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MONTHLY    *    Vol 13-12 No:156    *   DECEMBER 1999/ Ramadan 1420H


By Abdullah Tariq

Sighting of Moon: Why don’t we go Scientific?
Can I Contribute Zakat to Madrassa?
Of Purification and Maslak
What is Shabe Barat?
Tarawih Prayers
Significance of Crescent Moon in Flags
Is Entrance to Hell closed in Ramadhan
Use of Telescope to Sight New Moon
Use of Helicopters to Sight New Moon
Embracing During Eid

Sighting of Moon: Why don’t we go Scientific?

Q. There is such a widespread dispute in sighting of moon for Ramadhan and Eid. Why can’t we rely on scientific calculations for these purposes as we do for times of Namaz?

A. We can and we shall probably start doing it by the next decade or so but presently it is not practically possible. Ramadhan and Eid are Islamic rites of congregational nature. You have to go by the representatives of a collective decision. The trend is that our Ulema move very cautiously in accepting the present day realities.

Not long ago, the use of pictures for creative purposes was unacceptable to a majority of Ulema in the sub-continent. Today a large number of Islamic organs run by Islamic organisations accept its validity. The use of loud speakers for large congregations of Jum’a and Eid was not acceptable to Ulema in the beginning of 2nd half of the 20th century. Blood donation was not permitted. All of these are acceptable today by a majority of them. Today a Qadhi accepts the telephones and TVs as reliable sources of information for the new moon at other places.

We move very slowly and cautiously where the scientific use of understanding modern day problems are involved. Some of its reasons are the following.

  1. Most of the institutions of Islamic learning are teaching their students that Ijtehad (use of research for the solution of new problems and revision or reinterpretation of old codes fixed by renowned scholars) is not permitted today even by the most learned of scholars.

  2. Those passing from institutions of Islamic learning do not have any knowledge of modern sciences and people educated in modern education do not have proper knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah. There also is lack of co-ordination between these two groups.

  3. Genuine (and justifiable to some extent) fear of leading people to a prohibited course in the absence of lack of understanding of modern phenomenon.

There are many Hadith instructing us to start and end the month of Ramadhan after witnessing the moon. For example, the Prophet (Pbuh) said:

“Start the fasting after sighting the moon and end the fasting after sighting the moon. If it is masked from you then complete 30 days of Sha’ban.” (Bukhari, Muslim)

But he also made it clear that the reason behind the instruction of not relying upon (astronomical) calculations was the illiteracy of his people and their ignorance of mathematical and astronomical calculations. Narrated Ibne Umar:

“The Prophet (Pbuh) said: ‘We are an unlettered nation. Neither do we (know how to) write nor calculate. A month is such and such and such.’ (Saying that thrice he showed all his fingers of both the hands twice while) on the third time he closed his thumb (showing only nine fingers. The total thus indicated 29 days in a month). Then he said: ‘A month is such and such and such. (This time he showed thirty and did not close one finger the third time). It means the complete 30 days. It means that sometimes a month is of 29 and sometimes 30 days”. (Bukhari, Muslim)

It is evident that the Prophet (Pbuh) explained to his people that since they were unlettered and did not know a system of accurately calculating the occurrence of new moon, the surest way for them was to rely on physical sighting.

A general rule of Qur’an is ‘The conjecture avails nothing against truth’ (53:28). They were instructed to desist from conjectures and the most reliable way of knowing about the truth (the occurrence of moon) was to actually witness it. The Prophet (Pbuh) did not claim that all the future Muslims would be unlettered. There had to be pioneers of mathematics and astronomy among the Muslims. The above Hadith indicates that if there is a more reliable method of knowing the occurrence of moon, based on calculations, it should be followed.

The real emphasis is on not starting the month earlier than its actual beginning rather than on actual sighting of moon.

The Qur’an told us: “(He has created) the sun and moon for the reckoning (of time). Such is the ordinance of the Exalted in power, the Omniscient” (6:96). It also told us that the orbit and course of sun and moon is fixed. “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed” (55:5) It may be deduced from these two verses that the results of computing days and time can not have any amount of error if the exact course of sun and moon are known and there is no mistake in calculations.

Following this order we rely upon the predetermined timings of Salat and Saum, based on astronomical calculations, all over the world. Nobody insists on actually seeing the sunrise and sunset for starting and breaking of the fast. But when it comes to relying upon calculation for the occurrence of new moon, those Hadiths are quoted which emphasise upon actual sighting of the moon. I have already explained above that those orders were limited to that time when there were no absolute means of calculations available. The prediction of occurrence of moon when there were clouds on the horizon in those days would have amounted to following the conjecture. The truth was to actually witness it. Today the truth is evident and can be known by the help of accurate astronomical calculations.

It is not that we mistrust the astronomical calculations today. We believe the predictions about the solar or lunar eclipses. The experience proves that those predictions are true to the precision of a millionth part of a second. It is also not true that our Ulema totally disregard the astronomical phenomenon in respect of new moon.

Today it is being accepted that the announcement of new moon can be made if it was witnessed in nearby towns. It is also being realized today that the report of occurrence of moon at a place shall amount to its occurrence in all the towns westwards situated on the same longitude. What is surprising is that even those scholars who have knowledge of the orbits of the sun and moon are apprehensive about relying upon the calculations for the appearance of the new moon. Their apprehension is mainly based on the fact that the geographical or astronomical new moon is not sightable and it is different from Arabic word ‘Hilal’ used in Shariah.

The Qur’an said: “They ask you concerning Hilals (new moons). Say, they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for men...”

Explaining the dilemma Maulana Shams Pirzada wrote:

“In Arabic, Hilal is that initial stage of the moon which is visible on the horizon. Astronomical moon that is not visible is not called Hilal. Its technical name is ‘New Moon’. The Qur’an has made Hilal, which is visible, and not the astronomical or computable moon, the basis of determining the date. (P9, Ruyat-e-Hilal Ka Mas’ala Aur Us Ka Hal)

Hilal is that state of the new moon which can be sighted by average naked eyes. But that too should not be a problem in our adaptation of a system that is foolproof and flawless. To understand this let me first explain briefly the phenomenon of occurrence of new moon.

The moon completes its orbit around the earth in 29 days 12 hours 44 minutes 3 seconds. In every cycle it passes through a spot between the sun and the earth. On this occasion the light of the sun falling on the moon is not visible from any part of the earth as it is on the face towards the sun and away from the earth. This presence of the sun and moon in the same line with earth is called conjunction.

As soon as the moon leaves the conjunction, it can technically be seen from the earth. The state of the moon at that moment is called New Moon. But practically the moon is not visible without the aid of latest gadgets till 8-10 hours after the occurrence of astronomical new moon because the light of the sun is too bright for moon to be visible when it is in the vicinity of the line of conjunction.

The moon can be sighted after 8-10 hours of the occurrence of new moon from those parts of the earth where the sun has set. There also, it remains visible for a few minutes before being set. The moon moves one degree (1o) away from the line of the sun in two hours. It moves 4 degrees away in 8 hours. Astronomical experts are unanimous that it cannot be visible till it is at least 4 degrees away from the line of the sun. If there is will, the experts in consultation with Fiq’h scholars can fix the time duration after new moon when it would be visible by the average naked eye. At that moment in all those places on earth where the sun has set, there would start a new lunar date.

For the purpose of computation of the occurrence of Hilal at a particular place, the longitude, latitude, and also the altitude (from sea level) of that place will have to be considered. Other considerable factors, if Fiq’h scholars deemed fit, would be the duration of its visibility before being set after the sunset. For example the Fiq’h scholars may arrive at a decision that the moon should remain visible for at least 5 minutes before being set after the sunset.

Based on these calculations, the tables for the occurrence of Hilal for all the towns can be made and printed for circulation in advance just as we have the timetable of fasting times and Salat times for all the towns of the world. After that exact knowledge, it would become a conjecture if the Ramadhan or Eid were announced at a place on the basis of news from an adjacent town to its west.

On our past experience and the continuously changing tones each year over the application of scientific means, I am sure that Ramadhan and Eid would be held on the basis of exact advance information in the not too distant future.
However till a collective decision is made in this regard, the individuals must follow the prevalent system, as these occasions are congregatory in nature and spirit.


Can I Contribute Zakat to Madrassa?

Q. 1. In Ramadhan, the Maulvis of Madrasas from all over come with receipt books seeking Zakat. Though I have no means to verify their authenticity I give them from my Zakat share. What if someone comes with fake receipt books and does not deliver it to the Madrassa? Does my Zakat liability remain in such a case?

2. Can I help a poor Non-Muslim from my Zakat dues?

3. Can I make a donation to a charitable hospital from my Zakat?/p>

Ameena Farzan, Bombay

If you pay Zakat to a person who is eligible in your eyes while actually he was not an eligible recipient, your liability is cleared. However if there is a known pattern of deceivers or cheaters it is your responsibility to check their credentials before paying any one from Zakat. From your question it seems that you give your Zakat for Madrasas and the only apprehension is whether it reaches the concerned Madrasas or not. My advice is not to give your Zakat money in the name of any Madrasa unless you are personally sure it will be used in the proper heads of Zakat. Zakat cannot be spent to run a Madrasa. Masjids and Madrasas are the need of the community but the responsibility of the well-off Muslims does not end with the payment of Zakat. They have additional responsibilities of building mosques and spending in the cause of Islam. You can find the answer to all three of your questions if you know the exact heads of use of Zakat. The heads in which the Zakat is to be given have been clearly specified by Qur’an (9:60). These are following:

1. Fuqara’: Poor

2. Masakeen: Those who are extremely needy and can be recognised from the signs of need on their faces but do not ask for help due to self-respect.

3. Aamileen: Workers engaged in collection and distribution of Zakat

4. Mu’allifat-ul-Quloob: Whose hearts are to be won for Islam. They are those Non-Muslims who are soft towards Islam and spending over them could possibly result in winning their hearts for Islam. It must be clear that the bargaining is not permitted i.e. the payment of Zakat to them should not be a condition to their accepting Islam. Those new converts are also included in this head that are still on borderline. Some scholars opine that such enemies of Islam can also be helped from Zakat fund whose nuisance value can be neutralized by money.

5. Firriqaab: In the cause of those in bondage. Bonded labour in today’s world can be covered under this head. In the opinion of some scholars, such prisoners can also be freed who were imprisoned on false charges.

6. Gharimeen: Those in debt.

7. Fi-Sabeelillah: In the way of Allah. All ancient scholars agree that the use of this phrase in this verse is not general but limited for those who are fighting in the way of Allah. Later scholars see a wider scope of the phrase but it is evident that if ‘In the way of Allah’ is generalised here so as to include all good causes then there would have been no need to fix seven other separate heads beside it. Zakat Fi-Sabeelillah would have been sufficient to include the poor, needy, workers, bondsmen, in-debt and others besides all the other virtuous causes. It has been included as one of the eight heads of Zakat, which means that it has a specific meaning here. In my opinion this head is for those who fight in the cause of Allah against the enemies of Islam but the scope of fighting can be widened.

Fighting in the cause of Allah cannot in any case be against Muslims. However in modern times, there are different modes of fighting. Jihad with pen is an established concept and need. Then there is psychological warfare. Those engaged in such activities that can be termed as fighting the enemies with psychological warfare may be covered under this head. Da’wah (among Non-Muslims) activists may also be included in the list of recipients from Fi-Sabeelillah.

8. Ibn-us-Sabeel: The wayfarer.

Three more clarifications are needed for the above eight heads:

(i) Zakat is charged from Muslims only and therefore spent on Muslims only. Needy Non-Muslims could and should be helped from other Sadaqaat (alms) but Zakat money cannot be given to a Non-Muslim except those falling under category no. 4, above i.e. Mu’allifat-ul-Quloob.

(ii) Of the above categories, in case of 1,2,3,4 and 8, it is essential that the beneficiary of Zakat be made the owner of the money (or agricultural produce or other goods that have been procured as Zakat). It is not permitted to exchange them with other goods of equal value without the permission of the beneficiary of Zakat.

For example if you think that a person needs clothes you cannot purchase clothes for him from the Zakat money. You intend to give to him, without his permission granted with free will. He has to be made the owner of Zakat money and it means that it is his prerogative whether he purchases clothes with this money or not. In case of Firriqaab and Fi-Sabeelillah, both prefixed by the Arabic word ‘Fi’ [which means ‘in (the cause of)’], it is not necessary to give it to a person. It can be spent in any way in the cause of freeing the bonded or in the cause of Jihad. In case of no.6 i.e. Gharimeen or those in debt, though ‘Fi’ does not prefix the word, it is clear by implication that it has to be spent for a specific purpose. The beneficiary of Zakat in this head is under obligation to spend it towards clearing his dues. It is therefore not necessary to hand it over to him if it is feared that he will not spend it in paying his debts. Instead, it may be given directly to the creditors of his choice.

(iii) Except for Fuqara’ and Masakeen, the number 1 and 2 above, the beneficiary of Zakat need not be poor. If some one with a moderate standard of living is in debt so that his extra assets that are in addition to his basic needs are not sufficient to makeup for his liabilities, then He may be given Zakat. Those in Jihad may be strengthened by providing them money or means of fighting though they may be wealthy.

It may be clear by now that the Zakat cannot be spent on Madrasas, which do not fall under any of the eight heads fixed by the Qur’an for the purpose. To make Zakat money valid for Madrasa, a fake Tamleek (making the beneficiaries, owners) is usually feigned. The students are told that Zakat has been collected for them and since the Madrasa is doing so much for them they must donate it to Madrasa by their own free will. Though the word free will is used, the students know that they are forced to pay it.

Zakat money never reaches the hands of the students. There is still another serious malpractice in Zakat given to the representatives of Madrasas. Under head no 3 above, the representatives who collect Zakat are rightly entitled to their wages, which is to be paid to them from out of the collection. So far so good, as it is their right conferred by Islam. However very few payers know that the prevalent cut of representatives is usually 50 to 60 % of the collection made by him. This is a gross misuse of Zakat.

To be fair, they should be paid equivalent to the respectable salary of a worker for the number of days of their work. For example, if a Zakat collector has worked for 20 days, he may be paid Rs. 4000/- (@ Rs. 6000/- per month) plus his travelling and food expenses. A large number of collectors usually do not get more than that but the number of such collectors is also not small whose 50-60 % cut is in lakhs. The main point remains that even for those whose share is not so handsome, it would be lawful only when they were delivering the Zakat to the poor students instead of faking a Tamleek. There are very few institutions where the Zakat is spent under its proper heads and a Madrasa is run by donations other than Zakat.

The saddest part of all this is that nobody dares to bring this to light as an overwhelming majority of Ulema in our country wielding sway over the masses in religious and decree matters, are in some way or the other associated with the Madrasa system.


Of Purification and Maslak

Q. 1. Can we have sex with our wives in Ramadhan? If yes then when should we have the bath? What about the Sehri and Fajr prayers?

2. As we are in business it is really impossible to keep out of interest though I must mention that we do not take interest at all but have to give interest. I must also say that we have invested in various govt. bonds for legal purposes and the interest money from that is kept separate from our household and personal expenses. So how & when all can we give the interest money? Can we give bribes etc. and also airport taxes, visa exp., to Madrassas (no money to Masjids), Zakat (additional apart from the normal one which is due from us)? I hope the rest you will advise.

3. In the our ‘dialogue section’ of your monthly Islamic Voice I have sometimes noticed that the answers you give are quite similar ones to that of the people who are called the Ahle-Hadis. Please tell me who are these people or sect?

M. Aamir ; Delhi ;

A. 1. Be it Ramadhan or any other month, sex during the fasting hours when one is on fast, is prohibited. There is no bar on sex from sunset to dawn in Ramadhan. If one had sex during the permitted Ramadhan hours, the fast is not affected even if one does not take a bath before the close of Sehri time. However the Salat of Faj’r has to be offered and the Salat is not permitted in the state of needing a bath. Therefore, when the bath becomes obligatory, one should fulfill it before the time of the next Salat has expired, irrespective of any month.

2. Such interest money may be used to ward off unjust and illegal harassment against you. It should not be used as bribes in promoting those of your interests, which are unjust, for then it will be at least a threefold offense: The unjust cause, the bribe and the voluntary use of the interest money. Its use in paying your legal taxes and dues is not permitted. Once you have paid Zakat, all kinds of other alms do not fall in the category of Zakat. Most Ulema recommend that money obtained as involuntary interest should be spent in any good cause without the Niyyat (intention) of earning Sawab. It may be donated to poor or to Madrassas without any Niyat of Sawab.

3. We do not stick to any one particular Fiq’h school while answering the question in the column of Our Dialogue. The readers of Islamic Voice are from all Fiq’h Maslaks and it is not fair to impose one particular Maslak over all the readers. We consider and prefer the opinions of different Imams in different matters. In this regard we are guided by Qur’an, Sunnah, common sense and logic. We also consider the relevancy of one application of the principles of Shariah against another in today’s circumstances. Naturally, some times our opinions also tally with those of the Ahl-e-Hadith group.

Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Shafai, Imam Maalik and Imam Ahmad Bin Hambal are the four great Fiq’h scholars whom a majority of Sunni Muslims follows in Fiq’h matters. Using their wisdom, these four scholars codified the Law in the light of Qur’an, Sunnah, the practice of Sahaba (the Companions) and common sense. At times, they tried to find out the actual intention and spirit behind an action or order of the Prophet (Pbuh) and applied the principle to arrive at a decision concerning a problem. Another major school of thought besides the above four among Sunnis is Ahl-e-Hadith group who claim to follow the dictates of literal words of Hadith. They usually disregard the logic and practice of Sahaba if they find a Hadith in some matter.

Both these groups produce genuine arguments for their line of thinking but the strictness of their attitude against each other in general, needs to be corrected. I relate here an event in the life of the Prophet (Pbuh) that approves of the coexistence of both the viewpoints. Immediately after the war of Ahzaab, the Prophet (Pbuh), under instruction delivered by Hazrat Jibriel, decided to deal with Banu Quraidha, a Jewish tribe who had ditched him in the midst of Ahzaab by breaking their contract of support for Muslims. While he moved towards Banu Quraidha with his troops, he sent a small unit of Sahaba ahead of the army to secretly watch the activities of the tribe. He instructed them to move fast and told them that they should perform the Salat of As’r at a particular place near the settlement of Banu Quraidha. They rushed but before they could reach the specified spot, the time of As’r was running out. There arose a difference of opinion between the two about performing the Salat on time. Some of them said that the Prophet (Pbuh) actually meant that they should move so fast as to reach there before sunset. When he instructed them to offer Salat of As’r at the destination he did not mean that they should not offer Salat on time if they could not reach there on appointed time despite their best efforts. Others said that they would follow the words of the Prophet (Pbuh). The Prophet (Pbuh) alone knew of his intent and it was not for them to interpret the spirit behind the order. They would perform the Salat at the appointed place even if the time of As’r expired. So some of them stopped and performed the prayer while the others deferred the prayer till they reached the destination. When the incident was reported to the Prophet (Pbuh) he kept silent without commenting. The scholars interpret his silence as the approval of both i.e. those who follow the letter and those who try to find out and follow the spirit.


What is Shabe Barat?

Q. Please explain in detail the authenticity of Shabe Barat in the light of Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah.

A. Rehman Siddiqui;

A. In Arabic Bara’at means forgiveness and pardon. The night of 15th of Sha’ban (the night between 14th and 15th) has come to be known as Shab-e-Bara’at, the night of pardon from sins, probably because of a Hadith recorded by Imam Tirmizi.

There is nothing about this night in Qur’an. Imam Tirmizi has recorded the following Hadith:

“Narrated Hazrat Ayesha that one night (she awoke and) she did not find Prophet (Pbuh) (in his bed). She went out (to search for him) and found him in Baqi’ (the graveyard in Madinah)... The Prophet (Pbuh) said: In the night of 15th of Sha’ban, Allah descends to the lowest of skies and grants pardon to the people more than the number of hair of the goats of Kal’b tribe.” (Tirmizi)

After recording the above Hadith Imam Tirmizi wrote the following note underneath: “Hazrat Abu Bakr has also reported to have narrated such Hadith... I have heard Imam Bukhari saying that this Hadith is Za’eef as Hajjaj. One of the chain of its narrators is Za’eef (less reliable). (Tirmizi; Abwab-us-Saum)

.However, since according to the findings of the scholars, the above Hadith is only Za’eef (not fully reliable) and not Maudhoo’ (False), there is a chance of its being reliable. The principle laid down by the Fiq’h scholars is that a Za’eef Hadith is to be followed if nothing contradictory is found in Qur’an or any other Sahih (absolutely reliable) Hadith. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that the night should be spent in asking forgiveness especially when there are other Hadiths verifying it. There is a Hadith recorded by Ibne Maja that Hazrat Ali narrated that the Prophet (Pbuh) said: “Offer Salat in the night of 15th Sha’ban and keep fast in the day. Allah descends to the sky of the earth after sunset in this night and says: Beware! Is there someone who asks forgiveness so that I forgive him? Beware! Is there any seeking the countenance so that I bestow on him? Beware! Is there any in trouble so that I rid him of it? Beware! Is there such and such etc. It goes on till there is Faj’r.” (Ibne Maja)

Following is another Hadith from Ibne Maja:

Narrated Abu Musa Ash’ari that the Prophet (Pbuh) said: “Allah pays (special) attention to the people of the world in the night of 15th of Sha’ban and grants pardon to all (seeking His pardon) except those who ascribe partners to Him and those who keep grudge against others in their heart.” (Ibne Maja)

Some traditions stating that the fate of individuals, groups and nations is decided and sealed on this night, can be ignored as they contradict Qur’an. Qur’an has described the allocation of fate in Shab-e-Qad’r (97:1-4 & 44:3-4), which falls in the last one third of Ramadhan.


Tarawih Prayers

Q. Women who do not go to the mosque offer Tarawih Namaz at home. The 2 Rakat at a time, 20 Rakat in total. The last 10 Surah of Qur’an is recited twice, once in the first 10 Rakat and then again in the last 10 Rakat. But I do not find any such method in Sahih-al-Bukhari. Please enlighten our knowledge in the light of Qur’an & Hadis.

(Saif Yusuf ;

A. Though the Prophet (Pbuh) himself used to complete the Qur’an once in Tarawih, which he offered alone at his home and Hazrat Umar during his reign established the system of finishing Qur’an in Tarawih, there is no instruction from the Prophet (Pbuh) to this effect in particular.

The Salat of Tarawih is a Sunnah in Ramadhan. Finishing the Qur’an in Ramadhan at least once is also a Sunnah. Therefore it is preferred and Hazrat Umar established this practice that the Qur’an should be completed at least once in Tarawih

Not most of the Muslims are Hafiz. Their Qur’an is completed by their listening to it behind the Imam of Tarawih. In most mosques when the Qur’an is finished in Tarawih before the end of Ramadhan, the Hafiz specially appointed for the purpose takes leave and a non-Hafiz leads the people in Tarawih. Since the last 10 Surahs are remembered by most people, the system described by you has been devised for Tarawih for the rest of the Ramadhan days in those mosques where Qur’an has been completed once. There is nothing wrong in it. Did you find in Sahih-Al-Bukhari, any particular system of recital of Qur’an in Tarawih?

Women’s Salat at their home is preferred. As it is seldom that a woman is a Hafiz she cannot complete the Qur’an in Tarawih. She may complete it by reading from the printed Qur’an in other hours to fulfill the Sunnah. She may also follow the system devised for men in mosques where the Qur’an has once been completed in Tarawih.


Significance of Crescent Moon in Flags

Q. I am a Geography teacher in Texas and I have a question. We are studying parts of the former USSR and several nations are primarily Islamic in faith. We notice that the crescent moon is on many of the flags and figured that it is some type of symbol for your faith, similar to the cross in Christianity. So my question is, what is the symbolic importance of the crescent moon?

(Jonathan Davis ; Texas ;

A. There is no symbolic significance of the Crescent in Islam. No special event of Islamic history or faith is associated with it. People of Arabia been had associated with many superstitions concerning different forms of crescent. The answer of Qur’an to them as well as to your question is the same: “They ask you concerning crescent. Say, they are but signs to mark fixed periods of time for men...” (2:189).

With crescent, starts a new month of Islamic calendar and it is religiously important for the Muslims to keep track of moon cycles as fixed dates of the year are set for rituals like fasting and Hajj. Qur’an has recognized the importance of both solar and lunar systems of reckoning of time. “The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed (55:5) and “(God has created) the sun and moon for the reckoning (of time). Such is the ordinance of the Exalted in power, the Omniscient” (6:96). The length of a day is to be counted on the basis of earth’s revolution around its axis. Each new date starts with the sunset. The months are to be reckoned on the basis of cycles of moon, so the Islamic rituals gradually rotate in all the seasons of the year for the people of northern and southern hemispheres. A lunar year as you know is about 10 days shorter than the solar year. The length of the fasting time (from dawn to sunset) in a day in the fasting month of Ramadhan when drinking water is also prohibited during fasting, also gradually varies, with each year, for all the people of the earth. If the fasting was observed in a solar month, say January, then the length of fasting time in a day for the people of the northern hemisphere would always be shorter than for the people of the other half. The thirst of water will be no problem for northern people while their counterparts will always observe fasts in longer days of fierce summers. Keeping track of a crescent is more important for Muslims than any other religious community who follow the lunar calendar for their religious occasions. Fasting for consecutive 29 or 30 days is compulsory for all Muslims in the 9th month of Islamic Calendar. The first date of the month starts with the sunset and Taravih (Additional long prayers in the 9th month named Ramadhan) have to be started a short while after the start of the date. It is important that the starting of the month is known precisely. The crescent is visible only for a short duration after the sunset on the first date of the new lunar month. On its first date, the moon sets only a little after the sunset. Sometimes because of its faint light and sometimes because of clouds or dust it cannot be seen. The occurrence of crescent may not necessarily be announced on the basis of news from other places, as for people on eastern longitudes it might not have occurred before the moonset time while those in west had witnessed it. By traditions the Muslims have been relying on actual sighting of the moon for starting their month of Ramadhan. Similarly the first date of the 10th month is their festival of ‘Eid’. It is obligatory that nobody keep fast on the day of Eid. The Muslims all over the world anxiously try to see the moon on the evening of the 29th day of fasting in Ramadhan. Where it is not visible, the month of Ramadhan is taken as of 30 days for that place.

I have explained above, the significance of tracking the crescent for observing the religious rituals and feasts in Islam. It does not assume any symbolic significance of any kind whatsoever. There are no such symbols representing Islam like in almost all other religions. When the seat of power of the Islamic world shifted to Turks from Arabs, and Muslim dynasties spread in Central Asia and other parts of the world, many people under the cultural influence of other religions, felt the need of a distinct symbol. They started using crescent as their distinct mark. The use of crescent as a mark by some people is a gradual innovation instead of being associated with any tenet or historical event of Islam.


Is Entrance to Hell closed in Ramadhan

Q. In Ramadhan it is said that Shaitans are imprisoned and the entrance to hell is closed. Is this a saying of Qur’an or Hadith? If Shaitans are imprisoned then there should be no sins and no crimes anywhere and if entrance to hell is closed nobody, not even Mushriks, will enter into it. Does it mean that whoever, a Muslim or Mushrik, dies in Ramadhan will get pardoned? Please elaborate.

Nazar M. Sheikh, Pune

A. Hazrat Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (Pbuh) said: “When Ramadhan starts, the gates of paradise are opened and of hell closed and the devils are chained.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Ibne-Maja)

The language of the Hadith is allegorical. When you say to someone that your doors are always open for him, it does not mean that whenever he visited you he would find the doors of your house actually ajar. Similarly when you say to someone that your doors are closed for him, it does not mean that he will always find your doors actually closed.

It is a way of expression for someone being welcome or unwanted. The gates of paradise are opened and the gates of hell are closed for those who try to please Allah by observing fasts for Him. Through their own actions they make the gates of paradise open and the gates of hell closed for them. The words “When Ramadhan starts”, in Hadith should be read as “For whom the Ramadhan really starts”. Replace these words in the Hadith and its intent will become quite clear.

There is a general change of scene in Muslim localities in Ramadhan. Even those who do not keep fasts, hesitate to eat in public. The crime graph of predominant Muslim settlements in Ramadhan falls dramatically all over the world. The atmosphere is such that doing good is made easier and evil harder. When occasional Namazis enter into mosques, their friends do not sneer at them. If anyone quarrels or abuses, he faces unpleasant glances and remarks of bystanders while in other months people are usually indifferent to evildoers. Aided by this conducive atmosphere, when a devotee observes fasts for his Lord and willingly imposes extra binding over himself, he in effect chains the devil in him. He checks his evil desires and tendencies. He is not provoked to be angry. He searches for the poor and needy to help them. In this state of mind he causes the entrance to paradise opened and hell closed for him. On the other hand, the devils of those are free who cannot arrest their evil even in such atmosphere, which is so favourable for virtuous deeds.


Use of Telescope to Sight New Moon

Q. Kindly elaborate your views on the use of telescope for sighting a new moon.

A. Basheer Ahmed, Bangalore

A Hilal, in Arabic is not the astronomical new moon but the crescent that can be sighted by average naked eye. Actual astronomical new moon cannot even be seen with the help of ordinary binoculars. If the use of binoculars be permitted the question will arise as to how powerful the binocular should be. With most advanced scientific binoculars of the astronomical observatories it can be seen even a few minutes after its actual occurrence, which in any case is not Hilal. So the intent of Shariah is the occurrence of that moon which can be visible with the help of normal eyesight of a human being. When such a state is reached for a particular place, whether it is necessary to actually witness it or other means of information including computation can be used is another issue which has been discussed elsewhere.


Use of Helicopters to Sight New Moon

Q. Some people advocate the use of helicopters for sighting of new moon of Ramadhan. Is it permitted?

M. Tauseef, Durg

A. No, a specific opinion about the use of scientific means should not be made by those who do not understand the implications of the phenomenon involved. The geographical and astronomical calculations change with the change in altitude of a place. The moon can be sighted from higher places while it actually would not have occurred for lower plains. If we go still higher in space, moving away from the line of the earth and sun, the moon can be sighted even when it is in conjunction with the sun, i.e. when it cannot be seen from anywhere on earth. Both lunar and solar time and date calculations change with the altitude. It is normal and practical to go up to rooftops whose change of altitude is negligible in such calculations but the use of a helicopter will change all parameters and it should not be permitted.


Embracing During Eid

Q. What is the ideal way of embracing during Eid?

(xxx; Bangalore)

A. Expressing happiness is Sunnah on the day of Eid. Embracing thrice or once depends on the local customs of expression of happiness. I did not find in the books of Hadith any mention of embracing for Eid greetings by the Prophet (Pbuh) either thrice or once.


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