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This paper will examine the issue of Muslims physically sighting the crescent moon as the basis for beginning the months that constitute their lunar calendar. The argument posed here is especially relevant in the United States and Canada where the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and its allied Fiqh Council of North America are attempting to establish a norm of using calculations as the basis for determining the beginning of the lunar calendar, and the timing of associated devotional acts such as the Fast of Ramadan and the Hajj.
This paper advances several arguments and rebuts others in an effort to prove that the only acceptable basis for determining the lunar month is the actual sighting of the dawning crescent. At the root of the problem is a failure to recognize that the crescent moon’s appearance is a legal cause (sabab) determined by God in the Qur’an and through His Prophet’s words. That being the case, no scholar in the history of Islam has ever permitted calculation in lieu of sighting until the modern era. Moreover, predicting the new moon’s visibility with absolute certainty is impossible, even by modern scientific calculations, as opposed to the degree of certainty that has been attained in predicting the astronomical new moon, which is invisible to the naked-eye. Furthermore, the ability to predict the new moon’s probable appearance has not increased greatly from premodern times. For these reasons, and others discussed in this paper, actual sighting poses difficulties in terms of the scheduling requisites created by a modern industrial or postindustrial society.