A Proposal to Solve the Problem / by Allamah Dr Khalid Mahmud, MA, PhD (Manchester, UK) / President of Jamiat Ulama, Britain [1974]

Foreword

In Britain, the sky is almost always cloudy and here it is difficult to sight the first moon with the naked human eye. This weather condition affects some of the Muslim Religious affairs which depend upon the sighting of the first moon, for example, the beginning of Ramadan, the fasting month, and the celebration of Eid. The friction among and dissensions of various religious factions and the heretical attempts to dismember Religion bypassing proper guidance from the Mosque have made this situation more adverse and complicated. The commencement of Ramadan on different dates and the celebrating of Eid on simultaneous days do mar the image of true Muslim National life.

The parties who take these variant decisions are perhaps not unaware of the awkward position of the Muslim manual workers and of the white-collar workers who get Eid leave from their employers on different dates and this state of affairs really affects their position at work. The British population composed of various nations gives a smile to this position of Muslims and this fact brings sorrow to them rather than happiness and pleasure. If this difference of opinion occurs again on the second Eid which falls on the 10th of Dhu al-Hijjah these sorrows add to the sorrows of Muharram. It is very sad that in this age of material advancement, the spiritual values are going so low and those responsible are not seeking to reconcile to each other under the guidance of the Prophet (ﷺ).

It is also a fact that our younger generation and educated classes do not fully grasp the real subject of dissension and points at issue. Everyone explains these differences in his own way. The articles in the press raise new points, create new differences and among the writers, there are some who have no background of proper religious knowledge. They only write for the sake of writing. Then there are so many explanations that the text is completely veiled.

In the light of this sad state of affairs, it is necessary to get the public acquainted with the actual point of dispute and to mention all the other basic points on which there is no dispute among the various Muslim organisations in Britain. This is the only way to discourage those who without any understanding of the real point of dispute attempt to widen the circle of dissension. Such people without properly introducing themselves give their opinions on the issues which they have never studied in any depth.

We affirm that even in these times of so much variation the differing parties agree on most of the basic points, and we further admit that the points on which there are differences have also an academic background. We have suggested here a line of an agreement to bridge these differences and that is not only a matter of compromise but also has its origin in jurisprudence.

The points on which all the Muslim organisations agree
  1. In fixing the first of Ramadan and celebration of Eid the basic commandment of Islam is concerned with the sighting of the first moon and not with the birth of the moon. We are not concerned with the position of the moon but we are concerned with its visibility.
  2. The sighting of the moon means its sighting with the naked human eye[1]; and its sighting from the earth and not from the space.
  3. Each of these three conditions fulfils the principle of sighting the moon: (a) Sighting of the moon by so many people that they do not need any further witness, (b) The sighting of the moon by few people who may give their witnesses fulfilling the requirement of Law, (c) The sighting of the moon in another country whose lawful decision could be obtained through a reliable source.
  4. It is very difficult to fix the commencement of a lunar month by completing (counting) the thirty days of the previous month because it is not easy to sight here any new moon and it is also not acceptable that all the lunar months may have been counted of thirty days.
  5. The commandments of Islam are not based on deep acquired sciences. Instead, they reconcile with the factors of nature. The holy Prophet (ﷺ) has completely rejected to fix the first moon mathematically.
  6. Observatory gives information regarding the birth of the moon and the moon-set but as to its visibility, they do not fix any point of time. In the same way, they are not definite about the span of twilights but their findings generally differ from each other.
  7. The Quran states that the Muslim Religious Affairs and pilgrimage times are to be fixed with the appearance of the new-moons. The Prophet (ﷺ) also directed to start the month of Ramadan when the moon is sighted and end this month when after the next moon is sighted.

The question which needs our attention relates the geographical limits to which this advice of the Prophet (ﷺ) could be extended. If the moon is sighted in one country, should Ramadan be commenced in the whole world or only in the countries on and near the same latitude where the moon was sighted? Does it prove as a conclusive argument for all the zones of the world? Or is it restricted to the areas of that zone? In either case, we have to see whether the evidence of this advice of the Prophet (ﷺ) on any aspect of this decision is definite and clear-cut or if it is based on analogy. It is apparent that no scholar from among the early scholars of Islam has ever claimed certainty of any such explanation. So, the only points of dispute are as follows:

  1. If the legal decision of a Muslim country is rightly communicated to this country, does this carry authoritative value here in every respect? Should we accept such decision of the near Muslim countries or should we accept such decisions irrespective of wherefrom it is communicated to us in this country? Should the decisions from the far and from the near countries be regarded as equal?
  2. Are decisions of the other Muslim countries binding (themselves authoritative) in this country or do they attain authoritative status here only after the decision of the Islamic council of this country?

These are the points of dispute between the Islamic Cultural Centre, London [Regent’s Park] and the Jamiat al-Ulama, Britain. The former is mostly under the influence of the Ulama from Egypt who mostly agrees with Shafi’i school of thought and the latter is under the influence of the Ulama from Pakistan and India who belong to the Hanafi school of thought. The former does not take the different [moon] rising-times into consideration when they have to determine the first of Ramadan or the first of Shawwal. They follow any first authoritative report communicated to them from any Muslim country. The committee of Jamiat al-Ulama does not accept the decision of far Muslim countries when the decision of the near Muslim countries is contrary to that. They hold that in the far distance the difference in rising-times should be taken into account and the decision of the far countries should not be followed particularly when it is contradictory to the decision of the near Muslim countries.