I was in Syria at the start of Ramadan and I saw the crescent of the new month on Thursday night. At the end of the month, I went to Madinah and Ibn `Abbās asked me when we saw the crescent moon. I told him: “We saw it on Thursday night.”
He asked: “Did you see it yourself?”
I replied: “Yes, I did. And the people saw it, so they fasted and Mu`āwiyah fasted.”
He said: “However, we saw it on Friday night, and we shall continue to fast until we either complete thirty days or see the crescent of the new month.”
I said: “Do you not find sufficient the sighting and fasting of Mu`āwiyah?”
He said: “No. This is how Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) had commanded us.”
24 May 2016
This is an authentic hadith, related in Sahīh Muslim and other sources.
Its Legal Implications:
This hadith is relevant to an issue that has become a major point of disagreement among scholars and lay people today. This is whether people should follow a global sighting of the moon or a local one to determine the beginning and end of the month of Ramadān.
This hadith supports the view, which I consider to be the strongest one, that each land should rely upon its own sighting, especially when there is a discrepancy in the time of sunrise as there is in the case between countries that are far away from each other.
Al-Nawawī writes in his commentary on this hadīth: “The only reason Ibn `Abbās did not act upon Khurayb’s report is because a sighting does not have any legal effect on those who are remote from its place of occurrence.” [Sharh Sahīh Muslim (7/197)]
Therefore, the practice of the this Companion establishes that each locality should act upon its own sighting, with each country following, on its own, the command to fast and break the fast when they see the first crescent moon. This is how Ibn `Abbās understood the Prophet's command.
However, other opinions are also valid, which look to the generality of the order to sight the crescent Moon, without specifiying this locality or that.
And Allah knows best.
A Word of Caution:
In any event, I must emphasize that what is most important is that the people in your locality do not become divided on the issue, whatever approach they decide to follow for determining the beginning of Ramadān and the day of Eid.
This issue has most regrettably divided many Muslim communities, especially among those Muslims living within non-Muslim countries. It is imperative and legally obligatory for the Muslim masses in a given land along with their scholars to agree on the method of determining the start of Ramadan and the time of the Eid prayers.
If it is decided in your country, according to the recommendation of your scholars, to follow Mecca, then that is what every Muslim living there has to do.
In such a scenario, when it is announced that Ramadan has started – even if it is very late at night – then it becomes permissible for the Muslims to offer the Tarāwīh prayers. These prayers can be offered at any time before the arrival of dawn. If people on the first night have to pray this prayer at home on their own, then this also poses no problem. The matter is quite flexible.