The Lajnah (Permanent Committee For Scholarly Research And Ifta’) were asked:

Q 1: We are Muslim students in the United States and Canada. Each year, we face a problem with the beginning of Ramadan that results in being dividing into three sects:

  1. One sect observes Sawm (Fast) when they sight Ramadan new moon in the state where they live.
  2. Another sect observes Sawm with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
  3. A third sect observes Sawm when receiving such news from the Muslim Students’ Association in USA and Canada, which sights the new moon at several places in USA and publicizes the news in various centers upon sighting the crescent. Accordingly, all Muslims living in USA start observing Sawm on the same day in spite of the vast distances separating between the various states.

Which of these three sects should one follow and observe Sawm with? Please advise us, may Allah reward you!
A: The Council of Senior Scholars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has investigated this matter and issued an important statement on this topic, the text of which is as follows: Firstly: Difference in moon sighting is Ma`lum minad-din biddarurah (well-established and known Islamic principles)and there is no difference among scholars concerning this. Rather, the difference of scholarly opinion has to do with whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not. Secondly: The issue of whether the difference in moon sighting matters or not is a theoretical matter in which there is room for Ijtihad (juristic effort to infer expert legal rulings). Even people of great knowledge and piety differed concerning this matter. This is a type of difference which is acceptable, where the one who makes Ijtihad and gets it right will have two rewards, one for his Ijtihad and the other for getting it right, and the one who gets it wrong will be rewarded for his Ijtihad. Scholars differed concerning this matter and there are two points of view. One is that the difference in moon sighting matters and the other is that it does not matter. Each group quotes evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah (whatever is reported from the Prophet), and sometimes they quote the same text, such as when they both quote the Ayah (Qur’anic verse) in which Allah (Exalted be He) says: They ask you (O Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم) about the new moons. Say: These are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage. Another text taken as evidence is the following Hadith in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Start observing Sawm on seeing it (the new moon of Ramadan), and give up Sawm on seeing it (the new moon of Shawwal). That is because of different understandings of the texts, and different ways in which each group derives evidence from them. Based on the considerations that the Council has seen and examined, and based on the fact that the difference of opinion on this matter does not have any effect that may lead to undesirable consequences, and since Islam was revealed fourteen centuries ago and we do not know of any period during which the Ummah (nation based on one creed) was united in moon sighting, the members of the Council of Senior Scholarsopine that matters should be left as they are and that this subject should not be stirred up. Each Islamic state should have the right to choose whichever opinion it wishes, based on the suggestions of its own scholars, because each view has its evidence and proofs. Thirdly: The Council has studied the issue of proving the new moon by means of calculation, and referred to the textual evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah to this effect, and they have studied the comments of scholars on this matter. They have, thus, decided unanimously that astronomical calculations carry no weight in determining the new moon with regard to matters related to Shari`ah (Islamic law), because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Start observing Sawm on seeing it (the new moon of Ramadan), and give up Sawm on seeing it (the new moon of Shawwal). He (peace be upon him) also said: Do not observe Sawm until you sight it (the moon of Ramadan) and do not break your Sawm until you sight it (the moon of Shawwal). There are other evidence to that effect. The Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Ifta’ opines that the Muslim Students’ Association in non-Muslim countries acts as an Islamic government in the matter of verifying the crescent for Muslims living in those countries. Based on what is set forth in the second article of the statement issued by the Council, this association has the right to choose between the two opinions, either considering the difference in moon sighting matters or not. Then they should publicize what they opine to the Muslims of their country who are to abide by what was opined and publicized for the sake of unity in order to begin observing Sawm on the same day, and to avoid controversy and confusion.All Muslims who live in those countries should sight the crescent in the country in which they live. If it is witnessed by a trustworthy person or more among them, they should begin observing Sawm and should inform the Association in order for the latter to publicize the news. This is with regard to witnessing the beginning of the month. As for witnessing its end, there must be two just witnesses testifying their sighting of Shawwal crescent or else they should complete observing Sawm for thirty days, because the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Start observing Sawm on seeing the new moon (of Ramadan), and give up Sawm on seeing the new moon (of Shawwal), and if the sky is overcast (and you cannot see it), complete the term as thirty days (of Ramadan).
May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.

A Side Note: As for if they do not possess an Islamic council which decides for the Muslims in that non-muslim country on what day ramadan startsn then the muslims who are residing in that country should rely upon a muslim country of who they trust the most in regards to these affairs, which is Saudi Arabia with no doubt.

Ash-Shaykh Bin Baaz, may Allah have mercy upon him, said:

“…The Two Sacred Holy Lands are more deserving to be followed because they strive to rule according to sharee’ah – may Allaah increase them in guidance – and because you are staying in a country which is not ruled by Islam and its people do not give importance to Islamic rulings.”

Source: Majmoo’u Fataawa Ibn Baaz 15/105

Translated by

AbdulFattaah Bin Uthman
Abu Fajr