Liaison office of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Al Sistani (L.M.H.L) in London, Europe, North and South America.
In the Name of Allah
Thanks are due to Allah, the Master of the Worlds and prayers and peace are upon Mohammad and the pure members of his Household.
Because of the increasing demand from the speakers of the English language for an English version of Aytullah, Sayyid as-Sistani’s book- (May Allah prolong his life)- Quries about sighting the crescent and replies to them, that was published by his Office in the holy city of an-Najaf, it has been decided to have it translated in many languages for Muslims whose mother tongue is not Arabic. This English version is at your hands, asking our Almighty, the Exalted, to direct us to the best that serves Islam and Shia Sect; He is the One Who grants success.
Imam Ali Foundation
London 24th of the Holy Month of Ramadan 1433H.
What is meant by the Unity of the horizons and their differences in sighting the crescent?
As we are about to say farewell to the holy month of Ramadan and Eid is about to start, we have been asked as usual by emails and orally about the evidence of confirming the day of Eid, and the difference in opinion between the late Sayyid al-Khoei who has adopted the unity of the horizons and Sayyid as-Sistani who confirms that horizons are different and the scientific evidence and the legal one for this issue which is not very clear to some.
This booklet which has been published by the Office of his Eminence Sayyid as-Sistani in an-Najaf in the form of queries and replies to them with some addition outlines this issue.
In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful, and prayers and peace are on al-Mustafa and the pure members of his household.
The disagreement in opinion between the two prominent Scholars (Ulama), the Late Sayyid al-Khoei and Sayyid as-Sistani (May Allah give him a long life) about considering the unity of the horizons for sighting the crescent or not is based on three reasons. They are as follow:
1-Is the phenomenon of the crescent a unique or relative one?
The Late sayyid al-Khoei has stated in (al-Minhaj) that there is a difference between the phenomena- of the sunset and its sunshine- and the crescent. The former is relative because it is as different as the places on earth because the earth is spherical and its rotation around its axis, but the latter is stationary because when the moon is directly facing the sun, I.e. in the waning position, it cannot be seen from any spot on earth, and when it comes out of the waning position a new lunar month starts and this cannot be as many as the places on earth.
And Sayyid as-Sistani (May Allah prolong his life) states that the phenomenon is relative because the moon is in one state (a full moon) because if it is observed from a point between the sun and the earth it will be seen as a full moon. So, the appearance of the crescent is a description for the moon by the one who sights it from the earth because the moon is always in one state, and because of this, the late Sayyid al-Khei has added that when the moon comes out from the waning position it initiates the start of a new lunar month for the countries that share in part of the night and it is not the start of the lunar month for all countries on earth. This means that the start of the lunar month is relative and it is as different as night and day for the places on earth and it is not the same.
2-As the rules mentioned in the legal texts have been left to the common practice to act on them, then the source of judgement on the subject matters mentioned in the legal texts- the holy Qur’an, the prophet’s traditions have been left to be identified by the common practice and not by the actual identification. For example, the subject matter of blood that legal texts have identified as impure (Najis) does not mean the real blood even it cannot be seen by eyes but blood that can be felt by the sense, as in the case of change of purity to impurity of the water which drops of blood or urine have fallen in. The change to impurity does not occur unless the water that is kept is a big container (kurr) has changed, and what is meant by the change is the change in colour, taste or smell that can be here felt by the senses and not the actual change that cannot be felt by the sense. The same applies to the matter of the month referred to in the legal texts, as Allah has revealed in this Qur’anic verse, “So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting.” The reference here is to the month known to the Arabs that lies between two crescents and not the astronomical month which starts at the moment the moon begins coming out from the waning position but cannot been seen from earth, but the crescent that can be seen by the naked eyes and Allah confirm this in this Qur’anic verse, “They ask thee concerning the New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for Pilgrimage.” So the crescent becomes a sign for identifying a ‘fixed period’ when it is visible enough to be seen. So, if the traditional month is the one that is identified by the common practice starts from the moment the crescent being visible enough to be seen by the naked eyes, the coming out of the moon from the waning position cannot be considered as the start of the month.
3- If it is assumed that the beginning of both the astronomical month and the traditional month, the one it is identified by the common practice, starts from the moment the moon coming out from the waning position, does this apply to the legal month? Because the issue to be judged sometimes has a natural existence and legal one as in the ‘son’ case because, for example, a son can be identified naturally and by the common practice as the one who is born from a semen of a man but the ‘legal son’ is the one who is born as a result of a marriage contract between a man and a girl or a woman. So, is the legal month the same as the astronomical one or not?
Late Sayyid al-Khoei states here, though the legal month is different from the astronomical one as the latter does not confirm the legal month because the start of the legal month is only confirmed by sighting the crescent with naked eyes in one of the countries that shares the same night and both share the horizon unity because if the crescent is sighted in a country, the start of the legal month begins in all countries that share the night, even if the sharing is very partial, i.e. half an hour because of the two pieces of evidence below
A- The narrations that have tackled with the confirmation of the month such as the reliable narrations of Ishaq Bin Amar p.11 and Abi Basir p.10 is that the rule for the people of prayers and people of al-Amsar is one and the start of the month does not differ because of different horizons, and when two rightful witnesses from any country testify that the crescent was sighted by them, their testimony is considered for the start of the month.
B- The texts about the night of Eid and the Night of Power such as “I ask You in this day that You have made it Eid to the Muslims.” That confirms the night of Eid is one for all Muslims, and “We sent it down during a Blessed Night”, and “In the (Night) is made distinct every affair of wisdom.” These are clear proofs that the Night of Power is unique and one for all people on earth because the Qur’an was revealed on that night so it is and not many, and the deciding time for people’s fate and decisive affairs cannot be as many as the number of the horizons.
However, Sayyid as-Sistani (May Allah prolong his life) states these two things:
A-What can be concluded from the narrations and the Imams’ practices during their lives is that the start of the legal month is related to sighting the crescent on the horizon of the country of the ‘Mukalaf’ -See the authentic narration of Abi Ali Bin Rahid P.8, which means that the legal month has begun on Thursday in Medina or Baghdad, though according to the astronomic calculation, the crescent of the night of Wednesday, coinciding with 20th of March 847 Gregorian, was visible enough to be seen in Africa. See also the report of Mu’mar Bin Khalaad, p.8 which means that the Imam, and because of the absence of an obstacle on the horizon of his country, has asserted that the night of that day is of Sha’ban, though it was late night in his country and the crescent was possible to be seen in another country.
It may be claimed that the Imams have not used the knowledge to find about ‘the unseen’, though they have ability to do so, they have followed the apparent standards because the possibility of sighting the crescent in a country sharing the night with the imam’s does not require the knowledge of finding out the unseen but could be realised by having experience about the countries and their conditions as the possibility of sighting the crescent depends on three things:
1-The the degree of the rise of the crescent from the horizon
2-The distance of angle of the crescent to the sun
3-The size of the luminous of the crescent to the largest circumference of it
These astronomical data have been known since that time, though scientific progress in recent time makes things more precise; the difference between the two times is not vast. However, it can be noted that the evidence the late Sayyid al-Khoei referred to in one the two narrations has looked at the supposition of doubting the start of the moth because he mentioned the cloudy sky -“the Arabic verb ‘ghmaa’” means the sky has been covered with clouds, and the doubt about the start of the month supposes the possibility of sighting the crescent but cannot be seen because of the presence of an obstacle in the sky, but this not conditional that the crescent cannot be sighted in another country.
The other narration is a clarification that he considers compensating the doubtful day as an obligation if the Mukalaf has not fasted it when there are rightful testimony for sighting the crescent and is not for clarification that sighting the crescent in a country sharing the night with the country of the Mukalaf is enough evidence that it can be seen in the country of the Mukalaf.
The expressions regarding Eid day and the Night of Majesty does not refer to the unity of the day and the night for all Muslims because Sayyid al-Khoei states that the start of the legal month is confirmed for the countries sharing the same night and not for all countries of the Muslim land and Eid day and the Night of Power would be repeated in the second hemisphere.
It is clear what is meant is the unity of the day and the untiy of night is relative unity rather than the unique one.
For example, if the Night of Power is the night of Monday, it starts from the beginning of sunset of the day of Sunday to sunrise of the dawn of Monday, and the Eid day from dawn of a certain to the last rise of it.
It is clear that it is not provisional if the crescent has been sighted in an Eastern country to be seen in the country that lies to west of it unless both of them are close in the degree of the latitude and the difference is one or two degree because the distance of rise on the horizon is connected to the sighting of the crescent which is different from one country to another and the age of the crescent from its birth to the sunset is not enough.
The difference in opinion about the evidence of the lunar month is inescapable because the jurists (fuqaha) have different evidence about the start of the lunar month, and each person has to adopt the opinion of the scholar (Marj’ he follows in executing his religious duties as in other religious matters which jurists have different opinions about . True believers must accept the difference in opinion and this issue must not be a source of disputes and dissatisfaction among Muslims, and if the social necessity or any other reason forces an individual to break-fasting in that day, the one who is still fasting because of the opinion of Marj’ to travel the legal required distance that allows him to break-fasting to celebrate Eid with his community and compensate for that day later, though our Ulma try their utmost efforts to make Muslims celebrate Eid in one day if the legal evidence allow them to do so in order to relieve themselves in front of Allah, the Glorified, the Exalted.
We hope success for the true believers and Allah may accept their fasting and make the day of Eid a blessed happy one.
Peace, the mercy and the bounties of Allah are upon you
Imam Ali Foundation, peace be upon him- London
27th of Ramadan 1433
1- For example, some jurists allow the immersion of the whole body in waters (Irtimas) in Ramadan and do not think it causes break fasting contrary to other jurist who think it causes break-fasting, and some jurists think that wearing things made of gold both yellow and white is not allowed for men; while other allow it. This disagreement in opinion among jurists about some issues is normal. It is worth noting that Sayyid as-Sistani has different opinions about a number of issues from his teacher.