View Full Version : LUNAR CALENDAR [Islamic perspective]

08-20-2009, 04:08 AM
J. Islamic Sci.
Vol. 16. No. 1-2, 2000

In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace

[Islamic perspective]


Er. Ahmed M. Kalnad,
[Kerala Engineering Service]

After a brief survey of work on Islamic Calendar, a popular discussion on the possibility of a Universal Islamic dateline follows. Considering Ka’bah at zero Islamic Longitude, its nadir diametrically opposite to Ka’bah on the other side of the globe falls on the island of Tamatagi. Tamatagi Island can be considered the nodal point in Islamic jurisprudence, since the Qibla at this place is accepted in any direction.


The primary purpose of this paper is to generate public awareness on the necessity to adopt a uniform system for the calendar in Islam. It is more and more evident from the confusions created by the adoption of parochial calendars for religious rituals, that the adoption of a universal calendar is the only solution. This can be achieved only by the adoption of the underlying principles enunciated in the Holy Qur'ân towards the fulfilment of this task. This should be meticulously researched and the resulting calendar system brought into the Shari'ah. References have been made here below to a couple of Verses in the Holy Qur'ân pointing to the method to be adopted for this purpose. English version of the Verses from the Holy Qur'ân have been quoted from 'The Message of THE QUR'ÂN' by Muhammad Assad.1

Prof. Mohammad Ilyas2 had done pioneering work in this field, and his recommendations had been accepted by Muslim World League in its conference at Istanbul in the year 1978 and also by Dar-el-Iftah in 1985 at Makkah. A few countries have been following the global system of Calendar based on the decisions made by the above organisations. However they have been relying entirely on the parameters already in practice, but not brought into the ambit of Islamic Shari'ah so far. It is felt that no worthwhile research has been done to find out whether any other factors more in line with the relevant Verses in the Holy Qur'ân, are to be adopted. The following pages however, is to initiate constructive discussion and further research to adopt parameters more in line with Islamic Ideology.

The sunset is adopted as cut-off point to start the day, though it is difficult to find any specific authentication for this in the Islamic theological jurisprudence. In fact, difference of opinion exists among a few researchers in this field. However this presentation is based on the convention that day starts with the sunset and that the Islamic date changes at this point.

All possible care has been taken to present the subject in simple terms, though it is dry and complicated, so as to make it more lively and understandable to persons not very familiar with astronomy. Examples have been provided with a couple of hypothetical cases, which I hope will be useful in understanding the subject under discussion.

Evolution of the Calendar system

The earliest unit of measurement of time was the day among the cavemen, as it could be visually counted. It was difficult for them to measure long duration of time. On further improvement, they found that the cyclic change of phase of the Moon is having an interval of either 29 or 30 days. Naturally they turned to the cyclic change of phases of the moon for bigger units. Thus the month was brought into the system.

When man mastered the cultivation of food crops, he found that harvesting of the crops is possible only in definite cycles of seasons. The duration of the complete cycle was about 12 months. Thus the year was born. However the period of twelve months (only lunar months were in use) did not coincide exactly with the seasonal cycle, as it was shorter by a few days. The fractions were accumulating and the lag was almost a month in three years. One extra month was added every third year to bring it up in line with the season.

Luni-solar system

The observational astronomy and recording of time acquired more and more importance. They improved on their system to bring it closely in line with the solar cycle. As they noted that it was coinciding much more accurately if the intercalation on a month is done in every 3, 3, 2, 3, 3, 2 and 1 year intervals. Thus a seventeen-year-cycle coincided with solar (or seasonal) cycle. It was the best possible approximation under the circumstances. This is called the Luni-Solar System. [Refer 'Astronomy of Islamic Times for the Twenty-first Century' by Mohammad Ilyas, Mansell Publishing Limited, 1988]

Pre-Islamic Arabs also were intercalating a month after the second or third year though they were not following the order mentioned above. An additional month was introduced in between any of the regular months of the year. In such an intercalated year, there would be thirteen months. Early Muslims also were following the very same system until almost the end of the Holy Prophet's mission (peace and blessings of Allah be on him).
"Behold, the number of months, in the sight of God, is twelve months, [laid down] in God's Decree on the day when He created the heavens and the earth;…" Holy Qur'ân, Surah Al Toubah, verse 36

This was revealed in the course of Holy Prophet's historic sermon at Arafat during the Farewell Hajj. From then on (year 632 C.E), it was purely lunar calendar having only twelve months in a year. No more intercalation was allowed to bring it in line with the solar season. Within a few years after the death of the Holy Prophet, the entire time recording system was further strengthened and standardised. Hadrath 'Umer, Commander of the Faithful, started a Muslim Era adopting the year of Migration (Hijrah) as the base. This was done fifteen years after Migration. The first year of Muslim Era coincided with 622 C.E. However the system came into being only in the year 637 C.E.

Romans under Pope Gregory modified the Luni-solar calendar into just solar system by dividing the year into twelve months more or less equally. It underwent several minor modifications during the course of history. It is still in the process of reforms. United Nations had suggested a modified version of the system where the months shall have either 30 or 31 days. Though it was proposed in the year 1956, it was not accepted in practice universally. The recording system was renamed as Common Era instead of Anna Domini. The earlier system of depending on the lunar phase is still in vogue for the purposes of religious rituals in almost all religions of the world.

Lunar Month

One apparent rotation of the moon on its axis is a lunar month; just as one apparent rotation of the earth is a day. Allah, The Almighty, has ordained that the time taken for the exact rotation of the moon on its own axis is same as the time it takes to complete one orbit around the earth. That is to say that these two movements are synchronised. [Hence the very same hemisphere of the moon is permanently facing the earth and we are not in a position to view the other side at all]. The apparent orbit of the moon around the earth is counted by taking the conjunction (new moon) as the reference point.

“He it is who has made the sun a [source] radiant light and the moon a light [reflected], and has determined for it phases so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure [time]. None of this has God created without [an inner] truth.

‘Clearly does he spell out these messages unto people of [innate] knowledge: for, verily, in the alternating of night and day, and all that God has created in the heavens and on earth there are messages indeed for people who are conscious of Him.’ - Holy Qur'ân, Chapter X, verses 5 & 6.

The moon is rendered visible due to the reflection of the Sunlight falling on it. Hemisphere of the Moon facing the Earth gets illuminated when the Sun is on the same side as the Earth and it will be dark when the Sun is on the far side of the Moon. The illuminated area of the surface of the Moon visible from Earth varies depending on the angular positions of the Moon and the Sun relative to the Earth. There are two critical positions when the Sun, the Moon and the Earth are in a single plane during the Moon's journey around the Earth. One is when the Great Circles passing through the Sun and the Moon merge with each other for an instant while the Sun and the Moon are on the same side of the Earth. The other is when both the above Great Circles merge while the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth. Thus, when the Sun is at the far side of the moon in relation to the Earth at conjunction is termed New Moon and while the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the Earth at the conjunction in Full moon. Of course the above mentioned phenomena happen only while both Great Circles merge. The Sun will always be at Zenith (being in a great circle) at the particular Longitude over which the conjunction of happen. This point changes every time it happens. The Observatories around the Globe compute and record this information in advance. The very next Sunset to the new moon is taken as the beginning of the next lunar month.


'We are an ignorant people. We do not know how to compute [or calculate]. The month may be with 29 days or sometimes may be with 30 days; and if you do not sight the moon* [immediately after the sunset of 29th] you estimate it.' – Hadith, quoted by Bukhari

*Implied suggestion is that the contemporary generation, as they were ignorant in the matters of celestial bodies, did not know the precise moment of occurrence of the New moon (to determine whether the month is of 29 or 30 days). They did not know how to compute, to find it out. Holy Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah be on him, had the forethought to spell out the reason for advising them to continue to follow the prevailing practice of deciding the month by visual observation of the crescent moon immediately after the sunset of 29th day. It was the state-of-the-art technology of their period, to determine the starting of the month not only for the Muslims but also for all.

The only means available to the Arabs or for that matter, any body in the ancient world to determine the occurrence of the new moon was by sighting the crescent moon immediately after Sunset. However neither Holy Qur'ān, nor the Holy Prophet [Peace and blessings of Allah be on him] ever prescribed any geographical boundaries for fixing the starting date of the month. Further there are no historical records to show any instances of following different dates for one and the same event happening in the Islamic Republic. In fact, the Hadith quoted above, points clearly to the fact that at a future point in time, when astrophysics is mastered, the reckoning of the month has to be by computation. The first two sentences of the above quoted Hadith must have been inserted for the very purpose of highlighting this aspect.

During the early periods of Islamic Republic, the rulers and Ulema, being leaders of the community, were keen to codify various points touching the rituals in Islam, to render Islam easy to practice. Naturally they prescribed the sighting of the new crescent moon as the criterion for beginning the month as they were ignorant of computation of movements of various heavenly bodies. Further it is absurd to consider a calendar only for a particular region or place. Calendar is always universal. The indications are clear to this effect in the Verse quoted here below. Specific mention about Hajj in the Verse clearly points to this fact:

‘They will ask thee about the new moons. Say “They indicate the periods for [various doings of] mankind, including the pilgrimage.”’
- Holy Qur'ān, Chapter II, Verse 189

Historical Facts:

Communications between two places in the early days of Islam were possible only by runner messengers. The continuous gaining of time from east to west was never interfered with their daily life. The time gained or lost due to the change of meridian during travel was negligible, as the distance traversed in a day is comparatively very short. If the New moon is declared, it is accepted that the month has started irrespective of the location or geographical boundary. Most of the Arabian Peninsula came under the Islamic republic during the Holy Prophet's lifetime itself. If sighting of the moon in each place was the criterion, different dates also must have been accepted and he would have given clear instructions on how to manage in such cases. We do not find any such instances in recorded history. It is safe to assume that they should have had an official system to conduct observations at different locations of the Republic and pass on the information through official channels. It becomes all the more evident, when we find that there had not been a single case of conflict in dates in historical records of the Islamic republic on any matters. What is more evident is that all of West Asia and North Africa were under the influence of the Islamic Republic during the periods of the rightful Caliphs. There is no recorded history to show that the dates for celebrating the Hajj and assembly at Arafat (in the afternoon of 9th Dul Hijja) would have come into conflict. Any dispute over the sighting of the crescent moon at different places on different days during this period or questioning the validity of accepting it has never been reported.

Middle of 7th century of Common Era witnessed the birth of Science and its explosive advancement in several branches taking cue from the pointers and encouragements in the Holy Qur'ān, which became the fountainhead of all sciences. Muslim researchers and 'Ālims laid the foundations for every branch of science. It is relevant here to note that it was Al Biruni, a Muslim mathematician and astrophysicist of 12 century C.E., discovered that the shape of the Earth is sphere and he went on to calculate the circumference of the Earth as well as its orbit by improvising various astronomical instruments required for conducting observations. His calculations were incredibly accurate and he was off the exact figure by only about couple of kilometres! Contemporary Europe was in Dark Ages and mostly barbarians. It was nearly 500 years after Al Biruni that, Galileo announced to the world that the Earth is round, and the Christian world punished him for heresy!

However the pursuit of knowledge took a back seat when the Muslim Republic was bogged down in the indulgence on material abundance, neglecting the pristine Ideology of Islam. By about fourteenth century of C.E, the Republic lost the Ideology and God-consciousness. Scientific research and pursuit of knowledge was abandoned completely. The final blow was delivered when Baghdad, the Seat of Knowledge of the contemporary world was sacked by the hordes of barbarians led by Hulagu Khan of Central Asia. Power Centres of the World gradually shifted to Europe. Colonial Powers conquered more and more territories and brought them under their hegemony.

International Dateline

When the American Continents were discovered the necessity arose to think globally. Navigation in the high seas increased and circumnavigation around the globe became common. Navigators discovered the phenomenon of gaining of time while travelling along with the sun towards the west and of course losing while travelling against the motion of the sun towards east. They were compelled to devise suitable remedial measures to tackle the anomaly.

A dateline along any one particular north-south line is a basic requirement to effect the change of date in the global system. King Charles the Second of Great Briton appointed the noted Astronomer, John Flamsteed, as director of the new observatory at Greenwich, in London in the year 1676. His duty was to prepare an accurate star catalogue for the use of navigators. Through a period of 43 years he ascertained the exact positions of nearly 3'000 stars, and from his data it was easy to calculate when any star listed in the catalogue would pass across the Greenwich meridian on any day of the year. His work was so comprehensive and reliable that the meridian through Greenwich [which he had used for his charts as 0° meridian] was widely used. It was declared as the Universal prime meridian for global reference, by the maritime nations in a conference by an Agreement in 1884. Global time keeping was recognised as the midnight at Greenwich as 00.00 hour of the day. The system of timekeeping was termed as Greenwich Mean Time [Universal Time Co-ordinate].

We are now trying to analyse and suggest a meridian as Islamic Prime Meridian that would be basically in line with the injunctions contained in the Holy Qur'ān, so that it can be brought into Shari'ah for recognising a meridian as Islamic Month-line for the purpose of fixing the date of starting of the Lunar Month, which I hope will be more in line with the injunctions in the Holy Qur'ān. At any rate, a line should be adopted, either the International Dateline already in use or any other if it is more in line with the Islamic principles. It can be brought into the Shari’ah by consensus.

Suppose an aircraft takes off from a certain place a few minutes past midday and cruises due west at a ground speed of about 1,600 Km. [apparent ground speed of the sun]. The occupants of the aircraft continue to see the sun in the same position because the craft moves in the same speed as the sun. Suppose the flight is to continue without landing, they will be seeing the sun at a stationery position and the day will be endless for them. Let us assume that the aircraft had taken off, say from Bombay and flying due west and the time is 12.30 P.M. Sunday. The aircraft will be close to the eastern side of 180° Longitude after a lapse of 17 hours. It will still be Sunday midday for the occupants as well as for the ground below as the Sun is right overhead. The passengers in the aircraft are also seeing it overhead without any shift all along! People on the ground right below are getting ready for Dhuhr prayer of Sunday. The aircraft continues its flight and crosses the 180° Longitude, the Dateline. It is still midday on the other side below, but that of Monday! Though the passengers have not had their Asr prayer of Sunday but the people right below is getting ready for the Duhr prayer of Monday! There was nothing strange for the people mentioned right below [one the western side of the Dateline, 180º] and for the passengers twenty-four hours have elapsed since their Duhr prayer of Sunday. A day is lost for the passengers only and they will come to know when they disembark. They have not incurred loss of time as they have experienced the passage of time as usual. They had only a jump in the date. The loss is just due to the gaining of time relative to the Sun due to the travel. The gain in time for the aircraft, in this case, is equal to the loss of time for the earth, as the aircraft was stationary relative to the sun. It is clear that gaining or losing of time due to the position on the land relative to the sun. To put it in another way, the flight of time was apparently stationary for the occupants of the aircraft but the day quietly jumped forward. Suppose the flight of the aircraft under discussion above continues and lands in Bombay, it will again be midday only but that of Monday. The local time relative to the Sun remaining at the Zenith, but the clock was ticking way quietly in the background and the day was slipping off. It does not have any effect at all in reckoning of the date in the global context.

Islamic Month Line

The necessity for an Islamic Meridian has been clearly brought out in the book 'Islamic Meridian: A Way to Muslim Solidarity' by S.S.M. Haq, Islamic Foundation, Bangladesh, year 1929 as also in an article in 'Islamic Review' by the same author in the year 1952. The adoption of an Islamic Date-cum-Month Line will also go a long way in consolidating the Unity of Muslim Nations.

One apparent rotation of the Earth on its axis is a civil day. The day is reckoned by counting the number of virtual revolutions made by the Sun around the Earth. However there has to be a reference point to count the virtual revolutions made by the Sun. Let us take the analogy of tawáf to explain this further. Persons who have performed Hajj will be familiar with this as the tawáf is started from a line specifically made out for this purpose.

The Patriarch of all Semitic religions, Prophet Ibrahim [peace be on him] established the ritual of tawáf as a way of worship by circum-ambulation around the Ka’bah. A point was established by fixing the Black stone of meteoric origin at one corner of the Ka'bah, for the purpose of counting the number of circum-ambulation done. Each person adopting a different point in a collective context would have created chaos. The system is continuing down to the present day in performing tawáf. The same analogy can be applied in the case of the Sun apparently going round the Earth. A common cut-off line is required to count the days in global context. An imaginary line for the purpose by common consent is the dateline.

God Almighty has referred to Makkah as Umm-ul-Qura [mother of the townships]. Makkah has been at the crossroads of major trade routes of the ancient world from pre-historic times. Prophet Ibrahim, and his son, Prophet Ishmael [Peace be on them], built the very first House of worship in the entire world dedicated to the Divine Unity at Makkah and bequeathed it to the believers to worship Allah, the Eternal. Prophets Ibrahim and Ismāil beseeched Allah to make it holy and a place for pilgrimage for all the generations to come till the Day of Judgement. The Holy Qur'ān had very clearly recorded this historic event. The City of Makkah as it is today is the clear proof of the fulfilment of their prayers. In several aspects it can be safely said that Makkah has been and is central and a cardinal point in the world, spiritually speaking. It will be in fitness of things that the longitude passing through Ka’bah is made the benchmark line in Islam to base all astronomical calculations for religious purposes. The meridian passing through Ka’bah, [Universal Latitude 21º 25' 20" N and Longitude 39º 49' 30" E], from the North Pole to the South Pole of the Earth, is suggested as the 0º Islamic Longitude. The standard time followed now in Makkah [U T C + 3 hours] can be adopted for the Islamic Time Co-ordinate. It may be clearly understood that the Islamic Time Co-ordinate is for universal reference only. All astronomical calculations may continue in the U.T.C. format. It will not interfere in any way in fixing the prayer timings at Makkah or any other place. The timings for prayers are dependent on the local time and expressed in Standard Time of the respective countries. In fact there is a system now in existence in the Masjid al Harām, by which the actual sunset is computed continuously in Makkah Local Time and updated instantly by the computer. The prayer timings of the day, every day, are displayed continuously through several hundreds of clock-faces in Masjid al Harām. A Time Co-ordinate, if desired, may also be adopted. It will be 8 hours and 40 minutes ahead of U.T.C.

Fixing of the beginning of the Lunar Month

Though the earth is a sphere, it is spread out flat for all practical purposes. It obeys all the general laws of Nature as if it is absolutely level. Mean Sea Level [marked and protected at Liverpool Harbour] is adopted as the standard for the entire world.

The nadir of Makkah, a point diametrically opposite (on the other side of the globe), falls on a point in the island of Tematagi, [21º 25' 20" S and 160º 10' 30" W], in the archipelago called Tuamotu having 78 coral atolls. ‘Tuamotu’ in local dialect means ‘distant islands’. The Archipelago is strung along a long stretch of 1'750 Km arc in French Polynesian island-groups. Most of the small islands are uninhabited, and the total population of the entire archipelago is only about 9'000! Tematagi Island can be considered the nodal point in Islamic jurisprudence, since the Qiblah at the place is acceptable in any direction. Interested Muslim Organisations may even think of erecting a small commemorative structure to highlight the above nodal point. Islamic Longitude passing through this point, 180º Islamic L, [equivalent of 160º 10' 30" E of Universal system,] is proposed as the International Islamic Dateline. It passes through Pacific Ocean for most of its length but for the north-eastern portion of the American continent where the Islamic Dateline will run along the borderline between the State of Alaska (USA) and Canada, as such it does not interfere in anyway what so ever. It is superior to the existing International Dateline. In deed, the honour given to Makkah Mukarramah as the centre of the world is very well justified! The following examples will elucidate the proposal clearly. It affects the dates in the areas between Islamic and International Dateline only slightly when both the systems are correlated. However the areas bounded by these two longitudes are only extensive stretches of Pacific Ocean.

Example I

Let us a certain point of time in our proposed calendar and let us start from Calicut. It is 12 o’clock on Wednesday the 29th Jamad II and getting ready for the Midday prayer. At the very same instant it is the afternoon about 3 o’clock in Bangkok getting ready for the Asr prayer of Wednesday the 29th Jamad II. It is approaching Magrib time of Wednesday 29th Jamad II at Wellington, New Zealand [175º E Longitude]. Again at a few Km east at Cook Islands [160º W Longitude] it is only Isha’ time on Tuesday the 28th Jamad II. We gained a day between the last to places because we crossed International Dateline from West to East. Suppose we traveled from Wellington Island to Cook Island towards East in a speed boat on Wednesday 27th August after Magrib prayers and reached Cook Island a little after Isha’ prayer time taking about 4 hours. It was only about 11P.M. But it was 11.00 P.M. of Tuesday the 26th and the entire Wednesday is before us to be repeated at Cook Island. We gained a day by crossing the Intl. Dateline from west to east. Of course we will loose it while crossing back

Let us assume that the earth is cut through at the 180° Islamic meridian and spread out and stretched flat as is assumed for preparing maps. The entire area will be about 39'000 Km east west and about 17' 000Km north south. Now let us consider the analogy of two persons standing close to each other, but on either side of the 180° Islamic Meridian before it was cut through the line between them. Though they are close together physically, they are at two extremes of the flattened area. They are physically close together for all practical purposes, but separated by twenty-four hours! Thus the cutting is done by the factor ‘time’.

Suppose that we have managed to reduce the field to a much smaller scale so that we are able to see the entire field, end to end. We see the entire day (Wednesday, the 29th Jamad II) over the world from one Sunset to the next. To have a balanced and central view, we have fixed up the observation perch above the central point of the field, high up and above the Masjid al Haram, where it is middle of Wednesday, about sunrise, [1159+h ITC]. We are facing north and hence the west is on our left side and vice versa. The entire left side is night and the right side is daylight. The dividing line between light and dark is along the middle. It is 0000h (Wednesday) Islamic Time Co-ordinate at the western edge and 2400h (Wednesday) at the eastern edge. Both the points are close to each other physically but separated by 24 hours! It is Wednesday all over the world, end to end. However the time is moving with the sun and we see the entire light and shade areas sliding towards left (west) at a speed of over 1'600 Km per hour. We see the daylight of Wednesday dropping off at the western edge. A new a strip of darkness (night of Thursday, 1st Rajab) is creeping in from the eastern edge pushing the daylight area towards the west! After a lapse of twelve hours in the world below [2359 ITC], we see the light and shade sectors interchanged. On the left [west] is daylight of Wednesday 29th II, and on the right, the night of Thursday the 1st Rajab. In another twelve hours, the remaining portion (daylight) of Wednesday will fall off western edge and disappear. The entire field will be occupied by Thursday the 1st Rajab, reverting to the pattern with which we started, but this time it is Thursday, the1st Rajab all over the world!

Example 2

Imagine that the surface of the earth is restored to the original (spherical) shape again. The sliding of time will not make the day fall off the edge, but will continue to move to the western side of the jointed line, as it is continuous now. However when it crosses this line, it is the next weekday and date. Let us consider the observation from the high perch. We are at a point in line with the Sun and our shadow falls right at 0° Islamic Meridian, say over Makkah and hence the entire hemisphere down below is daylight (1800 hrs. ITC) and we do not see any night portion at all. We find that the daylight is continuously moving towards the west and the darkness of the night is creeping in from the east on the right side. We see the dark area growing longer and longer, while shortening the daylight area proportionately on the left side. In another twelve hours [by the time it is 0600 hrs. ITC of next day], the entire bright area is pushed out of our view and night has taken over the hemisphere completely! The process is continuous.

“Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. …”
-Al-Qur'ān, Surah 3, verse 27

By applying the flat surface analogy for the New Moon, occurring at 158° 20' Islamic W Longitude on Wednesday the 29th Jamad II 1422, let us bring back the first field we constructed in Example 1. The people at this Meridian, (in Los Angeles in western USA), a point far on western portion of the field under discussion, will be able to view the crescent moon in the evening of Wednesday, immediately after Sunset. It is clear that the Sunset on that evening will herald 1st Rajab (Thursday). As soon as the entire field is filled with a particular day, it has to exit through the western edge. The next weekday enters at the eastern edge to fill the vacuum created. It is “…[laid down] in God's Decree on the day when He created the heavens and the earth;…" -Holy Qur'ān, Surah At-Toubah, verse 36).

There might exist some doubts among the learned Ulema about the validity of following the dates universally, due to the phenomenon of the time lag, and the above examples were given in detail only to dispel such misunderstandings. When we accept the Hadith quoted in this paper, and now that we know how to compute the day and place of conjunction, the result of the calculation is to be accepted. The lag or lead of time of occurrence does not come into play at all in fixing the date. The day next to that of conjunction is taken as the first of next month in obedience to the Hadith under reference. The people of the place over which the conjunction has occurred as well as some more areas further east will be able to observe physically the crescent moon in the evening of the same day. However we are asked to compute and witness ourselves to the fact. The geographical position of occurrence has no role to play in fixing dates.

It is abundantly clear from the above analogies that there is no possibility what so ever to have several dates for the same day. The world is to be considered as a single field. No geographical boundary has been prescribed for consideration either in the Holy Qur'ān or the Traditions of the Holy Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah be on him.

The time taken by the apparent sun to traverse one degree of longitude is 4 minutes. All nations have selected a particular longitude in their country for the purpose of fixing the standard time for the country. Republic of India extends territorially from longitude 68°E. to 97° 30¢E. The local time at longitude 82° 30¢E. is adopted as the Indian Standard time. It is therefore 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Universal Time Co-ordinate. It is all very well for reckoning the time within the country and for consideration of the lag or lead in time between countries. The Standard Time does not come into the picture at all for considering the date or for keeping track of the month.

The Crescent moon may not be visible at all even on the second or third day of occurrence in the extreme latitudes of North and South. Such matters are to be dealt with, and appropriate decision taken by the Ulema. Innumerable examples of making such decisions exist in Islamic Jurisprudence and incorporating it into the Shari'ah. Visual observation was only a transient solution for determining the New Moon. It is to be ignored, once the precise movements of the celestial bodies are tracked and recorded. Now we are duty-bound to follow the injunctions contained in the verse quoted elsewhere above: "…and has determined for it phases so that you might know how to compute the years and to measure [time],.."


It is worthwhile, in conclusion, to quote a couple of paragraph from the text of an article, Awá'il al ashuhúrul Árabiyah by Shaykh Ahmed Shákir, the text of which is extensively quoted by Dr. Yusuf al Qardhawi in his Kitab: Kayfa Nat'ámal ma'a al Sunnah:3

"Further more, with the elimination of the justification for sighting; it is now essential wajib that recourse be had only to astronomical calculations, it follows that recourse must be had to the calculation of the birth of the new moon. We must disregard the notion of using calculations to determine the times when the sighting of the new moon is a possibility or not. Thus, the beginning of the true lunar month is when the crescent disappears with the setting of the Sun, even if the difference between the two events were a matter of only a second.

The points discussed above bring many aspects into sharp focus, the situations wherein proper and consensus decisions have to be taken. It is incumbent upon the Ulema and Umera’ to deal with and take proper decisions in such situations. This is one of those situations where the dynamics of Shari'ah truly manifest itself in our conscious life.

Nor is my statement in this matter as innovation on my part. Indeed, it often happens in the Shari'ah that a ruling will differ with differences in the conditions of those charged with implementing that ruling. This is well known by the scholars and others."

An example of this principle is the case we are now discussing. The Hadith, '…. then if you are clouded over, estimate it', was also related in another version; 'but if you are clouded over, then complete the period as thirty'. Some of the scholars of Shari'ah have clarified that the general wording of the first Hadith, 'estimate it', is explained by the wording of the other Hadith, 'then complete the period as thirty'. But one of the major Imams of the Sháfi´í school of fiqh, in fact the imam of his times, Abu al Àbbās Ahmed ibn Ùmar ibn Surayj explained that the two versions of the Hadith refer to two separate sets of circumstances. The meaning of 'estimate it' is 'calculate it according to the lunar phases'. And this command was addressed to those blessed by Allah with the knowledge of those matters, whereas the other Hadith was addressed to ordinary people."


1. The Message of the Qur'ān, Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad, 1980, published by Dar al-Andalus Limited, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar. © Copyright, 1980 by Pola Hamida Asad. Distributors E.J. Brill - London, 41 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LX.

2. Prof. Mohammad Ilyas, Ph.D, University Sains Malaysia. He has been responsible, probably the first time in the long history of Islamic Jurisprudence, for codifying Islamic Timings. His untiring and pioneering work in the field of Astronomy of Islamic times and Calendars for the last three decades has brought about great awareness among the Islamic world.

3. 'Awá'il al Shuhúr al Άrabíyah' by Islamic Scholar and Muhaddith, Shaykh Ahmad Shákir, (Maktabah Ibn Thaymiyah, Cairo), in his article: Awá'il al Shuhúr al 'Arabíyah: as quoted by Dr. Yusuf al Qardáwi in his Book, Kayfa Nat'ámal ma'a al Sunnah, translated into English by Yusuf Delorenzo, IIIT-Research.

Note: The original article was written and published in the Journal in the year 2000. However I have edited a little here and there to clarify the matter better especially in the examples provided.

Ahmed M. Kalnad
Tuesday, 04 October 2005

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