Sighting of the Moon

Q:

1) Kindly explain why Shari'at would allow the aid of spectacles to sight the moon but not the aid of a stronger medium like a pair of binoculars?

2) Kindly explain why the sighting of the moon from the Mount Everest at 8.8 km above sea level would be acceptable but not from an aircraft flying at a lower altitude of 5 km above sea level?

A: The laws of Shari'ah are based on ease and in conformity to the nature of man. There is no law that is beyond a layman’s capability and more than his capacity. Hence, when it comes to aspects of salaah, tahaarah, fasting, etc. the laws that are laid down for each one of them are practical and manageable by any individual, irrespective of whether he is living in the skyscrapers of America or the jungles of Africa or the deserts of Arabia. Similar is the case when it comes to the aspect of sighting the moon. The shari`ah has not instructed the individual to employ unnatural methods of searching for the moon. The simple shar`ee direction given by Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) is:

صوموا لرؤيته وأفطروا لرؤيته (صحيح البخاري ومسلم)

Fast upon the sighting of the moon and stop fasting upon sighting the moon.

Thus, the guideline given by Nabi (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) was simply to sight the moon in order to commence the fast of the month of Ramadhaan and to terminate the fast. When we study the practice of Nabi (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) and the Sahaabah (radhiyallahu anhum) we find that they would only employ the natural method of sighting and that was by means of sighting with the naked eye. If the moon was not visible, they did not undertake any extra measures by sending someone to the peak of a high mountain or to outlying and distant areas to search for the new moon. Hence, there is no shar`ee obligation to adopt extra measures for the sighting of the moon, nor is it something that is commendable. In fact it is an exercise uncalled for.

Nonetheless, the fuqahaa have discussed instances of where people from a higher area sight the new moon which may have been unclear to those on lower ground.

وصحح في الأقضية الاكتفاء بواحد إن جاء من خارج البلد أو كان على مكان مرتفع،

(قوله: وصحح في الأقضية إلخ) هو اسم كتاب واعتمده في الفتاوى الصغرى أيضا وهو قول الطحاوي، وأشار إليه الإمام محمد في كتاب الاستحسان من الأصل، لكن في الخلاصة ظاهر الرواية أنه لا فرق بين المصر وخارجه معراج وغيره.

قلت: لكن قال في النهاية عند قوله: ومن رأى هلال رمضان وحده صام إلخ وفي المبسوط وإنما يرد الإمام شهادته إذا كانت السماء مصحية، وهو من أهل المصر فأما إذا كانت متغيمة أو جاء من خارج المصر أو كان في موضع مرتفع فإنه يقبل عندنا. اهـ. فقوله عندنا يدل على أنه قول أئمتنا الثلاثة وقد جزم به في المحيط وعبر عن مقابله بقيل. ثم قال وجه ظاهر الرواية أن الرؤية تختلف باختلاف صفو الهواء وكدرته وباختلاف انهباط المكان وارتفاعه، فإن هواء الصحراء أصفى من هواء المصر، وقد يرى الهلال من أعلى الأماكن ما لا يرى من الأسفل فلا يكون تفرده بالرؤية خلاف الظاهر بل على موافقة الظاهر اهـ ففيه التصريح بأنه ظاهر الرواية، وهو كذلك؛ لأن المبسوط من كتب ظاهر الرواية أيضا، فقد ثبت أن كلا من الروايتين ظاهر الرواية، ثم رأيته أيضا في كافي الحاكم الذي هو جمع كلام محمد في كتبه ظاهر الرواية. (الدر المختار مع هامشه رد المحتار 2 / 388)

From the above mentioned ibaaraat it is clear that if the sighting takes place from an area that is above ground level it is acceptable provided the other preconditions of sighting are also adhered to. Thus, one could conclude that if a person had sighted the moon with his naked eye while travelling in a plane his sighting will be acceptable, on condition that the the skies were overcast for those below in that area and the plane was at such an altitude that had the skies been absolutely clear without any obstruction then a person on the ground in that area would have been able to sight the moon. Otherwise, if it was at a higher altitude then the sighting will not be acceptable, since the circumstances that the ibaaraat of the fuqahaa refer to are with reference to normal circumstances and not unusual conditions. Hence, a high place will be in reference to such heights where people normally live, and since such locations will be free from any obstruction such as trees or buildings their sighting will be acceptable, for those living within the city experience such obstructions at the time of sighting.

Similar would be the case of using binoculars to sight the moon. If it is a normal binoculars which merely enlarges the object it is focused on then sighting through it will be permitted. However, if it is a powerful telescope that allows one to see other cosmic bodies which are not visible to the naked eye then sighting with such optical aid will not be allowed, for the simple reason being that the Islamic month commences with the sighting of the new moon, whereas with such powerful optical aids one is merely seeing the moon itself which is always present. (Mahmoodul Fataawaa, vol. 4, p. 322/ Fataawaa Darul Uloom Zakariyya, vol. 3, p. 240)

And Allah Ta'ala (الله تعالى) knows best.

 

Answered by:

Mufti Ebrahim Salejee (Isipingo Beach)