Even before Muhammad ibn Abdullah [peace be upon him (pbuh)] became the prophet, it was well known practice of using lunar calendar by the Arabs and Ramadan was one of the month. It was well known that lunar months were either 29 days or 30 days. When Qur'an Ayah (2:185) was revealed, it said, "When you witness the month of Ramadan, fast for it". Islam prescribed Ramadan for fasting month, because fasting was prescribed for the Ummah even before, so that Muslims can obtain piety (Taqwa) and Qur'an was revealed in this month, so it was chosen for attaining Tqawa and fasting.
Lunar calendar and Ramadan did not start by Deen-e-Islam (Madhhab). They were known to Mushrikeen of Makkah. Fasting for the month of Ramadan started even when the practice of Nasi' (interjection of a month) had been going on. Beginning of Ramadan is not a religious matter. It is just like a special prayer was prescribed on the day of Jumu'ah, while the day of Jumu'ah was not a matter of Deen (Madhhab). Similarly, the lunar calendar and a month of Ramadan in it were already known to Arabs. Fasting in that month was prescribed, but when Ramadan comes was not a matter of Deen; it was a matter of observed repeated patterns, science, and astronomy. When Allah (SWT) said, "When you witness the month of Ramadan, fast for it", a doubt was possible that Muslims may insists that we should fast 30 days not less than that, because 30 days month was known as "kaamil" or complete month and 29 days month was known as "Naaqis" or incomplete. So, some people thought the blessed month of Ramadan should be a "Kaamil" month of 30 days. To clarify this, the Prophet (pbuh) said what is in the famous Hadith, which starts with, "Ashshahru tis'un wa ishroon fa soomu li-ru'yatihi wa aftiru li-ru'yatihi fa in ghumma alaikum faqduru lah......", meaning the month is 29 days so if you see the moon start or end your fasting. Sahabah in those days were thinking that month of Ramadan should always be 30 days, to get the most rewards. The Prophet (PBUH) clarified that you don't have to complete 30 days of fasting; month can be 29 days. This was the context of this Hadith.
What has happenned is that in the narrations, a mistake occurerd (not intentional) by some narrators to omit the first part of the Hadith, "Ashshahru tis'un wa ishroon", which has caused the totally different interpretation of the Hadith. In the context of this Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) explained that do not stress to have the 30 days of Ramadan, if the moon is seen on 29th day, start the next month. If moon was not seen on 29th day, and on the 30 days it was not seen due to clouds, then start the month even though moon was not seen. This means that seeing the moon was not necessary condition; estimation or calculation of 30 days is another condition that can start the month, because it was commonly known by obserbation and experience that the lunar month cannot be more than 30 days.
Hadith does not mean that sighting is neceassary for starting a month. Sighting the moon is not a religious matter. Calendar making is not a matter of "Deen" or is not the responsibility of Ulamaa' as long as the calendar is lunar; rather it is the responsibility of those who have the "Ilm" (knowledge) of heavenly bodies, movement of the sun, moon and earth. It is not a religious matter; it is the responsibility of State or government, who must use experts of astronomy to come up with a lunar calendar for the society or the country.
The calendar is not the problem of Deen (madhhab). To start a month whatever means are available (to be sure that moon cycle has completed) should be used. If the science has given a better means to ascertain that the new month has begun, then that should be used. Just like the prayer times were found by observations in Prophet's time, and we use watches now and calculations, similarly, we can use scientific instruments and knowledge for the certainty of beginning of a month. Sighting was not the necessary condition to start the month. If scientifically with certainty we know that the birth of moon has occurred then after that whatever method or condition seems satisfactory, it should be used. This would be 100% correct according to Deen (Madhhab). This problem of determining the beginning of a month is not the problem of Deen (madhhab); it is totally scientific question and should be handled accordingly. Although, this interpretation is given by a few, while majority of Muslims consider that the moon sighting is the requirement.
To conclude, we stress what should be done is that two types of efforts should continue:
- We should educate the masses about the interpretation and implications of this Hadith.
- In the interest of the unity of the Ummah, until an acceptable solution for calculations is found, we continue doing what the Muslim masses and Ulamaa' are doing right now. We should understand that the ruling on the matter of starting the month should be based on the injunction, "Amrahum Shura bainahum". The society as a whole or the country's religious authorities should find a solution. We cannot put Muslim Ummah in a chaotic situation; we must develop this understanding that this problem is not the problem of Deen (madhhab); it is the problem of science and astronomy and it should be solved accordingly by scientists and astronomers. This should be solved at the government and country level.
Hadith: "Ashshahru tis'un wa ishroon fa soomu li-ru'yatihi wa aftiru li-ru'yatihi......" Explained by a Pakistani well known Scholar Javed Ghamidi in Urdu