When did the Moon-Sighting Committee begin? Has there ever been an error in one of its statements?
The Moon-Sighting Committee has been operating continuously since 2007, and it has been issuing its announcements monthly without interruption by the grace of God Almighty. With all praise to God, not a single error has ever been recorded during its operation. On the other hand, updates are sometimes provided afterwards, because new relevant information or data is received after the issuance of the first statement.
Sometimes members of the Moon-Sighting Committee are affiliated with other jurisprudential authorities or at least do not emulate the supreme religious authority. Does this not cause a contradiction between the views of the members and what the statement declares according to the jurisprudential view of the supreme religious authority?
The Moon-Sighting Committee is a component of the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America. The members of this Council are diverse with respect to whom they emulate and the jurisprudential views they adopt, because the Council is inclusive of all scholars, preachers, and imams of local mosques and does not restrict membership based on jurisprudential affiliation. Hence, it is normal for the active committees, including the Moon-Sighting Committee, to be diverse in their makeup.
On the other hand, the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars and the Moon-Sighting Committee function based on a charter that always stipulates adherence to the verdicts of the supreme religious authority in religious matters; this is in order to preserve the unity and cohesion of the followers of Ahl al-Bayt (pbut). Emulation, affiliation, or representation of a specific religious authority is a personal matter for a member, but when it comes to the community and the direction of the Council, members put their personal views aside and everyone abides by the opinion of the supreme religious authority.
The Moon-Sighting Committee addresses the believers throughout North America. However, more than once announcements have been released at times when sunset in some West Coast cities, like Los Angeles or Seattle, has not yet occurred. What if the crescent was sighted after sunset in these cities?
Yes, this may happen, and there is no problem with that. The reason is based on one of two factors:
- When reliable astronomical calculations confirm that there is no possibility of sighting the crescent in those areas, there is no need to wait [to release the announcement]. Moreover, if the sighting of the crescent is established in another area that does not share the same horizon with Seattle or Los Angeles, then establishment of that sighting would not apply to them anyway. This has happened multiple times and the announcements are made accordingly based on this experience.
- When the unity of the horizon is achieved in accordance with the jurisprudential principles adopted by Sayyid al-Sistani (may God prolong his life), sighting the crescent in an area will be considered horizontally united with all other areas that share the same crescent altitude and degree of light. This appears in a semi-oval shape on maps published on astronomical sites. Consequently, the logical conclusion is that all areas of the same horizon can be identified hours before sunset, if the sighting of the crescent is established based on religious criteria, even if it exists in the Middle East or Australia. Click here to view the statement issued by the office of His Eminence al-Sayyid al-Sistani in Najaf, which delineates the horizon in the west, including North America.
Sometimes the sighting of the crescent is confirmed in an area and the imam of the area announces it as such, adding that there were witnesses [locally]. However, the Moon-Sighting Committee did not take these testimonies into account or consider them. This raises questions and doubts [about the practices of the committee]. What is your comment on that?
Acceptance of a crescent sighting testimony is subject to jurisprudential criteria and not personal preferences, desires, or relationships. As such, there are very precise protocols that are binding upon the members of the Moon-Sighting Committee to avoid any violation of Islamic rules, which can result in loss of religious legitimacy and trust among the believers. For this reason, the Moon-Sighting Committee takes several steps in verifying the sighting of the crescent, including the following:
First: The crescent sighting testimony must not be from an area where doing so is deemed impossible based on accurate astrological calculations. Such testimony would in fact be unreasonable.
Second: There must be a reasonable probability for sighting the crescent according to the area’s forecast; thus, alleging that the crescent has been sighted in a cloudy area is not acceptable.
Third: Two just (adil) men must make the testimony (i.e., being just as the criteria). Therefore, testimony by two reliable (thiqa) men, or a man and his wife, or a father and his non-baligh son, and similar examples, are not acceptable.
Fourth: If two just men claim that they have sighted the crescent, their testimony must not conflict with the prevailing testimony of others in that area who went out to sight the crescent at a time when the sighting was possible (e.g., at a time when the sky was clear and the atmosphere was suitable [for sighting]). In this case, accepting the claim of the two just men is problematic and, hence, cannot be religiously adopted.
Fifth: It is not a binding proof on anyone else if [only] one person claims to have sighted the crescent and is convinced of the fact. As such, would it be permissible for a person, for example, an imam of a local mosque, to usurp the will of the community and force the believers to break their fast on a day of his choosing, justifying that it is Eid and that it is unlawful to fast, when in actuality it may end up being a day of the month of Ramadan?
Does the Moon-Sighting Committee cooperate with others who do not want to join the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars in North America?
The matter of establishing the crescent sighting is not related to being a member of the Council nor to any other reason. Instead, it is established in accordance with religious criteria. Therefore, whenever the sighting meets religious standards, and accurate and useful data that engender certainty or contentment become available, it is accepted from anyone.
Is there any objection to having multiple moon-sighting committees in different regions given that North America is so large?
There seems to be no need for this, because there should be no objection if the committee members are among the pious and righteous scholars [from various parts of the continent]. Furthermore, no one has absolute powers to prevent anyone from doing this work. Thus, the Moon-Sighting committee acts voluntarily for the sake of God to help the believers by identifying the start of lunar months. The formation of this committee occurred because of the divisions and chaos [in our communities] in North America. The Crescent Committee’s statements are not religiously binding on anyone.
However, anyone who trusts the members of the Moon-Sighting Committee and receives contentment from their statements may act accordingly. Hence, multiple moon-sighting committees do not appear to be a problem if they operate according to religious criteria and not suspicions or personal preferences. It is expected [that any such] committees will simultaneously work for the purpose of good and avoiding contradiction, because this defeats the purpose and creates division and sedition among believers. Worse still is the confusion that occurs with respect to religious rulings.
In addition, there may not be a need for these multiple sighting committees if it is regarded as a matter of personal desire, because there is a body that performs this function voluntarily with complete competence, knowledge, clarity, and transparency in accordance with precise Islamic rulings.