Why do Eid and Ramadan start on different dates if we are all sighting the same moon?

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Last Updated on 15th April 2022

Rizwan Khan, Missionary, Texas

The standard of moon-sighting used by Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya is according to the visibility of the moon with the naked eye on each horizon. The visibility of the moon is determined by a combination of calculation and actual moon sighting, as was done by the Holy Prophetsa.

On calculating the Eid date, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh said in commentary of Surah al-Baqarah (chapter 2), verse 185:

“In‭ ‬َمَنْ‭ ‬شَهِدَ‭ ‬مِنْكُمُ‭ ‬الشَّهْرَ‭ ‬فَلْيَصُمْه the words ‘shahida’ [and] ‘shahra’ mean ‘whoever sees the moon of Ramadan rise’, meaning that for whomever the moon of Ramadan rises, he should fast.

“Now, the moon of the month of Ramadan in reality does not rise on everyone at the same time. Discussions are generally arising as to why we do not adopt a way by which all Muslims should observe fasting simultaneously; in this way, the whole problem can be done away with as to some people’s Ramadan beginning on one day and another people’s Ramadan beginning on another day. However, the Quran does not do away with this. The Holy Quran leaves this subject open. ‘So whoever sights the month, let him fast it’ (Ch.2: V.185). It is possible that people live in the same country and the horizons of that country are different. If a person has found the time of ‘So whoever sights the month, let him fast it’, then it is obligatory for him to observe fasting. The one who has not found it, it is not obligatory on him; in fact, it is not appropriate for him to fast. He will have to wait until this verse applies to him.

“Thus, Ramadan neither starts on exactly the same date in every place nor can it. When we look at different countries, then it is impossible anyway, because when the moon of Ramadan rises, at that time in some places it is nighttime, in some places it is morning, in some places it is the afternoon. Then how is it possible that Allah Almighty gives commandments that contradict the system He created? That is why the subject of ‘So whoever sights it’ (Ch.2: V.185) has great importance. It is not at all the purpose of God that all people start and end fasting together. This is not at all the purpose, that Eid is celebrated throughout the world on the same day, or that Eid is celebrated throughout the country on the same day if it is a large country. In small countries it is possible, but some large countries are such that extend from the North far into a part of the South; their horizons change. Or they are very vast from East to West. Now look at Chile, from the top it begins nearly from the middle of America, and in the South, it goes to a point beyond which there is no country that is closer to the South Pole. Russia is so vast that there are differences of three hours, rather even more. The width of America is so vast that a similar difference exists there. Thus, how can it be said that in one country Ramadan can start at the same time, or that in one country the day of Eid can rise on one day?

“The choices of words in the Holy Quran are filled with wisdom and they themselves clarify the subject.” (Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 15, pp. 44-45, 19 January 1996)

If two places do not share the same horizon, then the sighting of the moon in one area will not apply to the other. An example of this is narrated in Sahih Muslim. The narrator says:

“It was there in Syria that the month of Ramadan commenced. I saw the new moon (of Ramadan) on Friday. I then came back to Medina at the end of the month. Abdullah ibn Abbasra asked me (about the new moon of Ramadan) and said: ‘When did you see it?’ I said: ‘We saw it on the night of Friday.’ He said: ‘(Did) you see it yourself?’ I said: ‘Yes, and the people also saw it and they fasted and Muawiyah also fasted,’ whereupon he said: ‘But we saw it on Saturday night. So, we will continue to fast till we complete thirty (fasts) or we see it (the new moon of Shawwal).’ I said: ‘Is the sighting of the moon by Muawiyah not valid for you?’ He said: ‘No; this is how the Messengersa of Allah has commanded us.’” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Siyam, Hadith 1087)

Since Syria and Medina are about a thousand kilometres apart and do not share the same horizon, the sighting of the moon in Syria would not necessarily apply to Medina. 

If two places do share the same horizon, then the sighting of one area will apply to the other. An example of this is narrated in Sunan Abi Dawud:

“People differed among themselves on the last day of Ramadan (about the appearance of the moon of Shawwal). Then two Bedouins came and witnessed before the Prophetsa swearing by Allah that they had sighted the moon the previous evening. So, the Messengersa of Allah commanded the people to break the fast and that they should proceed to the place of prayer (for ‘Eid).”(Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Saum, Hadith 2339)

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh explained how the testimony on moon sighting applied to everyone on that horizon:

“‘So whoever sights the month, let him fast it’ (Ch.2: V.185). One does not fast just based on what others are doing or on rumours. Here, the word مَنْ (who) does not refer to only an individual person; rather, it refers to that nation that has one horizon. The Holy Prophetsa established the approach that if most of the people on one horizon are unable to see the moon because of poor weather, then if some reliable people stand and give testimony that they saw the moon, then Ramadan will begin for everyone if their horizon is the same, then Eid will happen for everyone if their horizon is the same.” 

“This is about those people who have the same horizon, on whom the moon always rises together, and whenever it rises, it rises on everyone together, and when it sets, it sets on everyone together. Those peoples who share the same horizon, if any of them see the moon, then the command of the whole nation seeing it will apply to them as if the whole nation has seen the moon. As an example of this, England has one horizon apparently; whether in the North or South, there are no two horizons to my knowledge. In America, considering different areas, sometimes two horizons are created, but usually, it is one. Sometimes, its horizon aligns with Arabia. The behaviour of the moon is completely different from the daily routine of the Sun. There is a certainty in the rising of the Sun and there is a certainty in the setting of the Sun. In the moon, there are probabilities and possibilities. Thus, the command of مَنْ‭ ‬شَهِدَ (whomever sights) is according to these changing possibilities and probabilities.” (Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 15, pp. 45-46, 19 January 1996)

Calculations can be used to determine when the moon will be visible to the naked eye. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh explained:

“The meaning of شَهِدَ is one who becomes a witness, who sees, who finds. Scientists can even tell you with certainty that, for example, if the moon is to remain for 20 minutes after the Sun sets, then for the first 15 minutes the moon will not be visible, but for the last five minutes it can be seen. Or they can tell you that, if the horizon of the moon rises to a certain extent above the horizon of the earth from which we observe it, then we can certainly see the moon. If there are clouds then it is a separate issue, but if there are no clouds and it can be seen with the naked eye, then the command of ‭ ‬مَنْ‭ ‬شَهِدَ(whomever sights) becomes applicable because شَهِدَ (sights) does not require all people to witness it, only some have to be able to sight it. However, this possibility of sighting is according to the human capacity of seeing with the naked eye. If that is the case, then this verdict will apply equally to the entire nation. Those people who have the same horizon can scientifically determine and make their decision ahead of time.” (Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 15, p. 48, 19 January 1996)

“Thus, the testimony of the calendars that are published by Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya is conclusive because we never accept testimony from places where it is impossible to see the moon with the naked eye. Where it is certain that if the weather is clear, then the moon will certainly be visible, there it is accepted.” (Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 15, p. 49, 19 January 1996)

The Holy Prophetsa himself taught the use of calculation in determining the month. Sahih Muslim narrates:

“Hazrat Ibn Umarra reported that Allah’s Messengersa made a mention of Ramadan and, with the gesture of his hand, said, ‘The month is thus and thus and thus.’ He then withdrew his thumb at the third time (meaning 29). He then said: ‘Fast when you see it and break your fast when you see it, and if the weather is cloudy, calculate it as thirty days.”(Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Siyam, Hadith 1080b)

In this hadith, the method of calculation and the method of actual moon sighting is combined. Neither method can be ignored. For areas where the moon is calculated to be easily visible, we rely on calculation. However, despite calculations, there is always an edge on the horizon of the moon rise where there is ambiguity on the possibility of visibility with the naked eye. For such areas, the final conclusion must be made with an actual moon sighting.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa explained the importance of being able to physically sight the moon in his Friday Sermon on 3 June 2016:

“In this age, God Almighty has commissioned the Promised Messiahas as the just arbiter who was to give his verdict on all matters based on the fundamental tenants of Islam, and that is what he did. He was to pass his verdict on all issues that arose, and indeed he did so. Therefore, in order for us to solve our various predicaments and increase our knowledge, we must turn towards the Promised Messiahas

“As mentioned previously, in the matters pertaining to fasting, small questions are often raised. In reply to those questions, what was the stance of the Promised Messiahas, and what did he believe, what was his edict on the matter? That is what I will speak about now. 

“We should always bear in mind that when it comes to the commandments of the shariah, the instruction and belief in the Promised Messiahas will be our answer to any jurisprudential dispute. Primarily, one should always remember that the basic principle for any injunction in Islam is taqwa, i.e. righteousness. Therefore, by keeping righteousness in view, we should always remember the instruction of the Promised Messiahas; that is, fulfil your fast with honesty and for the sake of Allah Almighty. 

“Some people question in regard to Ramadan, for example, even some children question why we offer the Eid prayer on a separate day to the non-Ahmadi Muslims and why do we start Ramadan on a different day? 

“Firstly, there is no rule that the days have to be separate. We never intentionally desire to start Ramadan or offer the Eid prayer on a separate day. On many occasions, over the years, there have been times when our Ramadan and Eid prayers have been on the same day as the other Muslims. In Pakistan and other Muslim countries, where there are moon sighting committees, i.e. a body which is responsible for the sighting of the new moon, they have been set up by the government, and when they announce the sighting of the new moon, and there are enough witnesses, then we Ahmadis start and finish our Ramadan according to that, as well as the celebration of our Eid prayer. 

“However, in these Western countries, i.e. European countries, there is no such moon-sighting committee in operation, nor is there any such announcement for them. For this reason, we start our fast at the time when the possibility of the moon being seen is most visible. Indeed, should our estimate be wrong and the moon is seen beforehand, and if there are wise adults who are a witness to it, as well as believers attesting to the sighting of the moon, then, in that case, Ramadan can be started before the estimated time. It is not essential that because a timetable has been made, then Ramadan must start in accordance with that. However, a clear sighting of the moon and a witness thereof is essential. But to say that we must start the month of Ramadan and the Eid prayer on the announcement of the non-Ahmadi Muslims without having seen the moon first ourselves is wrong. The Promised Messiahas has mentioned this in his book Surma Chashm-e-Arya and did not reject the notion of estimation and inference, this is also a science, but also gave precedence to the sighting of the moon.” (www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2016-06-03.html)

The standard of moon sighting used by Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya is according to the visibility of the moon with the naked eye, as was done by the Holy Prophetsa. The method of sighting is done by a combination of calculation and actual moon sighting, as was done by the Holy Prophetsa. If the moon is calculated to be visible with the naked eye, then we recognise that as the first day of the lunar month for the areas within that horizon. If the moon is calculated to be difficult to find without optical aid and there is a low probability of sighting with the naked eye, then we rely on actual moon sightings to determine the first day of the lunar month for that horizon. We use a combination of calculations and actual moon sightings, and thus make our determination according to the principles taught in the Holy Quran and ahadith.

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