion of the Prophet (PBUH) and the second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-KHaTTab (592-644 C.E.) RAA. He did it in an attempt to rationalize the various, at times conflicting, dating systems used during his time. `Umar consulted with his advisors on the starting date of the new Muslim chronology. It was finally agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the Hijrah. The actual starting date for the Calendar was chosen (on the basis of purely lunar years, counting backwards) to be the first day of the first month (1 MuHarram) of the year of the Hijrah. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar (with dates that fall within the Muslim Era) is usually abbreviated A.H. in Western languages from the latinized Anno Hegirae, "in the year of the Hegira". MuHarram 1, 1 A.H. corresponds to July 16, 622 C.E.
The Hijrah, which chronicles the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from Makkah to Madinah in September 622 C.E., is the central historical event of early Islam. It led to the foundation of the first Muslim city-state, a turning point in Islamic and world history.
To Muslims, the Hijri calendar is not just a sentimental system of time reckoning and dating important religious events, e.g., Siyaam (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah). It has a much deeper religious and historical significance.
Muhammad Ilyes [Ilyes84] quotes Nadvi who wrote:
``It (the advent of the 15th century) is indeed, a unique
occasion to ponder that the Islamic Era did not start
with the victories of Islamic wars, nor with the birth
or death of the prophet (PBUH), nor with the Revelation
itself. It starts with Hijra, or the sacrifice for the
cause of Truth and for the preservation of the Revelation.
It was a divinely inspired selection. God wanted to teach
man that struggle between Truth and Evil is eternal. The
Islamic year reminds Muslims every year not of the pomp
and glory of Islam but of its sacrifice and prepares them
to do the same.''
From a historical angle, Ilyes quotes Samiullah who writes:
``All the events of Islamic history, especially those which
took place during the life of the Holy Prophet and afterwards
are quoted in the Hijra calendar era. But our calculations
in the Gregorian calendar keep us away from those events and
happenings, which are pregnant of admonitory lessons and guiding
...And this chronological study is possible only by adopting the
Hijri calendar to indicate the year and the lunar month in line
with our cherished traditions.''
2. SPECIFICATION AND METHOD
The Islamic (Hijri) year consists of twelve (purely lunar) months. They are: (1) MuHarram; (2) Safar; (3) Raby` al-awal; (4) Raby` al-THaany; (5) Jumaada al-awal; (6) Jumaada al-THaany; (7) Rajab; (8) SHa`baan; (9) RamaDHaan; (10) SHawwal; (11) Thw al-Qi`dah; and (12) Thw al-Hijjah.
The most important dates in the Islamic (Hijri) year are: 1 MuHarram (Islamic new year); 27 Rajab (Isra & Miraj); 1 RamaDHaan (first day of fasting); 17 RamaDHan (Nuzul Al-Qur'an); Last 10 days of RamaDHaan which include Laylatu al-Qadar; 1 SHawwal (`iyd al-fiTr); 8-10 Thw al-Hijjah (the Hajj to Makkah); and 10 Thw al-Hijjah (`iyd al-'aDHHaa').
It is considered a divine command to use a (Hijra) calendar with 12 (purely) lunar months without intercalation [Ilyes84], as evident from the following verses of the Holy Qur'an (Trans: A. Yusuf Ali):
They ask thee
the New Moons
Say: They are but signs
To mark fixed periods of time
In (the affairs of) men
And for Pilgrimage. (II:189)
The number of months
In the sight of Allah
Is twelve (in a year)
So ordained by Him
The day He created
The heavens and the earth;
Of them four are sacred;
That is the straight usage
So wrong not yourselves
Therein, and fight the Pagans. (IX: 36)
Verily the transposing
(Of a prohibited month)
Is an addition to Unbelief:
The Unbelievers are led
To wrong thereby: for they make
it lawful one year,
And forbidden another year,
Of months forbidden by Allah
And make such forbidden ones
Lawful. The evil of their course
Seems pleasing to them.
But Allah guideth not
Those who reject Faith. (IX: 37)
Since the Islamic calendar is purely lunar, as opposed to solar or luni-solar, the Muslim (Hijri) year is shorter than the Gregorian year by about 11 days, and months in the Islamic (Hijri) year are not related to seasons, which are fundamentally determined by the solar cycle. This means that important Muslim festivals, which always fall in the same Hijri month, may occur in different seasons. For example, the Hajj and RamDHaan can take place in the summer as well as the winter. It is only over a 33 year cycle that lunar months take a complete turn and fall during the same season.
For religious reasons, the beginning of a Hijri month is marked not by the start of a new moon, but by a physical (i.e., an actual human) sighting of the crescent moon at a given locale. From the Fiqhi standpoint, one may begin the fast in RamDHaan, for example, based on "local" sighting (IKHTILAF AL-MATALE') or based on sighting anywhere in the Muslim World (ITTEHAD AL-MATALE'). Although different, both of these positions are valid Fiqhi positions.
Astronomically, some data are definitive and conclusive (i.e. the time of the BIRTH of a new moon). However, determining the VISIBILITY of the crescent is not as definitive or conclusive; rather it is dependent upon several factors, mostly optical in nature. This makes it difficult to produce (in advance) Islamic calendars that are reliable (in the sense that they are consistent with actual crescent visibility).
Efforts for obtaining an astronomical criterion for predicting the time of first lunar visibility go back the the Babylonian era, with significant improvements and work done later by Muslim and other scientists. These efforts have resulted in the development in a number of criteria for predicting first possible sighting of a crescent. However, there remains a measure of uncertainty associated with all criteria developed thus far. Moreover, there has been little work in the area of estimating crescent visibility on global (as opposed to local) scale. Until this happens, no Hijri calendar software can be 100% reliable, and actual crescent sighting remains essential especially for fixing important dates such as the beginning of RamaDHaan and the two `iyds.
The slight differences in printed Islamic calendars, worldwide, can therefore be traced to two primary factors: (1) the absence of a global criterion for first visibility; and (2) the use of different visibility criterion (or method of calculation). Weather conditions and differences in the observer's location also explain why there are sometimes differences in the observances of Islamic dates, worldwide.
Readers interested in further information should consult Mohammad Ilyas' excellent book ``A Modern Guide to Astronomical Calculations of Islamic Calendar, Times & Qibla,'' Berita Publishing, 1984, (ISBN: 967-969-009-1). The book contains a thorough discussion of the Islamic calendrical system and related historical and scientific developments. It also presents an interesting proposal for a universal Islamic Calendar based on a global visibility criterion and the concept of a Lunar Day (or International Lunar Date Line).
Waleed A. Muhanna
Tuesday 13 Jumaada al-THaany 1413 A.H.
December 8, 1992
Armed with that introduction, I'd like to discuss "IKHTILAF AL-MATALE'," which Dr. Muhanna touched on briefly. Of course, you can read a tad more about that topic at "Two Eid Or Not Two Eid." The outlook difference, which is what "IKHTILAF AL-MATALE'" in essence means, is a flexibility for which we all should be grateful. And while I'd love to suggest that we, the collective body of Muslims, should have one Islamic / Hijri calendar, which's determined by a Lajnah (commission), committee, council, shoura, etc. I do follow and find wisdom in the following:
Why are the Muslims not united in their fasting even though there is only one new moon for Ramadaan? In the past there was the excuse of there being no media or means of communication.
Praise be to Allaah.
The most likely reason for the differences in the start of the fast from one country to another is the difference in sighting the new moon. Such differences are well known and it makes sense that there are such differences.
Based on this, it is not possible to expect all the Muslims to start fasting at the same time, because this would mean that some of them were starting to fast before the new moon had been sighted and even before it had appeared.
Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked about those who call for the ummah to be united in fasting and for the moon sighting to be based on its sighting in Makkah. He said:
This is impossible from an astronomical point of view, because the sighting of the new moon, as Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said, differs, according to the scientists who are well-versed in this field. Because it differs, then each country should have its own ruling, according to the reports and according to science.
The evidence from reports is the verse in which Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month”
If it so happens that people in a remote region of the world do not see the new moon whereas the people of Makkah do see it, then how can the words of this verse apply to those who have not seen the new moon? The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Fast when you see it and stop fasting when you see it.” (Agreed upon). So if the people of Makkah, for example, see it, then how can we expect the people of Pakistan and countries further east to start fasting, when we know that that the new moon has not yet appeared in their region, and the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) connected the start of fasting to the sighting of the moon?
The scientific evidence is the correct analogy which we cannot contradict. We know that dawn appears in eastern regions of the earth before it appears in western regions, so if dawn has appeared in eastern regions, do we have to stop eating even though it is still night where we are? The answer is no. If the sun has set in eastern regions but it is still day where we are, is it permissible for us to break our fast? The answer is no. And the new moon is exactly like the sun, except that the timing of the new moon is monthly and the timing of the sun is daily. The One Who said (interpretation of the meaning):
“and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your Sawm (fast) till the nightfall”
[al-Baqarah 2:187] is also the One Who said (interpretation of the meaning):
“So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month”
So the evidence of both the texts and science indicates that we should establish a separate ruling for each place when it comes to starting and ending the fast, and this should be connected to the physical sign which Allaah has described in His Book and which His Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) established in his Sunnah, namely the sighting of the moon and the sighting of the sun or dawn.
End quote from Fataawa Arkaan al-Islam, p. 451.
And he said, explaining this analogy and supporting the argument of those who say that there should be different moon sightings:
They say that the monthly timings should be like the daily sightings. Just as different countries vary in the start and end of the fast each day, so too they must differ in the start and end of the month-long fast. The difference in daily timings is well known according to Muslim consensus; those who are in the east start fasting before those who are in the west, and they also break the fast first.
If we accept the differences in sighting with regard to daily timings, then we should also accept it with regard to the month.
No one can say that the verse “and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your Sawm (fast) till the nightfall” and the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) “When the night has come from here and the day has departed from here and the sun has set, then the faster may break his fast” are general in meaning and apply to all the Muslims in every region.
The same applies to the verse “So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month” and the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) “When you see it fast and when you see it stop fasting.”
As you see, this opinion is very strong, and the analogy is sound, the analogy between the monthly timing and the daily timing.
End quote from Fataawa Ramadaan, compiled by Ashraf ‘Abd al-Maqsood, p. 104
The Council of Senior Scholars issued an important statement on this topic, the text of which is as follows:
Firstly: The difference in moon sighting is something which is well known, and there is no difference among the scholars concerning this. Rather the difference of scholarly opinion has to do with whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not.
Secondly: The issue of whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not is a theoretical matter in which there is room for ijtihaad. Even people of great knowledge and piety differed concerning this matter. This is a type of difference which is acceptable, where the one who makes ijtihaad and gets it right will have two rewards, one for his ijtihaad and the other for getting it right, and the one who gets it wrong will be rewarded for his ijtihaad.
The scholars differed concerning this matter and there are two points of view. One is that the difference in moon sighting matters and the other is that it does not matter. Each group quotes evidence from the Qur’aan and Sunnah, and sometimes they quote the same text, such as when they both quote the verse (interpretation of the meaning):
“They ask you (O Muhammad) about the new moons. Say: These are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage”
and the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), “Fast when you see it and stop fasting when you see it.”
That is because of different understandings of the texts, and different ways in which each group derives evidence from them.
Based on the considerations that the Council has seen and examined, and based on the fact that the difference of opinion on this matter does not have any effect that may lead to undesirable consequences, since this religion appeared fourteen centuries ago and we do not know of any period during which the ummah was united in moon sighting, the members of the Council of Senior Scholars think that matters should be left as they are and that this subject should not be stirred up. Each Islamic state should have the right to choose whichever opinion it wishes, based on the suggestions of its own scholars, because each view has its evidence and proofs.
Thirdly: The Council has studied the issue of proving the new moon by means of calculation, and what has been narrated in the Qur’aan and Sunnah, and they have studied the comments of the scholars on this matter. They have decided unanimously that astronomical calculations carry no weight in determining the new moon with regard to Islamic matters, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “Fast when you see it and stop fasting when you see it.” And he (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not fast until you see it, and do not stop fasting until you see it.” And because of other evidence to that effect.
End quote, from Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah, 10/102.
I find myself struggling to see who observed Eid today, and who did not, so that I can congratulate my family members abroad for the joyous occasion. More interesting than said observation, however, is the entertainment, a sad one really, in seeing why those who observed Eid, Ramadhan, etc. did so? Most follow their "home land" despite their decade plus of residence. They also object and voice their opinions against others; even against the Imam (in one particular instance during a Friday Khutbah), simply because their locality is having a different observation than the one they're observing from their "home land." In light of the above readily-available information, it is simply out of ignorance.
This personal struggle of mine is the same as that of many —People still have families abroad, which celebrate/observe on a different day, and require the phone calls of "Eid / Ramadhan Mubarak." Coupled with the need to request time off from work, different prayer times across different localities within the same metroplex (here in the States), and you have a frustrating and stressful occasion. An occasion most strive to bring to life in a non-Muslim land; where there's propaganda-bombardment for holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Easter and the Hallmark Holidays (Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc.).
As Muslims, we tell our children "No, we don't celebrate that. We have Eid." But by the time Eid comes around, the parents are full of stress, anxiety and even anger over ... well ... Eid itself. We are sending mixed messages to our own youth. I believe it is incumbent upon each one of us to educate ourselves about the difference of opinion on when the start and end of a lunar month, and that it is OK —Even more so, it's a blessing from Allah.
Here in the US, and in North Texas in particular, the local Masjid (mosque) has not blindly accepted the astrological calculations of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and that of the Fiqh Council. Instead, there is a committee that goes out and tried to observe the moon with the naked eye first. The "committee" also takes the eye-witness testimonial of others in Texas (namely Houston), and throughout the US. So ... In the event that the moon is not observed locally, the next check is with others in Texas, then the rest of the US and then finally to follow ISNA's rule. Let's keep in mind that a Hijri (lunar) month is either 29 or 30 days long. Never less. Never more. If there's no moon observed, then completing a 30-day month is logical (and Islamic).
Of course, as Muslims we could agree on following one committee comprised of a quorum of nations selected in advance, and possibly rotated, for each new Hijri year. Let's just say that number is five countries. And let's say for the upcoming Hijri year, those five countries are Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Spain. No rhime or reason for my selection. Only that these countries have Muslim individuals who are aware, qualify and can communicate their findings independently. All submissions go to one central location (Makkah?) and all nations follow the majority observations. So if 3 of them observed a new month, then all Muslims worldwide follow said observation. Again, we could do that. And in case it ever takes off as an idea, I'll call it the Hijri Calendar Council.
Insha'Allah you've found the information helpful. If nothing at all, insha'Allah you now know that a difference amongst nations, localities, regions, etc. in observing the moon is absolutely acceptable. Of course, for those countries that follow the Hijri calendar only (Saudi?), how would legal transactions and papers work? For sanity, one would assume the necessity behind mentioning the day of the week (DOW) with every date mention (i.e., Saturday, 1st of Shawwaal, 1428 A.H.) .