Later this month, Muslims all over the world will mark the beginning of the blessed month of Ramadan, undoubtedly the most special time of year for all Muslims. The obligation to fast in the month of Ramadan was laid upon Muslim by a Divine commandment conveyed through Allah’s Messenger (saw) in the second year after the hijra, when the new Muslim community in Madinah was still in its early, formative period. Shortly before the revelation of this command (al-Qur’an 2:183), another ayah had been revealed changing the direction of the Muslims’ qibla from al-Quds to the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. Both these commands are understood to have helped consolidate the new community, as Ansar and Muhajireen alike stood facing the new qibla together, and observed the first Ramadan of fasting together. It was during this first Ramadan that the new community faced its first military challenge at Badr, when a small force of Muslims met and defeated a far larger Quraysh army, and established themselves as a force in Arabia to be reckoned with.
The month of Ramadan, therefore, is supposed to be a month of special spiritual significance for all Muslims, a month of jihad and sacrifice, a month of unity, a month of awareness of Allah’s rahmah on us all, and a month of giving and gratitude. And yet, around the world nowadays, it is all too often dominated by debates about the correct day for starting the fast, and the correct day for celebrating Eid al-Fitr; and all too often such debates are prompted by the fitna caused by certain governments, particularly the Saudi government, which is accorded special status by some misguided Muslims because of their control over the Haram in Makkah, blatantly declaring the beginning of Ramadan on the wrong day. Last year was a case in point. The Saudis declared that the moon had been sighted on September 22, when in fact it had barely been born and was not even visible in the westernmost parts of the US and Canada, let alone in most of the Muslim world, where the sun had set many hours earlier. The result was that even in countries in the same part of the world, Ramadan was started two days apart, and in Western countries where local Muslims chose to follow different authorities, the situation was even more confused.
This annual confusion and fitna are entirely unnecessary at a time when the precise date and time of the birth of the moon, and the criteria for its visibility as required for the determination of Islamic dates, can be calculated with great precision. Part of the problem is that most Muslims only think about the subject a couple of times a year, instead of being constantly aware of the Islamic calendar throughout the year. Be that as it may, Muslims should be clear about the possible days of the sighting of the moon for Ramadan, and treat claims of earlier moon-sighting with the contempt they deserve. If someone claimed to sight the moon ten days earlier than expected, their claim would rightly be ignored. There is no reason for anyone now to accept claims made even a day early.
The creation of such confusion and disunity, leading millions of Muslims to perform their fara’id (obligations) on the wrong days according to the hijri calendar, is a fitna for which those responsible will surely be held accountable, alongside their many other sins against Allah and the Ummah.