The Principles of Announcing the Monthly Crescent Sightings by
The Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America
OUR PRINCIPLES OF CRESCENT MOON-SIGHTING:
Based on the Holy Quran and the authentic Sunnah, all of the Supreme Islamic jurists among whom there is consensus, since the time of the occultation of Imam Mahdi (ajfs) until the present, agree that the crescent moon-sighting is only confirmed through the ability to see it with the naked eye.
BETWEEN JURISPRUDENCE AND ASTRONOMY:
In the age of information technology and accuracy in astronomical calculations, the following question arises: “Why do jurists not depend on astronomical research and predictions?”
The jurists responded with detailed studies from which we briefly cite the following points:
- The jurists believe that when Allah states, “And they ask you about the crescents, tell them that they are time references for people and for the hajj [pilgrimage]” the verse addresses people in general and serves to direct them to take the crescent as a reference point for the start of the religious months. However, since Allah Almighty and His prophet (pbuh&hp) did not instruct us to depend on the opinions of the astronomers then it would be unwise to do so, despite astronomy being an ancient science that is both well-known and pre-Islamic.
- The jurists point out that the Holy Quran mentions the word “crescents,” and not the “moon,” for the crescent is one of the phases of the moon cycle. It is when the moon is in a specific location and angle between the sun and the earth. Therefore, it is essential that we do not confuse the two terms, for one represents the state of the moon at a specific phase of its cycle that is referred to as the “crescent,” while the other is a culmination of the calculations of moon movements known for thousands of years and will remain for as long as Allah pleases.
- Undoubtedly, the jurists pay special attention to all the latest news and scientific advancements, and they utilize them as long as the findings do not contradict the religious texts. For example, the jurists accept the opinion of astronomers when they state that there is no possibility of a sighting. Furthermore, the jurists accept the opinion of astronomers when they predict that the crescent sighting can be sighted in clear conditions if the opinion gives contentment, and there are no atmospheric barriers such as dust or smoke. The problem here is not with the jurists, it is with the astronomers who have tremendous differences amongst themselves in assessing the time most suitable for the possibility of a sighting. Furthermore, they emphasize the difficulty in even attaining contentment. Refer to the following link: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/crescent.php
- The jurists point out that the issue they have with proving the crescent moon sighting using a telescope, or similar devices, is attributed to the meaning of the verse of “And they ask you about the crescents.” The meaning is explicit in that by using the absolute form in its address, it addresses all people with respect to the crescent moon sighting. This means that it is seen through means that are within the normal capabilities of the general public, which is the use of the naked eye, the most common and readily available manner with which to see the crescent. The verse does not specifically address a particular group, such as astronomers, who use other methods that are inaccessible to the general public. As a result, using the telescope as a primary method to view the moon is considered a burden that is not expected of a follower. Furthermore, such technology might cause a discrepancy if one were aware that the technology is capable of showing the moon even if it was in its new moon phase, which cannot be seen at all by normal vision, and even when it is blocked by the rays of the sun. To clarify, this is analogous to one who wants to pray but their shirt has a blood stain on it. Washing the shirt so that the red stain is no longer seen is considered Islamically sufficient. If the person were to view that same area under a microscope, they would still be able to see the redness of the blood. The question is whether we are expected to use the microscope to determine the purity of the shirt or whether the religious ruling of using the naked eye is sufficient.
THE UNITY OF HORIZONS AND THE MULTIPLICITY OF HORIZONS:
The question that is repeated every year is whether the sighting of the moon in one area of the world applies to the rest of the world, such that all can be unified on one day of Eid. In jurisprudence, the terms used to describe this are “the unity of horizons” or “the multiplicity of horizons.” Jurists have differed on this issue based on differences in their juristic derivation and principles. There are those who have the juristic opinion of the unity of horizons, while others have the juristic opinion of the multiplicity of horizons.
- The Unity of Horizons
The phrase “unity of horizons” means that if the sighting in one area of land fulfills the proper religious criteria and is therefore confirmed, then it will apply to the rest of the lands that share the night with the area of the original sighting. This was the verdict of the late Grand Ayatollah al-Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei (d. 1992). Others followed suit, such as His Eminence Ayatollah Shaykh Hossein Wahid al-Khorasani, and His Eminence Ayatollah Shaykh Isaac al-Fayadh, although their verdicts actually define a smaller geographic area that shares the night than al-Sayyid al-Khoei’s. Others may also have had the same juristic opinion.
For example, if a sighting was confirmed in New York, U.S.A., since it shares the night with London, U.K., the next day would be the start of the lunar month for both cities.
- The Multiplicity of Horizons
The “multiplicity of horizons” means that every area of land has its own specific horizon. This means that even if a sighting is confirmed in one area, it does not necessarily mean that it is confirmed in other areas. For the sighting to be proven in other areas of land, it must fulfill the conditions that the size and the altitude of the crescent are approximately the same in both areas. This view has been adopted by many jurists, including His Eminence Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. Click here for details. In addition, one can compare the altitude and the size of the crescent between two cities by using the following link: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php
- The Results:
Based on the preceding information, the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America announces the beginning of the lunar months based upon the crescent moon sighting verdict of the jurist who is most followed on a worldwide basis, His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani. The committee instructs those who follow other jurists to refer to the jurist whom they emulate.
THE PROTOCOL FOR THE MONTHLY RELEASE:
- The members of the Crescent Committee study the state of the crescent both astronomically and mathematically to ascertain the expected areas in which the crescent may be sighted.
- The members of the committee make several phone calls to religious scholars, preachers, and trusted believers in the expected areas of crescent sighting. This is done in an effort to help them prepare and organize for the expected crescent sighting.
- The Crescent Committee receives phone calls from the believers to obtain news of their sightings.
- On the night of the sighting, the committee holds a phone conference that may last late into the night due to the differences in the time of sunset between the East and West Coasts in North America.
- Once the committee is comfortable with the religious confirmation of the sighting, a release is drafted and published via the Internet.
WHAT WE EXPECT FROM THE BELIEVERS:
To uphold piety and the sanctity of the community, and in the hope of being organized in our affairs, we expect that the believers, may Allah elevate their status, will be attentive to the following points:
- Show understanding with respect to the differences in opinions when it comes to scientific research; the opinions of the jurists are included within this principle. We can expect to see a number of opinions because there is more than one jurist. One such example is the issue of the unity of horizons and the multiplicity of horizons. Therefore, we hope that all the believers accept and embrace this diversity in juristic opinions just as they accept diversity in their everyday lives. We also hope that coercion is not used to try to convince others of their own beliefs.
- Allow the believers to practice their religious rituals without monopolization of the mosques and Islamic centers by a specific group. Houses of worship belong to Allah, for as he says, “Surely, the mosques are Allah’s.” Therefore, we advise allowing others to perform the Eid rituals if there are multiple opinions on the day of Eid. There is no harm in having a general announcement of the day of Eid which reflects the majority opinion while allowing the minority to perform the rituals on their day of Eid.
- For those who would like to know the day of Eid in advance so that they may take vacation time, it is recommended that they look at websites that show the astronomical predictions for the crescent moon sighting that include the two most probable days in which the sighting will occur and take both days off. This will allow for a longer holiday, which will surely bring a great deal of pleasure to their family.
- In consideration of the feelings of other family members who may emulate a different jurist, we ask for cooperation in being part of the solution to this issue (which is a result of the occultation of the Imam [p]) and that it not be made into a reason for conflict within the family. Traveling the legal (religious) distance outside of one’s city limit is a suitable and religiously acceptable solution, and the fast can be made up at a later date.
WHY A CRESCENT COMMITTEE?
At the seventh annual conference of the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America, the idea of forming a crescent committee was suggested, voted upon, and passed unanimously because of increased divisions and conflicts (a consequence of the lack of understanding of religious verdicts and juristic opinions) between faithful believers on the issue of determining Eids and other religious events. This meant that each member would annually recommend a few members to research the issue of the crescent moon on a monthly basis and provide e-mail releases to help educate the believers on the topic of the beginning of every lunar month. In addition, it would cater to the majority who are following the grand jurist of the sect in every era.
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE CRESCENT COMMITTEE RELEASES
The Crescent Committee ensures that their releases are non-binding on any party. Each person must follow the verdicts of the jurist that they emulate or those with the expertise in determining the subjects of such verdicts. The Crescent Committee is merely a volunteer effort that is sincere in its servitude to Allah (swt) and serves to help the faithful believers who trust its members and use them to determine the beginnings of the lunar months. Its aim is to educate the general public so that it can prevent differences and reduce separation among believers.
HOW ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE SELECTED?
Selection is done through the recommendations of the participants in the annual conference of the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North America, with the approval of the members. In addition to having knowledge of the jurisprudence surrounding this topic and being precautions in nature, other criteria include reflection of geographical and ethnic diversity, allowing all members of society within the geographical areas of North America to be represented equally.
WHY ARE THE OPINIONS OF OTHER JURISTS NOT ANNOUNCED?
The Crescent Committee is part of the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars of North
America; as such, the committee refers to the Highest Religious Authority who is emulated by the majority of believers globally. This is done to ensure that objectives are met without coming to a halt due to differences in verdicts.
As for the remaining followers, they should follow their respective jurists.
 The ability to see might not mean the actual viewing of the crescent. For example, a nearby city views the crescent moon, and my city and that city share viewing horizons, such that if my city sees the crescent they will too and vice versa. But because there are clouds in my city and none in theirs, they see the crescent, and we do not see it in our city. Therefore, if it had not been for the clouds, we would have seen it in our city.
 A state in which one does not have complete certainty, however, one does have enough information to lead the person to feel comfortable or content with its accuracy.
 Islamic law.
 “Juristic opinion” refers to their juristic derivation.