The Problem of Moonsighting in Nigeria: The Way Out
Usman H Dukku
Biological Sciences Programme
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University
A paper presented at the
National Conference on Moonsighting
Organized by the
Islamic Studies Section, Department of Education
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
From 12th to 16th July 2009
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله رب العلمين والصلاة والسلام على محمد وعلى آله و صحبه
This paper discusses the problem of moonsighting in Nigeria. It attempts to identify the nature of the problem, its causes and its effect on the Ummah and to recommend a solution. It observes that the commencement of the Ramadan fast is done on different days, just as the observance of the two Eids, in spite of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs' attempt to unify the Ummah on these issues. A lack of confidence in the Council's moonsighting system is identified as the major cause of this disunity. The contentious issues, often advanced to fault the system, are discussed in the light of the Qur'an, Hadith, 'Urf and, where necessary, established astronomical facts.
The Problem of Moon Sighting in Nigeria: The Way Out
Muslims in Nigeria start the Ramadan fast or celebrate the Eids on different days in spite of the official announcement of the sighting of the crescent by the Chairman, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, The Sultan of Sokoto. Consequently, the Muslim Ummah is divided into two broad groups: 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 required by the Sharia, the latter believe the leaders are wrong and, therefore, should not be followed. The defiant group often advances the following reasons for their action:
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.
Sha'ban and Ramadan have had 29 days each for almost 50 years while Shawwal and Dhu al-Qi'dah have had 30 days each.
Nigeria almost always starts and ends Ramadan ahead of other Muslim countries.
Now, at this juncture, the logical question one may wish to ask is: What is the way out of this problem? The way out has been defined by the Almighty Allah in His command: "O you who believe obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you! If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination."1
Therefore, in the paragraphs that follow, we are going to attempt at discussing the above issues with the view to finding a solution to this problem. In doing so, we will be guided by this verse of the Noble Quran:
"Ask those who possess knowledge if you do not know"2
Disappearance of the Moon
Probably this is the most contentious issue between the Muslim masses and their leaders who insist that they must follow the Sultan's instruction to start or end fasting. Whereas the masses believe in the disappearance of the moon, the Sultan's instructions often disregard it as happened in the last (1429) Eid al-Fitr. Those who had clear skies, and cared to observe, saw the waning (old) crescent, in the morning, on Sunday 28th September, 2008 and in the evening, of the same day, the Sultan announced that the waxing (new) crescent was sighted. Thus the masses could not dismiss what they regarded as a fact and follow the announcement. By the way, who is right?
At least the Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa and Arabs believe in the disappearance of the moon, though they describe it differently. The Yoruba say Osu losun (moon goes asleep). That is, to them the moon sleeps in the heaven at the end of every month. The Fulani call this phenomenon Jahargal (travelling), that is, to them, the moon has travelled; but to what destination? May be, unlike their Yoruba brethren, they do not know. The Hausa provide a more precise answer when they say Wata ya bi rana (the moon has followed the sun). The Arabs went a step further and divided the 30-day month into 10 portions of three days each and assigned names to them. Thus, for example, the middle portion (13th to 15th) is described as ayyam al bid (days of light) while the last one (27th to 30th ) is ayyam al mihaq (days of erasure), al-istitar (concealment) or as-sua'l (enquiry).
Now, what is the position of scientists regarding the disappearance of the moon? Caldwell and Laney of the South African Astronomical Observatory explain:
"Each new astronomical lunar month (lunation) begins at the moment when the center of the moon has the same celestial longitude as the center of the sun, from the perspective of the center of the earth, i.e. the moment when the moon "passes" the sun. This is the moment of astronomical new moon, and it occurs at the same instant everywhere since it does not depend in any way on the viewer's perspective. At this time the moon is always invisible from the earth. When the moon first becomes visible again (always more, usually much more, than half a day after astronomical new moon), observers see a young crescent moon."3
Dr Abdurazak Ebrahim Snr explains the same event, albeit in different words:
“For approximately fifteen hours on either side of the instant of conjugation, the moon is completely hidden from view.”4
Scholars of the Islamic sciences also acknowledge the disappearance of the moon. All commentators on the Qur’an, in explaining the meaning of the moon’s stages or mansions (manazil), maintain that the stages are 28 and, thereafter, the moon becomes invisible for one or two nights before reappearing as a waxing crescent ( al-hilaal in Arabic). Let us use the following verse as an example:
"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)."5
Abdullah Ibn Foduye, commenting on this verse, said:
"It (the moon) has twenty-eight stations in twenty-eight days in every month. Thereafter it disappears for two nights, in the case of a thirty-day month, or one night, in the case of a twenty-nine-day month."6
Fuqaha' (Islamic jurists) also believe in the disappearance of the moon, for example, Ibn Rushd stated that:
فان العلماء اجمعواعلى ان الشهرالعربى يكون تسعا وعشرين ويكون ثلاثين وعلى ان الاعتبارفى تحديد شهررمضان انما هوالرؤية لقوله عليه الصلاة والسلام ((صوموا لرؤيته وافطروا لرؤيته)) وعنى بالرؤية اول ظهورالقمر بعدالسؤال7
"The scholars are unanimous that the Arabic month has 29 or 30 days and that sighting is the basis of establishing the beginning and end of Ramadan because of his (the Messenger of Allah, SAWS) saying: "Fast upon sighting
it(the moon)and end fasting upon sighting it(the moon). What is meant by sighting is the first appearance of the moon after an enquiry about it."7
Another eminent scholar, Ibn Taymiya, also acknowledged the disappearance of the moon:
وَهَذَا الِاجْتِمَاعُ يَكُونُ بَعْدَ الِاسْتِسْرَارِ وَقَبْلَ الِاسْتِهْلَالِ فَإِنَّ الْقَمَرَ يَجْرِي فِي مَنَازِلِهِ الثَّمَانِيَةِ وَالْعِشْرِينَ كَمَا قَدَّرَهُ اللَّهُ مَنَازِلَ ثُمَّ يَقْرُبُ مِنْ الشَّمْسِ فَيَسْتَسِرُّ لَيْلَةً أَوْ لَيْلَتَيْنِ ; لِمُحَاذَاتِهِ لَهَا فَإِذَا خَرَجَ مِنْ تَحْتِهَا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ فِيهِ النُّورَ ثُمَّ يَزْدَادُ النُّورُ كُلَّمَا بَعُدَ عَنْهَا إلَى أَنْ يُقَابِلَهَا لَيْلَةَ الْإِبْدَارِ ثُمَّ يَنْقُصُ كُلَّمَا قَرُبَ مِنْهَا إلَى أَنْ يُجَامِعَهَ8
“This conjugation takes place after the disappearance of the moon and before the new
Crescent. The moon moves in its 28 stations destined for it by Allah; then it approaches the sun and disappears for one or two nights because of its closeness to it (the sun). When the moon leaves Sun’s domain, Allah illuminates it and this illumination increase as the moon moves further away from the sun up to the time of opposition at Full Moon. Thereafter, the illumination diminishes as the moon moves closer to the sun until it conjugates with it.”8
From the foregoing, it can be concluded that the disappearance of the waning crescent, before a waxing crescent appears, is a fact known to the 'amm (common people) and khass (experts) through 'urf (common knowledge), 'ilm (special or expert knowledge) and hiss (practical knowledge or experience) and supported by ijma' (consensus of Islamic jurists). It is a part of the Allah's natural laws that govern the universe. Therefore the claim that it is impossible to sight the moon in the evening of the same day it was sighted in the morning is correct. It is common sense 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 this verse:
“By the moon when it follows it (the sun)”9
Mujahid said, "It follows it (the sun).'' Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that he said, "It follows the day.'' Qatadah said, "`as it Talaha (follows it)' is referring to the night of the Hilal (the new crescent moon). When the sun goes down, the Hilal is visible.''10
Full moon on the fourteenth day
First we need to explain what Full Moon is. 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 or the birth of the New Moon (a solar eclipse can only occur at this moment), marks the astronomical 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). The moment of the Full Moon (al badr in Arabic), on the other hand, is midway between two successive conjugations when the three bodies again lie in a plane, but with the earth in the middle( a lunar eclipse can only occur at this moment). Practically this moment (when the moon appears as a perfect luminous disc) occurs between the 13th and 15th of the lunar month that started with the correct sighting of the moon. The Arabic name for this period (ayyam al bid) is as a result of two phenomena unique to this period, that is, the moon is brightest and there is no total darkness during this period since there is an overlap between daylight and moonlight at dusk and dawn.
The major events in the lunar circle are summarized by Dr Ebrahim Snr:
"Consequent to the first appearance of the lunar crescent on the western horizon after sunset the moon waxes (due to increased illumination) until (about) the fourteenth night when it appears as the Full Moon. After this the moon wanes (due to diminishing illumination) until it disappears over the eastern horizon before sunrise on the twenty-eighth day of the month."4
The moon is missing
Another issue of concern about moonsighting in Nigeria is what one may refer to as the phenomenon of the ‘missing’ moon. That is to say, in most cases, the moon is not popularly sighted, under good weather conditions, even on the day following the official announcement of the sighting of the crescent. The reason for the worry is that since a lunar month can only have up to thirty days, even if there were no claims of moonsighting on the previous day, the moon should appear on the following day. Logically and scientifically speaking a moon that was sighted (even with difficulty) on the previous day will be easily visible (i.e., with little or no effort) on the following day due to two reasons: increased illumination of the lunar disc and the increase in altitude of 12 degrees over a period of 24 hours.
From the foregoing, we wish to humbly conclude that if the moon is truly sighted on the previous day then it will be easily visible on the following day, provided there is no overcast or a similar barrier. The jurists are not oblivious of this fact. For example Shaikh Khalil said:
يثبت رمضان بكمال شعبان او برؤية عدلين ولو بصحو بمصز فان لم ير بعد ثلاثين صحوا كذبا
“The beginning of Ramadan can be established through the completion of Sha’ban or the sighting (of the crescent) by two trustworthy witnesses, even under clear weather and in a large city. However, if the crescent is not sighted after thirty days, and in clear weather, their testimony is nullified.”11
Ramadan always has twenty-nine days
Another issue of contention is the fact that, for almost fifty years, Sha’ban and Ramadan have been having 29 days while Shawwal and Dhu al-Qi’dah have been having 30 days each. Many people believe this is not normal and thus they doubt the authenticity of the Sultan’s system. Let us scrutinize this issue in two ways: By comparing our situation with what obtains in contemporary Muslim countries and what happened during the time of the Prophet (SAWS).
Table 1 shows the length of Ramadan in Nigeria and six contemporary Muslim countries for a period of ten years. Whereas the frequency of occurrence of a 30-day Ramadan in the other countries ranged between 40% (Saudi Arabia and Iran) and 70% (Libya) it was zero in Nigeria.
Table 1 Length (in days) of Ramadan in different countries from 1420 to 1429
The following Hadith, reported by Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, describes the situation during the time of the Prophet (SAWS):
مَا صُمْنَا مَعَ النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ تِسْعًا وَعِشْرِينَ أَكْثَر مِمَّا صُمْنَا ثَلَاثِينَ
“We had more 29-day months of fasting, with the Prophet (SAWS), than 30-day months .”12
Now since the Prophet (SAWS) did have a 30-day Ramadan during a period of nine years and our contemporary Muslim countries have a similar situation then how can Nigeria justify its isolation?
Nigeria leads, others follow
Many concerned Muslims often ask why is it that Nigeria almost always starts and ends Ramadan ahead of other Muslim countries. Instead of providing an answer to this question, I should rather go for the less tasking option of confirming their fears.
Tables 2 and 3 show, respectively, the countries that were the first to commence Ramadan and Shawwal for a period of ten years. It is my humble opinion that even the most indifferent Muslim should be disturbed by the message conveyed by these tables, especially Table 3. That is, can Nigeria be right?
Table 2 Global commencement of Ramadan from 1420 to 1429
*As can be seen from this table and table 3, Nigeria almost always starts the month with Libya; however it should be noted that whereas Nigeria claims to base its lunar months on actual sighting of the moon, Libya completely disregards moonsighting and uses a pre-calculated calendar based on the birth of the New Moon.
**The large number of countries is due to the influence of Saudi Arabia. Whenever this county starts or ends fasting many countries follow suit irrespective of whether the action is right or wrong or whether the moon is sighted in these countries or not.
Sources: Islamic Crescent Observation Project (www.icoproject.org) and unpublished moonsighting records of the Moonsighting Society of Nigeria, Bauchi.
Table 3 Global Commencement of Shawwal from 1420 to 1429
*As can be seen from this table and table 2, Nigeria almost always starts the month with Libya; however it should be noted that whereas Nigeria claims to base its lunar months on actual sighting of the moon, Libya completely disregards moonsighting and uses a pre-calculated calendar based on the birth of the New Moon.
Sources: Islamic Crescent Observation Project (www.icoproject.org) and unpublished moonsighting records of the Moonsighting Society of Nigeria, Bauchi.
From the foregoing exposition of the Nigerian moonsighting system, it is crystal clear that the system is faulty and, therefore, needs improvement. The resolution of the Islamic Research Council13 of 1966 on this subject is therefore being recommended as a solution to this problem. It is reproduced ad verbum below:
1a) The observation of the new crescent moon is the original method of fixing the beginning of lunar months as is indicated by the prophetic tradition. But this method is not to be relied on if strong suspicions are raised against it.
b) The observation of the moon is established by a report handed down, or widely spread, by persons who cannot be supposed to have plotted a lie, as well as by the report of a single informant, whether male or female, unless his statement is impugned for one reason or another, such as contradicting the reliable calculation of a reliable astronomer.
c) The report of a single informant is only binding on himself as well as on those who have trust in him. The public, however, should abide only by the definite observation carried out by the person detailed by the Islamic State for this purpose.
d) The beginning of the month is to be settled according to astronomical calculation if it is difficult to see the new crescent moon or to reckon the preceding month as thirty days.
2. The Conference decides that no allowance should be made for the different times of the moonrise in various countries, however distant, if they all coincide even in a short period of the night when the new crescent moon has been seen; if not, then the differences of moonrise should be taken into account.
3. The Conference urges all Islamic governments and peoples to set up Islamic authorities in their respective countries to be assigned the task of determining the first of lunar months with the help of observatories and reliable astronomers.
The Glorious Quran; Chapter 4, al-Nisa, Verse 59
The Glorious Quran; Chapter 16, al-Nahl, Verse 43
Caldwell, J A. R. and Laney, C. D. First Visibility of the Lunar Crescent. http://www.saao.ac.za/public-info/sun-moon-stars/moon-index/lunar-crescent-visibility/first-visibility-of-lunar-crescent/ Accessed on 25th June 2009
Ebrahim Snr, A.(2000) A critical review of Dr.Ebrahim Moosa’s English translation of the essay – “Awa’il al-shuhur Al-Arabiyya” by Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad Shakier http://www.geocities.com/ebrahimsenior/review.html Accessed on 25th June 2009
The Glorious Qur'an, Chapter 10, Yunus, Verse 5
Ibn Foduye, Abdullah b Muhammad b. Uthman b. Salih. Kifayat Dua'fa al-Sudan fi Bayan Ma’ani al-Qur’an. Maktabah al-Tayyib
Ibn Rushd (d 595 AH), Abu al-Walid Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b Ahmad b Rushd al-Qurtubiy al-Andalusiy. Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid. V 1 p228
Ibn Taymiyya, Shaikh al-Islam Ahmad b. Abdilhalim. Majmu’ al-Fatawa v25 p184
The Glorious Quran; Chapter 91, al-Shams, Verse 2
Ibn Kathir(701-774 AH), Abu Al-Fida' `Imad Ad-Din Isma il bin 'Umar bin Kathir Al-Qurashi Al-Busrawi. Abridged Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Darussalam
Al-Shaikh Khalil b. Ishaq. Mukhtasar Khalil p59
Hadith, transmitted by Abu Dawud and Al-Tirmidhiy
Islamic Research Council, Al-Azhar University, Cairo. 3rd Resolution of 1966 Conference