Ramadan moonfighting & Shāfiʿīc calculations

As Ramaḍān nears, people have started to ask their annual questions about the status of calculations within the Shāfiʿī school. I do not like writing about this issue because the fiqh almost ends up playing second fiddle to the politics. This two parts of this article is based on two older writings.

The first part is from old article published on the defunct Shariʿah Perspectives” blog. I wrote it while I was working at Dār al-Iftā and it is intended for general audiences.

The second part is from an email. It concerns the status of calculations within the Shāfiʿī madhhab. It is intended for students of fiqh who read Arabic and are able to do their own additional research.

Ramaḍān Moonfighting

The following points are offered with the hope that they will help reduce the confusion concerning the beginning of Ramadan. It is unfortunate that the first week of Ramadan is almost always spoiled by arguments that really should have taken place well before the month and out of view of the general public.

  • Sighting the moon is the primary means for determining the beginning of lunar months.
  • There is dispute concerning the validity of using astronomical calculations and what role they play in knowing the beginning of lunar months.
  • One of the functions of Islamic bodies which announce lunar months is to prevent disputes from occurring and to remove them if they do.
  • It is permissible and valid to follow a decision from an Islamic body provided the decision is based upon an acceptable means – even if only by a minority of scholars.
  • Preserving community unity through an accepted means — even one accepted by a minority of scholars — is preferable to causing dissent simply because one feels they chose an inferior means.
  • Objection is restricted to the matters that scholars agree are rejected; objection is not raised over matters where scholars disagree.
  • In places where an official body announces new months, compliance is mandatory unless it has been established with certainty that their decision (not their method) is wrong; and then one must still show outward compliance (for the reasons stated above).
  • For Islamic bodies responsible for announcing lunar months, I offer the following guidelines from the Organisation for Islamic Research’s 3rd conference (held in 1966):
    1. Sighting the moon is the primary means for knowing the beginning of any lunar month. Sightings, however, are not relied upon when there is strong doubt concerning the validity of the sighting.
    2. The new moon is also established if reports of the sighting are mass-transmitted or well-circulated. It can also be established through singular reports – whether from a male or female — so long there is no reason to doubt the report, such as the report contradicting trustworthy calculations made by someone who is trusted.
    3. A solitary report is binding upon the reporter and anyone who trusts him. However, it is not binding upon the masses until established by the person specified by the Islamic government for doing so.
    4. Calculations are relied upon for establishing lunar months in the absence of physical sightings and when there is no easy way to be sure that the previous month was 30 days.
    5. The council does not consider the difference in longitude between two regions to be legally significant [so a sighting in one land applies to another land] so long as both lands share some portion of the night. The difference in longitude is legally significant when regions do not share even a small portion of the night.
    6. The conference urges Islamic governments to establish Islamic bodies for establishing lunar months, and to keep in contact with one another and with astronomical observatories. [From the Azhar University fatwa collection, issued by Sheikh ʿAṭiyah Saqar, May 1997]
  • For individuals, I recommend the following:
    1. If there is a single decision-making body in your area, follow them if they determine the new month using an acceptable means.
    2. If you must choose between several bodies which announce the beginning of the month, I recommend following a body which implements the above guidelines.
    3. Differences within a community over which body to follow or which method to use must not be allowed to cause division or argument.

And Allah knows best.

Musa Furber, speaking only for himself


The status of calculations amongst later Shāfiʿī scholars

Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for an acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend.

The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.

Today, both opinions are considered valid for Shāfiʿīs to follow, though there tends to be regional preference for which Imām is followed. The people of Yemen, Indonesia, Syria, and East Africa tend to follow Ibn Ḥajar. Egypt and elsewhere tend to follow al-Ramlī.

Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī wrote in Asnā al-Maṭālib, his commentary on Ibn al-Muqriʾ’s abridgment of Imām al-Nawawī’s Rawḍat al-Ṭālibīn (may Allah grant them all from His mercy):

( ولا عبرة بالمنجم ) أي بقوله فلا يجب به الصوم ولا يجوز والمراد بآية { وبالنجم هم يهتدون } الاهتداء في أدلة القبلة وفي السفر ( و ) لكن ( له أن يعمل بحسابه كالصلاة ) ولظاهر هذه الآية وقيل ليس له ذلك والتصريح بالترجيح والتنظير بالصلاة من زيادته وصحح في المجموع أن له ذلك وإنه لا يجزئه عن فرضه وصح في الكفاية أنه إذا جاز أجزأ ونقله عن الأصحاب وصوبه الزركشي تبعا للسبكي قال وصرح به في الروضة فيما يأتي في الكلام على أن شرط النية الجزم وهو كما قال والحاسب وهو من يعتمد منازل القمر وتقدير سيره في معنى المنجم وهو من يرى أن أول الشهر طلوع النجم الفلاني وقد صرح بهما معا في المجموع

[أسني المطالب ج 5 ص 269]

This passage is extremely important in understanding the change in the school since it shows that Imām al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) did not have a single opinion on the issue. It also hints at why the post-Nawawī muḥaqqiqs of the school (i.e. al-Subkī and al-Zarkashī [may Allah grant them His mercy)] show a shift.

Shaykh al-Islām also writes in his Sharḥ al-Bahjah al-Wirdiyyah:

وخرج بأحد الأمرين ما لو عرفه أحد في منامه بقول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فلا يصح الصوم به بالإجماع وما لو عرفه حاسب ، أو منجم فلا يلزم به الصوم ولا يجوز كما نقله ابن الصلاح وغيره عن الجمهور لكن صحح في المجموع أنه يجوز لهما دون غيرهما ولا يجزئهما عن فرضيهما وصحح في الكفاية أنه إذا جاز أجزأ ونقله عن الأصحاب وصوبه السبكي

[شرح البهجة الوردية ج 7 ص 15]

The opinion is particularly common with late commentators and authors of meta-commentaries and glosses, since most of them follow the opinion of Imām al-Ramlī (may Allah grant him His mercy). This is evident in the marginal notes on the above passage:

( قوله : أنه لا يجوز لهما إلخ ) المعتمد أنه يجوز لهما بل يجب عليهما وعلى من أخبراه واعتقد صدقهما م ر ( قوله : وصحح في الكفاية إلخ ) اعتمده م ر

[شرح البهجة الوردية ج 7 ص 15]

هذا كله عند معارضة الحساب للشهود ولو كان الشاهد واحدا فإن لم تكن معارضة كما لو دل الحساب على وجود الهلال ولم تره الشهود إلا في الليلة الثانية سواء أول الشهر وآخره فالمعتمد كما نقله المحشي عن م ر أنه يجب الصوم عليهما وعلى من أخبره واعتقد صدقهما سواء في ذلك أول الشهر وآخره خلافا لمن قال : لا يعتمد قول المنجم في الفطر آخر الشهر قال سم على التحفة قال الشهاب م ر : عمل الحاسب بحسابه شامل لما إذا قطع بوجوده وامتناع رؤيته ولما إذا قطع بوجوده ورؤيته ولما إذا قطع بوجوده وجواز رؤيته ا هـ . أي فيجب عليه وعلى من صدقه العمل بمقتضى الحساب في كل حال من هذه الأحوال لكن كل ذلك عند م ر ووالده إذا لم يكن على خلاف الشهادة وإلا لم يعتبر وتقدم ما للقليوبي عن العبادي في ذلك وهل يعمل بالحساب في أوقات الصلوات استظهر سم أنه يعمل به فيها ونقله بعضهم عن شرح العباب لحجر

ٍ[شرح البهجة الوردية ج 7 ص 17-18]

As for Imām al-Ramlī himself (may Allah grant him His mercy), the text of a fatwā of his father (may Allah grant them both His mercy) is as follows:

( سئل ) عن المرجح من جواز عمل الحاسب بحسابه في الصوم هل محله إذا قطع بوجوده وبامتناع رؤيته أو بوجوده وإن لم يجوز رؤيته فإن أئمتهم قد ذكروا للهلال ثلاث حالات حالة يقطع فيها بوجوده وبامتناع رؤيته وحالة يقطع فيها بوجوده وبرؤيته وحالة يقطع فيها بوجودها ويجوزون رؤيته ؟ ( فأجاب ) بأن عمل الحاسب شامل للحالات الثلاث .

[فتاوي الإمام ج 2 ص 337]

This fatwā is the basis for his comments on the Minhāj of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant them both His mercy):

وفهم من كلامه عدم وجوبه بقول المنجم بل لا يجوز نعم له أن يعمل بحسابه ويجزيه عن فرضه على المعتمد وإن وقع في المجموع عدم إجزائه عنه ، وقياس قولهم إن الظن يوجب العمل أن يجب عليه الصوم وعلى من أخبره وغلب على ظنه صدقه ، وأيضا فهو جواز بعد حظر ، ولا ينافي ما مر لأن الكلام فيه بالنسبة للعموم .
والحاسب وهو من يعتمد منازل القمر وتقدير سيره في معنى المنجم وهو من يرى أن أول الشهر طلوع النجم الفلاني

[نهاية المحتاج ج 9 ص 293]

This opinion is affirmed in the meta-commentary:

( قوله : نعم له أن يعمل بحسابه ) قال سم على حج : سئل الشهاب الرملي عن المرجح من جواز عمل الحاسب بحسابه في الصوم هل محله إذا قطع بوجوده ورؤيته أم بوجوده وإن لم يجوز رؤيته ، فإن أئمتهم قد ذكروا للهلال ثلاث حالات : حالة يقطع فيها بوجوده وبامتناع رؤيته .
وحالة يقطع فيها بوجوده ورؤيته .
وحالة يقطع فيها بوجوده ويجوزون رؤيته .
فأجاب بأن عمل الحاسب شامل للمسائل الثلاثة ا هـ .

[نهاية المحتاج ج 9 ص 297]

And finally, Imam al-Bajūrī’s gloss on Ibn Qāsim’s Fatḥ al-Qarīb bi-Sharḥ Ghāyat al-Taqrīb (may Allah grant the three His mercy) which is one of the most recent great works of scholarship in the school:

ولا يجب الصوم بقول المنجم، وهو من يرى أن أول الشهر طلوع النجم الفلاني، لكن له بل عليه أن يعمل بقوله وكذلك من صدقه ومثل المنجم الحاسب، وهو من يعتمد منازل القمر في تقدير سيره ولا عبرة بقول من قال أخبرني النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم في النوم بأن الليلة أول رمضان لفقد ضبط الرائي لا للشك في الرؤية.

[حاشية الباجوري على ابن قاسم الغزي، بداية كتاب أحكام الصيام]

I hope, bi idhnillah, that the above shows that starting with Imam al-Nawawi (may Allah grant him His mercy), the validity of calculations for personal use has been accepted within the Shāfiʿī school.

A widely accepted reliable opinion within one of the four schools should not be labelled as unsound nor innovation. Yet that is done repeatedly by folks and institutions who issue categorical statements about the Shāfiʿī madhhab that cling to one view in the madhhab that does not have universal support amongst the late referent scholars of the school. If those scholars are not among the ones we look to for knowing the school, who, pray tell, is?