Why Are There Differences on When Ramadan Begins?

12 April, 2021
Q As-salamu `alaykum. Why do Muslims differ on the beginning and end of fasting in Ramadan?

Answer

Wa`alaykum as-Salam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.


In this fatwa:

Muslims differ on the beginning and ending of Ramadan because of two reasons:

1- Differences in reaching a reliable criterion in determining the beginning and ending.

2- Lack of unity among Muslims, as well as their failure to establish priorities in religion


In responding to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

It is unbecoming of Muslims to differ on the beginning or ending of the blessed month of Ramadan, especially if the difference comes from Muslims living in one community or country.

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Muslims’ unity has to be the goal of each Muslim, and each one should take his or her part in maintaining this unity. The minimum acceptable thing with regard to sighting the new moon is that each community or country must agree to follow one sighting. Once they agree on following a certain criterion, all Muslims living in that community or country must abide by it.

Having stated this, we take this opportunity to call upon all Muslims, especially those living in North America and the West, to put their unity as a priority instead of delving into internal differences on this issue.

Muslims differ on the beginning and ending of Ramadan because of two reasons:

1- Differences in reaching a reliable criterion in determining the beginning and ending. One group wishes to follow sighting of the moon by the naked eyes, whereas another group insists that we should rather go by scientific calculations in this time and age when we have precise knowledge of the positions of the moon.

2- Lack of unity among Muslims, as well as their failure to establish priorities in religion based on the precise intents of the scholars of Shari`ah.

I hope this will be resolved in due course when we manage to raise the consciousness of the Ummah. Let’s pray to Allah for unity; may He accept our good works, amen.

Sheikh Abdul-Majeed Subh, a prominent scholar at Al-Azhar University, adds:

The reason for this difference is methodological. The methodology of one group of scholars is the literal adherence to the texts of the Shariah and rejection of any other scientific or intellectual methodology.

The methodology of another group of scholars is the understanding the meanings of texts of the Shariah in light of science.

Those following the literal meaning of the texts adhere to the literal meaning of the following hadith, “Fast when the moon is sighted, and break your fast when the moon is sighted. If the skies are cloudy and you are unable to sight it, then complete thirty days of Sha`ban and fast the next day.”(Muslim)

Based on this hadith, the scholars of the first group refuse to follow astronomical calculations.

Here it should be noted that during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), sighting of the new moon with the naked eyes was the only means available for the people.

Prophet Muhammad said, “We are an unlettered Ummah; we do not use computation. The month is like this, and this, and this,” and he held down his thumb the last time. “And the month is like this, and this, and this,” completing thirty.” (An-Nasai)

This was the reason for sighting the new moon with the naked eyes, as it was the only possible choice at that time. The Prophet never meant that we should continue to be unlettered forever.

Now, this reason no longer exists, and there are great scholars among Muslims in all aspects and branches of science, including astronomy.

Therefore, those following the literal meaning of the texts without trying to understand their meanings and objectives in light of science and intellect still abide by sighting the new moon with the naked eyes.

Such difference in the methodology caused Muslims living in the same county or community to differ on the beginning of Ramadan and Eid Al-Fitr.

On the other hand, the proponents of scientific methodology follow accurate astronomical calculations.

The reason for difference is then the juristic methodology adopted in deducing rulings from the texts.

It should also be clear that the madhhab of Imam Ash-Shafi`i stated that if the new moon of Ramadan is sighted in an Islamic country, all neighboring countries that share one part of the night must follow this country’s sighting.

Finally, I call upon all Muslims to fear Allah and to agree on maintaining their unity by following one methodology. In this respect, I am of the opinion that the scientific methodology is definitely more accurate in sighting the new moon.

May Allah reward you and grant you and all Muslims a happy and blessed Ramadan.

Allah Almighty knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.