The Problem of Moon Sighting in Nigeria: The Way Out
Usman H Dukku
[GUEST OF DR. ALIYU TILDE]
Muslims in Nigeria start the Ramadan fast or celebrate the Eids on different dates in spite of the official announcement of the sighting of the crescent. Details of the problem include the following:
· Most Nigerians do not go by the official announcements.
· An organised system of monitoring the moon is wanting.
· Sha'ban and Ramadan have had 29 days each in the past 40 years while Shawwal and Dhul-Qi'dah have had 30 days each but only in Nigeria.
· Nigeria leads the world in moon sighting.
This has led to a dichotomy, that is, there are those that follow the announcements with absolute loyalty; and those that totally reject such announcements. Whereas the former maintain that they are following their leaders, as dictated by the Shari'a, the latter believe that the leaders are wrong and, therefore, should not be followed.
According to them the announcements made often contradict common knowledge, that is
· The old moon should disappear before reappearing as a crescent moon.
· Full moon should be on the 14th day of the month.
· The crescent is not popularly sighted, one or two days after the announcement.
The Way Out
The Qur’an has commanded us to refer to God and his messenger in matters of dispute (4:59; 26:10) and to ask “those who possess knowledge” where we do not know (16:43)
Allah, the Almighty said: "They ask you concerning the crescent moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men and for Pilgrimage." (2:189)
“It is He who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light (of beauty), and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count (of time)."(10:5)
"And the Moon We have measured for it stations (to traverse) till it returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk. It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit." (36:39-40)
"The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly computed."(55:5)
The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) has said:
Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAWS) said: "Start fasting upon sighting it (the crescent) and terminate the fast upon sighting it (the crescent) and if it is hidden to you (by clouds), then count the month of Sha'ban to thirty days." (Bukhari and Muslim)
Narrator Abdullah ibn Umar in Al-Muwatta: The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, once mentioned Ramadan and said, "Do not begin the fast until you see the new moon, and do not break the fast (at the end of Ramadan) until you see it. If the new moon is obscured from you, then work out (when it should be)."
Abdullah Ibn Umar (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAWS) said: "We are an uneducated community: We neither write nor calculate. A month is so and so days; meaning sometimes twenty nine and sometimes thirty." (Bukhari)
Commentators on the Holy Qur'an, jurists and astronomers agree that the stations are twenty-eight and that the moon passes through one station daily as it revolves around the earth in its orbit. This means that the moon spends twenty-eight days to complete one revolution. In fact this period, known as the orbital period, is twenty-seven days, seven hours and forty three minutes.
Remember that as the moon revolves around the earth the latter revolves around the sun and at a certain time the three objects align, with the moon in the middle. This moment, termed conjugation, marks the end of a lunar month and the beginning of another. The length of a lunar month, also called synodic period, is the period between two successive conjugations and is twenty-nine days, twelve hours and forty-four minutes (i.e., 29.53 days)
Abdullah Ibn Fodiyo, commenting on the verse (10:5), in his book Kifayatu dua'fa us-Sudan said: "It (the moon) has twenty-eight stations in twenty-eight days in every month. Thereafter it disappears for two days in the case of a thirty-day month or one day in the case of a twenty-nine-day month."
Ibn Rushd said, in his book Bidayatul mujtahid: “The jurists agree that the Arabic (lunar) month has twenty nine or thirty days and that the only valid way to determine the month of Ramadan is through sighting of the crescent due to his (the Prophet (SAWS)) saying: 'Fast upon sighting it and terminate the fast upon sighting it.' What is meant by sighting is the first appearance of the crescent after its disappearance."
John Caldwell and David Laney, of the South African Astronomical Observatory, said: "…At this moment (conjugation) the moon is always invisible from the earth. When the moon first becomes visible again (always more than half a day after astronomical New Moon), observers see a Young Crescent Moon."
Mohammed Odeh, of the Jordanian Astronomical Society, said: "…So during the moon's orbit if the moon, earth and the sun lie exactly in the same line and the moon in the middle, the sun will illuminate half of the moon that faces it and the other half which faces us will be dark because it does not reflect rays of the sun. However… according to my information no observer yet reported seeing such crescent."
Abdurrazak Ebrahim Snr said: "For approximately fifteen hours on either side of the instant of conjugation, the moon is completely hidden from view. Consequent to the first appearance of the lunar crescent on the western horizon after sunset the moon waxes (increased illumination) until the fourteenth night when it appears as the full moon. After this the moon wanes (diminishing illumination) until it disappears over the eastern horizon before sunrise on the twenty-eighth day of the month."
New and Old Moon
It is not possible to see a new moon in the evening of the same day the old one was seen in the morning. No! What is meant by the disappearance of the moon is its invisibility at any time, in the east or in the west, even under the best of weather conditions, due to the reasons given above. Also remember that for the moon to be sighted in the morning it ought to have risen well before sunrise and, therefore, would set before sunset: Then how can it be seen? Please refer to the commentary of Suratush Shams verse 2,viz, 'By the moon when it follows it (the sun)', by Ibn Kathir where he said: "Qatada has said: 'The time when it (the moon) follows it (the sun) in the night preceding the beginning of a lunar month; when the sun sets, the crescent is then sighted."
Solar and Lunar Eclipses
A solar eclipse occurs only at the time of conjugation when the earth moon and the sun lie in a straight line (with the moon in the middle) whence the moon obstructs the sun. A lunar eclipse, on the other hand, occurs at full moon, i.e., when the three bodies again lie in a straight line, but with the earth in the middle. The shadow of the earth falls on the moon which then appears dark to us, since it does not produce its own light (It reflects sunlight). Since full moon occurs midway between two successive conjugations, a lunar eclipse can occur only between the thirteenth and fifteenth day of a lunar month.
Size and Altitude
The size and altitude of the crescent is not an accurate measure of its age because it depends on the following factors:
1) The age of the moon. That is the period between conjugation and local sunset when the crescent is sighted. The minimum time required is about seventeen hours for sighting with naked eyes, fifteen with binoculars and twelve with a telescope. Since conjugation can take place at any time of the day, the age of the moon at sunset varies from month to month and the older it is the bigger. Here is an example, assuming naked-eye sighting. Suppose conjugation takes place at 1:00am in a lunar month A and the sun sets at 6:00pm: The moon is 17 hours old at sunset and can, therefore, be sighted. Now in another lunar month B conjugation takes place at 6:00am: The moon is 12 hours at sunset and, therefore, cannot be sighted until the following evening when it is 36 hours old. Other factors being constant, crescent B will certainly be bigger than crescent A.
2) Distance. As the moon revolves in its orbit its distance from the earth varies, due to the shape of the orbit. The moon is said to be at perigee when it is closest (356,410 km) to the earth and at apigee when it is furthest (406,740 km). Other factors being constant a perigee crescent is larger.
3) Season. Summer crescents are larger than winter crescents because the moon (being in the same hemisphere as the observer) is nearer to the observer. Thus, here in Nigeria, the crescent observed during the hot season (late spring to early autumn) is larger than the one observed during the cool season (late autumn to early spring).
From the foregoing, it is clear that size and altitude alone are not sufficient in determining the age of the crescent. Now let us conclude our explanation with the following hadith, reported by Muslim and Ahmad: Abul Bakhtari reported: "We went out to perform Umrah and when we encamped in the valley of Nakhlah, we tried to see the new moon. Some of the people said: It was three nights old, and others (said) that it was two nights old. We then met Ibn Abbas and told him we had seen the new moon, but that some of the people said it was three nights old and others that it was two nights old. He asked on which night we had seen it; and when we told him we had seen it on such and such night, he said the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) had said Verily Allah deferred it till the time it is seen, so it is to be reckoned from the night you saw it."
Though these calculations can predict exactly when a new moon will be born, they cannot predict precisely (the accuracy is 85%) when it can be seen. In other words, these calculations can tell you when it is impossible to sight the moon and when it is most likely to sight it.
The popular view among Muslim jurists regarding the meaning of the hadith "Fast upon sighting it (the crescent)…" is actual sighting of the crescent
Therefore astronomy should compliment actual sighting rather than replace it. In other words astronomy should be used to check sighting errors.
Sighting of other countries
There are two views regarding using the sighting of other countries: 1) The single horizon view: favours global sighting and is based on the hadith "Fast when you sight it…" and 2) The multiple horizon view: favours local sighting and is based on this Hadith:
Kurayb said: Umm Fadl, daughter of Harith, sent him to Mu'awiyah in Syria. I arrived in Syria, and did the needful for her. 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 Abbas asked me (about the new moon of Ramadan) and said: When did you see it? I said: We saw it on Friday. He said: (Did) you see it yourself? I said: Yes, and the people also saw it so they observed fast and Mu'awiyah also observed fast. Thereupon he said: But we saw it on Saturday . So we shall continue to observe the fast until we complete thirty (fasts) or we see it (the new moon of Shawwal). I said: Is the sighting of the moon by Mu'awiyah not valid for you? He said: No; this is how the Messenger of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) has commanded us. Yahya ibn Yahya was in doubt (whether the word used in the narration by Kurayb) was Naktafi or Taktafi. (Muslim, Attirmidhiy, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa'iy and Ahmad)
No, in fact this is one of the worst, but interesting, years we are witnessing. Worst because the month was started wrongly; and interesting because Allah has provided us with a rare opportunity to check ourselves.
Only Nigeria claimed sighting the crescent on this planet on Monday 4 November 2002.
The moon set before the sun on the said day: Not only in Nigeria but even in countries west of it such as Senegal. In fact, the moon set nine minutes before the sun in Kaduna and Port Harcourt while it set eight minutes before the sun in Sokoto, the three places where claims of sighting were made.
Conjugation took place on the day in question at 9:34 pm local time (Yes, more than three hours after sunset). How then could someone have sighted the moon before conjugation, that is, when it was still before the sun? Please refer to the commentary of Suratush Shams verse 2 ('By the moon when it follows it (the sun)') by Ibn Kathir where he said: "Qatada said: 'The time when it (the moon) follows it (the sun) in the night preceding the beginning of a lunar month; when the sun sets the crescent is then sighted."
Based on actual sighting of the crescent, and not speculation or pre-prepared calendars, Monday 4 November 2002 was equivalent to 28 Sha’ban 1423 throughout the world, Nigeria (the common people, most of whom live in rural areas, and others that care to monitor the moon) inclusive. Then did Sha'ban have 28 days or did we start fasting on 29 Sha'ban?
Before I conclude the answer to this question, I wish to draw your attention to this fact: The majority of Muslims, locally and globally, started fasting on Wednesday 6 November. Only two countries declared Tuesday 5 November the beginning of Ramadan, and these are Nigeria and Libya. However, the latter did not claim sighting the crescent they rather declared Ramadan based on their official criterion for determining the beginning of lunar months, that is conjugation before dawn. Since it is not the Libyan issue we are discussing, I will conclude with the following Hadith, reported by Attirmidhy:
Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet (SAWS) said: "Fasting is when you fast and Fitr (termination of fasting) is when you celebrate Fitr and Adha is when you celebrate Adha." Abu Isa (ie Attirmidhy) said: "This hadith is sound and rare and that some authorities have explained it to mean that fasting and Fitr should be with the majority."
Two eclipses will occur this month (Ramadan): A lunar eclipse on Wednesday 20 November (around 3:00am) and a solar eclipse on Wednesday 4 December (at sunrise). Since these events take place at specific times they are very useful in checking the authenticity of a lunar date: Whereas a solar eclipse takes place at the time of conjugation (i.e., at the expiry of an old lunar month and the beginning of a new one when the earth, moon and sun lie in a straight line, with the moon in the middle) a lunar eclipse occurs at full moon (i.e., about midway between successive conjugations when again the three objects lie in a straight line, but with the earth in the middle) that is between 13th and 15th day of the month.
Now let us use these two events to check our beginning of Ramadan. The lunar eclipse will take place on the 16th day! This is a divine proof that we started Ramadan at least a day earlier. Now the solar eclipse: Going by the Nigerian standard the moon will be sighted on Tuesday 3 December, after 29 days of fasting, and Wednesday 4 December (the day of the eclipse) will be declared Eid al-Fitr day. However, as we get ready to go to the prayer ground, the sun will rise with the moon. What we are witnessing is a solar eclipse and the dark portion of the solar disc is nothing but the moon approaching conjugation. Then how could anybody have sighted it the previous evening? In fact on 3 December the moon will set before the sun throughout the country. For example, it will set thirty and forty minutes before the sun in Sokoto and Lagos, respectively. Even in the evening of 4 December the moon cannot be sighted since it will be only a little over 9 hours old (the minimum requirement for naked-eye sighting being 17 hours). However, on Thursday 5 December the moon can be sighted and it is going to be big and high above the horizon: Enough to mislead a layman to believe that the crescent is more than a day old. It is big because it is about 34 hours old and near perigee (closest to the earth).
We should make it an obligation upon ourselves to be going out en masse to search for the crescent at the end of each month, and throughout the year. In particular, the Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs should, as a matter of urgency, evolve a system of monitoring the moon throughout the year and throughout the country. The beginning of every month should be announced for public consumption. This is the path of the Prophet (SAWS), his companions and those that followed them, as shown by the following hadith:
Abdullah Ibn Abi Qais (RA) said: "I heard A'isha (RA) saying: 'The Messenger of Allah (SAWS) used to keep track of Sha'ban more than any other month. Then he would fast the month of Ramadan when the crescent was sighted; and if it was hidden he would count thirty days and then fast." (al-Bayhaqiy)
Kindly send your comments to the author at Biological Sciences Programme. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi.