Crescent Moon Sighting and Its Significance for Ramadanby Ustazah Eka Budhi Setiani
As we know, Muslims have always waited for the sight of the hilal (new moon) to determine the beginning of the month. Determining the beginning of Hijri month is important for us because it’s related to the time of worship, especially in Ramadan, Shawwal, and Dhul Hijjah. However, what is the actual meaning of hilal?
Hilal in Arabic is an isim word formed within 3 original letters, ha-lam-lam (ل – ل- ﻫ). It has the same formation of the fi’il words هَلَّ and اَهَلَّ.
هَلَّ and اَهَلَّ in the context of hilal have the following meanings:
هَلَّ اْلهِلاَلُ and اَهَلَّ اْلهِلاَلُ means the visible crescent moon, while هَلَّ الرَّجُلُ means a man sees or looks at the crescent moon, and اَهَلَّ اْلقَوْمُ اْلهِلاَلَ means the crowd shouts when they see the crescent moon. And هَلَّ الشَّهْرُ means the (new) month begins (with the appearance of the crescent moon).
Thus, hilal is the appearance of the new moon (crescent moon) after the ijtimak (conjunction) which is seen at the beginning of the month on the first, second, and third night. It is shouted (informed) by those who see it and might be notified to the people who don’t see it as a sign of the beginning of the month starting in the calendar system.
Hilal According to The Qur’an
Surah Al-Baqarah verse 189 raises a question from the Prophet’s ﷺ companions to the Prophet ﷺ about the creation and the wisdom of ahillah (plural of hilal). At the command of Allah, Rasulullah ﷺ answered that the ahillah or hilal is a calendar for worship and human activities, including Hajj.
This question arose because the companions had previously seen the sight of the new moon.
In Shafwatut Tafasir juz I page 125, Ash-Shabuni interpreted the verse as follows:
يسالونك يامحمد عن الهلال لم يبدو دقيقا مثل الخيط ثم يعظم ويستدير ثم ينقص ويدق حتى يعود كما كان؟
“They ask you, O Muhammad, about the crescent moon (hilal), why does it looks soft like the thread then enlarges and continues to round, then shrinks and softens so that it returns to its original state?”
Meanwhile, Sayyid Quthub in his tafsir Fii Zhilalil Qur’an juz I page 256 interpreted it as follows:
فهم يسالون عن الاهلة … ما شأنها؟ ما بال القمر يبدو هلالا ثم يكبر حتى يستدير بدرا ثم يأخذ فى التناقص حتى يرتد هلالا ثم يختفى ليظهر هلالا من جديد؟
“So they asked about ahillah (hilal)… how is the condition of ahillah (hilal)? Why does the condition of the qamar (moon) show the new moon (hilal) and then enlarge so that it becomes a full moon then gradually shrinks so that it returns to the hilal again and disappears so it becomes invisible, then appear to be the new hilal (moon)?”
According to the verse and its interpretation, it’s clear that the hilal or crescent moon must be visible.
Hilal According to The Sunnah
A hadith narrated by Imam Ahmad and Abu Daud, from the companion of the Prophet ﷺ Rib’i bin Hirasy, stated that there were differences among the Companions regarding the end of Ramadan. The people who did the ru’yah reported in the following words:
بِاللهِ لاَهَلَّ اْلهِلاَلُ اَمْسِ عَشِيَّةً
“By Allah’s name, the new moon appeared yesterday in the afternoon.”
This hadith states that the hilal must be visible. Likewise in other hadiths.
Hilal According to The Science
Hilal is known as the ‘crescent’ in astronomical terms. It’s the part of the moon that shows its light visible from the earth. Hilal appears shortly after sunset on the day that the ijtimak (conjunction) has occured.
According to the terminology, Al-Qur’an, As-Sunnah, and science described above, it can be concluded that the light of hilal (the crescent moon) must be seen from the earth on the beginning of the month. And the thoughts or allegations of the new moon can’t be described as hilal. Therefore, if it’s not visible, it can’t be called the new moon. In connection with the criteria for the hilal to appear, the Messenger ﷺ of Allah told Muslims to do rukyah, or to see and observe directly on the appearance of hilal.
The Verses About Hilal
The sighting of the moon is also mentioned in the Qur’an and hadith. Some of them are:
۞يَسَۡٔلُونَكَ عَنِ ٱلۡأَهِلَّةِۖ قُلۡ هِيَ مَوَٰقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَٱلۡحَجِّۗ وَلَيۡسَ ٱلۡبِرُّ بِأَن تَأۡتُواْ ٱلۡبُيُوتَ مِن ظُهُورِهَا وَلَٰكِنَّ ٱلۡبِرَّ مَنِ ٱتَّقَىٰۗ وَأۡتُواْ ٱلۡبُيُوتَ مِنۡ أَبۡوَٰبِهَاۚ وَٱتَّقُواْ ٱللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ ١٨٩
They ask you, [O Muhammad], about the new moons. Say, “They are measurements of time for the people and for Hajj.” And it is not righteousness to enter houses from the back, but righteousness is [in] one who fears Allah. And enter houses from their doors. And fear Allah that you may succeed.
إِنَّ عِدَّةَ ٱلشُّهُورِ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ ٱثۡنَا عَشَرَ شَهۡرٗا فِي كِتَٰبِ ٱللَّهِ يَوۡمَ خَلَقَ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضَ مِنۡهَآ أَرۡبَعَةٌ حُرُمٞۚ ذَٰلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلۡقَيِّمُۚ فَلَا تَظۡلِمُواْ فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمۡۚ وَقَٰتِلُواْ ٱلۡمُشۡرِكِينَ كَآفَّةٗ كَمَا يُقَٰتِلُونَكُمۡ كَآفَّةٗۚ وَٱعۡلَمُوٓاْ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلۡمُتَّقِينَ ٣٦
Indeed, the number of months with Allah is twelve [lunar] months in the register of Allah [from] the day He created the heavens and the earth; of these, four are sacred. That is the correct religion, so do not wrong yourselves during them. And fight against the disbelievers collectively as they fight against you collectively. And know that Allah is with the righteous [who fear Him].
شَهۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِيٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدٗى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَٰتٖ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّهۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُۖ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٖ فَعِدَّةٞ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِكُمُ ٱلۡيُسۡرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلۡعُسۡرَ وَلِتُكۡمِلُواْ ٱلۡعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُواْ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَىٰكُمۡ وَلَعَلَّكُمۡ تَشۡكُرُونَ ١٨٥
The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
Al-Qur’an is not the only reference that talks about the importance of hilal sighting, because several hadiths also talk about it.
صُوْمُوْا ِلرُؤْيَتِهِ وَافْطِرُوْا لِرُؤْيَتِهِ فَإِنْ غَبِيَ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاكْمِلُوْا عِدَّةَ شَعْبَانَ ثَلاَثِيْنَ (متّفق عليه)
Fast because you see the new moon (hilal) and break your fast because you see the new moon. When the new moon is covered with dust over you, then complete the number of sha’ban thirty days.
إِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوْا الْهِلاَلَ فَصُوْمُوْا وَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوْهُ فَافْطِرُوْا فَإِنْ غُمَّ عَلَيْكُمْ فَاقْدُرُوْا لَهُ (رواه مسلم)
If you see the new moon then fast, and if you see the new moon then break it/If the new moon is covered by clouds then determine (approximate) it.
Methods of Seeing The Hilal
Some people use the ru’yatul hilal method in every Hijri month to see the hilal. As for others, they use ru’yatul hilal method only for determining the beginning of Ramadan and two Islamic holidays (Eid- al-Fitr and Eid-al Adha).
The procedure of seeing the hilal occurs on the 29th of the Hijri month. In the afternoon, a competent ru’yah team appointed by the authorities visits a place that has a possibility to see the hilal. It’s either in the mountains or in the sea. In ancient times, they used their eyes directly to see the hilal, but now people can use advanced tools such as binoculars to see it.
If the ru’yah team sees the appearance of the new moon, then the next day after it will be determined as the start of a new month. But, when the ru’yah team doesn’t see the hilal caused by the new moon that can’t be seen or because of the weather disturbance, then they should complete it to 30 days in that month which is commonly called as istikmal (completing 30 days in a month).
What If The Hilal is Not Visible in All Areas?
There is a question often asked regarding the hilal, what if people in one area see the hilal but people in other areas don’t see it as well?
If there is one person or a team who sees the hilal and dares to take an oath for his testimony, it can be used as a reference that tomorrow will be determined as the new Hijri date. Therefore, people in other areas who can’t see should also follow the people or teams who have managed to see the hilal.
Especially, if the government as the ulil amri has held an isbat session to make the decision and announce it to all its citizens.
If everyone is aware and obey the government as ulil amri, then at least it can minimize the differences. Because sometimes this thing sparks hostility regarding the beginning and the end of the fasting month and Eid.
Obeying the government’s decision as the people who ratify the hilal is also explained in Surah An-Nisa 4:59.
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي ٱلۡأَمۡرِ مِنكُمۡۖ فَإِن تَنَٰزَعۡتُمۡ فِي شَيۡءٖ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمۡ تُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأٓخِرِۚ ذَٰلِكَ خَيۡرٞ وَأَحۡسَنُ تَأۡوِيلًا ٥٩
O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.
Hopefully, knowing the background about the history of the hilal can help our understanding about the importance of it. InshaAllah, may Allah ease and accept our fasting in the month of Ramadan. Aamiin.
- Practical Astronomy: Dr. H. Ahmad Izzuddin, M.Ag
- Nu.or.id, in article “Redefinition of the hilal.”
Eka Budhi Setiani
Ustadzah Eka Budhi Setiani, Lc is one of the sharia advisors at Muslim Pro. A servant of Allah who studies the science of Usuluddin at Al-Azhar University – Cairo, Egypt. Currently she is devoting her knowledge by teaching at an Islamic school managed by the Education Department in a province. In addition, together with her husband, now she also manages her own Islamic boarding school in a small town in Banten Province called Ponpes Balonk Faidhul Barokaat.