Concerning the start of Ramadan and 'Id al-Fitr
All praise is due to Allah, peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and all his Companions.
Many questions are asked by the brothers in Britain concerning how one assures the start of the month of Ramadan and its end. So how is a Muslim supposed to start fasting and what course is he to follow?
It is because of these questions that this clarification becomes necessary, so we say, and Allah is the One, without any partner, Who grants accord and aids to arriving at what is correct:
The Muslims in this country and others like it which are not ruled by the Islamic Law differ greatly concerning how to assure the start of the month of Ramadan and how to determine that it has ended and Shawwal / 'Id al-Fitr have started:
Some follow the opinion that the new moon must be sighted or Sha'ban must be completed as thirty days in order to assure the start of Ramadan and the same goes in order to assure the start of Shawwal. This is the correct position and there is no doubt concerning this due to the large number of evidences supporting it and it is the opinion of the majority of Muslims amongst the Companions and succeeding generations. The Prophet SallAllahu 'Alaihi wa-sallam said, "fast when you see [the moon] and cease fasting when you see it, and if it is hidden or cloudy, complete the counting of Sha'ban as thirty days," agreed upon being reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah ?.
Others follow the opinion that astronomical calculations should be employed in order to assure the start and end of Ramadan.
Others follow the opinion that they should follow the sighting of their homeland or the country from which they arrived here.
Some of the Muslims, and perhaps they are the majority here, following the sighting and announcement made by Makkah because it is the direction of our prayers and an emblem of Muslim unity.
It is clear that all of these opinions mentioned above have those who would criticize them. Those who go the way of sighting criticize those who use astronomical calculations and there is no doubt that this critique is correct, these in turn are criticized by others who state that sighting is just not possible in the majority of areas of these lands and so these critics rely upon the sighting of their homeland. Hence you will see the some Pakistani fasting with Pakistan, some Egyptian fasting with Egypt, some Moroccans fasting with Morocco etc. each one thinking that the sighting of his homeland is the most valid sighting!
Everyone has his opinion, but there is no doubt that the greater benefit lies in the Muslims of one land fasting as one body, starting the same day and celebrating 'Id on the same day so as to display unity. Unity is one of the greatest features and benefits that the Islamic Law calls to and this is why some of the scholars were of the opinion that it would be good for Muslims living in non-Muslim lands to appoint one leader who would determine the likes of these matters for them.
However, unfortunately, this matter is absent in these lands thus far and the Muslims remain in confusion as to how to start fasting, when to celebrate 'Id al-Fitr and the likes of this. Therefore we advise the generality of Muslims in this land to follow the opinion of the majority of Muslims in this land with regards the starting and ending of the month, even if this opinion opposes an individual's opinion or the opinion their organization.
The reasons and proofs for this conclusion are the following:
1- The hadith of Abu Hurayrah in which the Prophet SallAllahu 'Alaihi wa-sallam said, "The fast is the day you all fast, the breaking of fast is on the day that you all break fast, the day of sacrifice is on the day that you all sacrifice." Recorded by at-Tirmidhi; and the wording is his; Abu Dawud and others. At-Tirmidhi proceeded to say, 'Some of the People of Knowledge explained this hadith to mean that fasting and breaking the fast should be done with the Jama'ah (Muslims) or the majority of people.'
This is why most of the scholars who spoke about this issue were of the opinion that the Muslim should start the fast when most of the people in his country fast and same rule is applied for ending the fast and celebrating the 'Id. In fact a group of the People of Knowledge were of the opinion that if someone sights the new moon alone which the Imam rejects, for some reason, then the people should not fast until the Imam has given the order. The same applies to breaking the fast.
2- Leaving individual opinion and following the opinion of the majority in matters of ijtihad for the sake of the benefit of unity is something that is well established in the Islamic Law. 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud prayed dhuhr behind 'Uthman bin 'Affan in Mina as four rak'ahs despite his opinion and the fact that the Messenger of Allah SallAllahu 'Alaihi wa-sallam had prayed two as had Abu Bakr and 'Umar; when asked why he did this, he replied, 'differing is evil'. Moreover the Islamic Law has enjoined one to stick firmly to the Jama'ah and to all the means that would lead to actualizing this. Allah, Mighty and Magnificent says, "Obey Allah and His Messenger and do not differ such that you lose courage and your strength depart, be patient for Allah is with the patient" and "Hold fast to the rope of Allah, all of you, and do not split."
After discussing this issue with many Muslim leaders/imams, most agreed to follow the opinion of the Central Mosque in London as it has declared that it will follow the decision of Makkah. This year Ramadan might start either on Thursday 14th or Friday 15th October which means that Muslims should check with information media about the start of Ramadan in Makkah on Wednesday 13th or Thursday 14th evening. Moreover if we assume, for the sake of argument, that Makkah declared the start of Ramadan (or even the end of Ramadan later) at another day, we should follow that and we will be absolved, by the will of Allah, from any responsibility.
To conclude, we advice Muslims to do everything possible to establish unity among themselves and until they do that they should cooperate in enjoining the good and forbidding the evil for Allah Almighty and his Messenger commanded us to do so in various places in the Quran and Sunnah. Allah says, "Help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment." We also advise Muslims living in the western countries to do their best to appoint an Imam/leader that they can follow in many essential matters amongst which is the commencement and conclusion of the fast.
Allah knows best.
We ask Allah, Mighty and Magnificent, to unite the Muslims upon righteousness and taqwa. Peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad SallAllahu 'Alaihi wa-sallam, his family and all his Companions.