6. Verifying Moon Sighting
6.1 It is important to verify all moon sighting reports, before they are accepted as explained below.
Moon sighting reports collected by the International Islamic Crescent Observation Project (ICOP) since 1998 shows that the Muslim counties have been starting and celebrating Ramdan/Eids over 4 – 5 days, where as it should be over 2 days worldwide, if not in 1 day. It proves the point that all human beings can make mistakes, even if they are honest/pious observers! Psychological studies have proven that when a person has a high expectation to see an object then the psychological bias of the brain may make them think they have seen it, whereas in reality it was something else (e.g. a contrail) instead of the Hilal. Therefore, the group sighting (Jamme Gafir) requirement in Hanafi Fiqh for clear sky conditions is a must, since it is unlikely that a very large group of people will make the same mistake as may be the case with a solo observer. Furthermore, the following verse of the Quran makes it essential to investigate/verify all moon sighting reports for Shariah purposes.
“O you who believe! If there comes to you Fasiq with information, investigate it, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become regretful over what you have done.” (Quran 49:6) / http://tanzil.net/#49:6
It is reported that Imam Abu Yusuf (d.798 CE), a student of Imam Abu Hanifa (d.767 CE) required 50 plus witnesses when he was the Qadhi (Judge) in Baghdad. Similarly, both Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad required a [large] group of observers from each masjid in town, i.e. such a large number that it is difficult to discredit them. In fact, the word “investigate/verify” in the above verse has been considered to be a significantly larger number of people until the Judge is satisfied that the sighting claim is genuine and not a mistake (or a fabrication).
6.2 It is reported at the time of Umar (ra), group sighting was able to eliminate the mistakes by individuals.
Anas b. Malik narrated: "We were with Umar (رضي الله عنه) between Makkah and Madina. We looked for Hilal (of D. Hijjah). As I had sharp eyes, I saw it. (But) Nobody other than me could confirm that he (also) had seen it. I kept telling Umar (رضي الله عنه) (the Khalifah and the Qadi): Don’t you see it? He (kept on looking for it but) did not see any. Anas (RA) says that Umar (RA) told him: “I might soon see it ”.... I (Anas) was stretched on my bed listening (to Umar's description of Ahl al-Jannah and Ahl-al-Naar). (Muslim) / http://sunnah.com/muslim/53/91
It was puzzling when Hadrat Anas (رضي الله عنه) (at very old age) claimed to have seen a crescent moon when everybody else, at the same location could not see the crescent moon. Then on removing the white hair from the eyebrow of Hadrat Anas (رضي الله عنه), he was asked to see again. Now he could see no 'crescent moon'. (See Aujaz al Masalik v.5, p.21, Tantawi's Irshad p.154, Bain al- Sunnah wal Ijtihad by Nimr p.50 etc.)
A number of similar stories like the above exists in Fiqh texts to justify group sightings and points out the fact that it is possible for an honest/pious person to make a mistake (human error) in spotting the Hilal (see References).
It should also be noted that in modern times, the sky is not as clear and free from artificial objects as it used to be in the past centuries. This means, it is possible for a solo observer (or even a group of inexperienced observers!) to mistaken something else for the Hilal (e.g. a contrail). Therefore, it is necessary to use a large group of observers from different locations, to eliminate human errors. Indeed, this used to be the case amongst many past Governments (e.g. Ottoman Empire) who used to follow Hanafi Fiqh of group sightings (Jamme Ghafir) in clear sky conditions. Similarly, reports from average eye-sight observers were considered and not for ‘sharp-eye’ observers.
It is also a good idea to use astronomical data to cross-check the position/orientation of the crescent moon with that of any observation report and insist on a very large group if the data shows it’s not possible to be sighted.
6.3 In the night of the Hilal (on 29th or 30th lunar date), the moon follows the sun (Quran 91:1-2) after sunset. Since the sunset in the East is before the sunset in the West and the moon is closely following the sun, any sighting claim from the East must be possible to be witnessed in the West in the same evening, especially on the same latitude with slight North/South variations (within the visibility parabola of the visibility map), but not the other way around. This natural fact of Hilal sighting is also stated in Fiqh texts below (Ibn Taimyyah, Majmua Fatawa, vol.13/p.62):
ان الرؤية تختلف باختلاف التشريق والتغريب، فإنه متى رؤي في المشرق وجب ان يري في المغرب ولا ينعكس
Meaning: If there is a Hilal sighting in the East, then it must be sighted in the West (but not the other way around)
So if there is a sighting claim from the East (e.g. Saudi Arabia), then hundreds of people from the West (e.g. Morocco) must be easily able to sight the moon on the same evening in clear sky conditions (a few hours later) - e.g. see visibility map for Safar 1438 AH.
6.4 It is also important to note that anyone who provides a moon sighting report is someone who actually follows local moon sighting themselves. It is not appropriate to accept moon sighting report from people who do not follow it themselves (as pointed out by Mufti Yusuf Sacha, 2015). For Allah says:
“O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? It is most hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.” (Quran 61:2-3) / http://tanzil.net/#61:2-3
Since the UK is in the same Time-Zone and close proximity to some of the European countries (e.g. Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain etc.) we have been trying to make contacts with any local moon sighting groups within those countries via the Islamic Crescent Observation Project (ICOP) moon sighting volunteer group.
From our International ICOP contacts, we became aware of some members in Germany (www.mondsichtung.de/) and Algeria (www.siriusalgeria.net/), who carry out regular moon sightings, especially at start and end of Ramadan. Unfortunately, we have not been able to make contacts with any authorities who make monthly Hilal decisions based on their own sighting reports, other than relying on foreign news (e.g. country of their origin). Therefore, it is not appropriate for the UK to relay on any moon sighting news from any European countries until they have been confirmed to follow their own local moon sighting reports for all months. However, the option to send a small group of experienced observers from the UK to those countries at start/end of Ramadan should be considered if there is a good possibility of Hilal sighting on those locations (based on astronomical data).