Fiqh of Fasting : Siyaam, Sha3baan, Moonsighting, Calculations, Witnesses, Unity

Sanitize Your Soul :Fiqh of Fasting taught by Sh. Omar Suleiman

Sh Omar said,

When we study fiqh that doesn’t mean we are becoming neglectful of what is going on in the rest of the world. One of the comments Sh. Omar received was, “How can you teach fiqh of fasting class with everything else that is going on in the rest of the world?!” We need to remind them and ourselves that some of the greatest books of fiqh were written in times of battles, in times of war, oppression. This should not detract us from that nor should that detract from those, as we need to know our basics, our ibadaat as best as possible in order to bind the ummah on what is most pleasing to Allah and what was revealed to the Prophet saw. We’re going to go over many aspects of fiqh, and some may be more dry and irrelevant than others but it’s still important to go over them. I chose the ones that are most controversial, not to come up with opinion but to offer perspectives.When you study books of fiqh and opinions of other mazhaahibs on certain issues, you gain appreciation and perspectives. Whether it’s an issue of  moon sighting or 8 versus 20 rakaah, we have to discuss those because they are related to fiqh of fasting. The idea is to offer perspective and appreciation for each position more than anything else. That’s good for building the character of the student of knowledge and believer in general.

Sh. Omar recommends a book that was translated by one of his teachers, Dr. Hatem al Hajj, Al Umdah. It’s a book of worship written by Ibn Qudaamah, a classical book. Ibn Qudaamah was one of great scholars of the Hambali mazhab, but one thing he did was that he listed positions of other mazhaahib also.This is an introductory book to fiqh, primarily the fisq of Imam Ahmad, but it also exposes you to all different positions. Sh Hatem translated that book. This book is extremely well written, what is beneficial is that he has original commentary in English. Where ibn Qudaamah didn’t list other positions, he listed those positions. Where Ibn Qudaamah would only list strongest opinions in each mahzhab, Dr. Hatem listed also minor opinions in those mazhab in the commentary. This book is for all aspect of introductory fiqh. This book will be used as the basis of the structure of the seminar.

Sh. Omar wants to address contemporary issues. Because if you’re studying nullifiers of fasting back then, it’s not going to be eyedrops, chapstick, of inhaler etc. And this is not due to weakness of author in classical books, but it’s just that those issues didn’t arise in their times.

Within fasting it’s usually what can I or not do? Sh. Omar wants to make it as contemporary as possible and include as many issues, and he asked people to give him their questions in advance. He will present with classical breath but use same usool so that you don’t lose the connection. Because if it’s just Q&A at the end, we might disconnect it from the principles, so instead we will try to add those contemporary issues within the same principle, in the same breath that the author addressed it.

Sh Omar will start with topics that require the most maturity because he says “The best people are the ones that come first. The ones that come first are usually able to handle the driest topics more than anyone else.”


Ibn qudaamah says,

Fasting is mandatory upon every sane, capable, adult Muslim.

Linguistic meaning of Sawm :- to stop/restrain

In the story of maryam – Allah says,

Sahih International

So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ ” [Maryam 19:26]

This is not about restraining from eating and drinking because the part before this was ‘So eat and drink and be contented.’ Rather, this is a command to hold herself back whenever she is accused. So, that is essence of fasting, to restrain oneself. The Arabs used to say صَامَة الشَّمس (The sun has stopped)

The 1st day that was made obligatory upon Muslim to fast was the day of Ashoora. In hadith of Ibn Abbas it was narrated that when the Prophet saw came to Madinah and found the Jews fasting, he (saw) asked why they were fasting. They said, ‘This was the day Allah gave victory to Musa a.s.’ Prophet saw said ‘We are closer to Musa than you.’ So Prophet saw commanded believers to fast that day. This was 1st year after hijrah.

Some of the scholars say that the command of Arafah came right before or right after Ramadan. If you look at it from a historical perspective, it makes more sense that  Arafah was legislated before Ramadan. And Allah knows best.

So, this was what Allah was talking about in the initial verses in surah Al Baqarah,

Sahih International

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous – [Al Baqarah 2:183]

And Ayaaman ma3doodaat [numbered days], in the following ayah;-
Sahih International

[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.

… included Ashura and some of scholars say it also included Arafah.

Where does Ramadan come in then ? 2nd year after hijrah.

This is important to understand. The people then, the Arabs, were already following the lunar calendar, so Ramadan was the 9th month of the lunar calendar and it already had a name before it was named Ramadan; Na2iTT. When Ramadan came, (this is very signifcant considering where we are now where Ramadan is very hot) it was in the summer.

Ramadan comes from Ramdhaa رَمضَاء = burning hot. They named it then because of how hot it was. This gives us perspective of what the sahabah was going through. At the time, they were going through hijrah, battles. It was Allah who named it such though, not just the sahabah. They called it that, and Allah, Allah confirmed it when the revelation of the ayah came down. Some scholars said that one of the reasons why Allah calls it that is because يُرمِضُ الذُّنُوب(yurmidhu zhunoob)= (it burns your sins). So, the name is because of spiritual implication and  not physical implication.

If you heard that Ramadan is one of names of Allah, that is not true, it’s from a weak hadith.

The hadith:-

The Prophet saw, ‘Don’t say that Ramdan has come bec it’s name of Alah but instead say that the month of Ramdan has come.’

This is an extremely weak hadith.

Prophet saw used the word Ramadan without using month of Ramadan on more than one occasion.

Famous hadith => The Prophet saw said, “Whoever fasts Ramadan with faith and accountablity, Allah will forgive all his previous sins.”

So, we shouldn’t feel bad now when were fasting in summer, because this was how it started back then.

Fasting of Sha3baan

The first issue always addressed in books of fiqh with regard to Ramadan is the fasting of Sha3baan.  Why? Do you fast a day before Ramadan to welcome, do you fast a day that you doubt might be Ramadan or last day of Sha3baan?

Abu Hurayrah narrated that Prophet saw said, “You shouldn’t welcome Ramadan with a day or two before it, unless it was already habitual for you to fast that day.”

This is particularly applicable this year because Ramadan will either be on Tuesday or Wednesday. So let’s say you have habit of fasting Mondays and Thursdays, that doesn’t mean you should stop fasting Monday because it might be the day before Ramadan. You can still continue to fast Monday

The Prophet saw prohibited fasting 1 or 2 days before Ramadan as a way of welcoming it. Imam Qudaamah said that when Prophet saw said صُومُو لِرُؤيَاتِهِ (fast in according with its sighting), this phrase means that you are greeting Ramadan by fasting.

Fast with accordance to sighting the moon is like you greeting Ramadan. The hilaal is the greeting of Ramadan.

Fasting the 2nd half of Sha3baan

Some scholars say you can’t fast after 15th of Sha3baan. Prophet saw used to fast most of it except for a few days, so that’s not the issue. The issue is if half of Shaaban came and the person starts fasting then (almost in a way to prepare himself for Ramadan). There is a hadith that is disputable, and that’s why you have differences of opinion in this matter.

Hadith of Abu Hurayrah : Prophet saw said that if half of Sha3baan comes, don’t fast anymore.

Imam Ahmad, Yahya ibn Ma3een said it was weak. Some contemporary scholars like Sheikh Al-Albani considered it strong. So those scholars who considered it strong acted upon it. The majority didn’t consider that hadith authentic so the majority doesn’t have problem fasting the 2nd half of Sha3baan so long as you don’t interfere with 1 or 2 days before Ramadan, especially the last day.

The last day is caled in Arabic/Islamic text => yaum shakk (day of doubt). This is where the actual prohibition comes. In Sahib Bukhari, this is narrated by Ammar ibn Yasir,

Whoever fast the Day of Doubt (30th Sha3baan if the moon is not sighted on the 29th), he has disobeyed Abul Qaasim (Prophet saw)

This narration is mawqoof to Ammar but marfoo3 in its meaning. He is the one who is saying this,  but obviously he wouldn’t say it unless he heard it from the Prophet saw. That’s why Imam Bukhari included it in his Sahih.

The Prophet saw explicitly told sahabah not to fast that day. The vast majority of scholars considered it impermissible to fast that day out of doubt because it may or may not be Ramadan. However, Imam Shafie said,”If you think you might have seen the hilaal (it might be Ramadan), I would rather fast a day from Sha3ban than break a fast in Ramadan.”

So if there are disagreement, was it hilal or not? This narration from Imam Shafie says you can fast it anyway. Likewise, Imam Ahmad allowed fasting on that day. The disagreement obviously comes from that 30th day.

Prophet saw said that if on 29th night, إن غُمَّ عَلَيكُم (the clouds are covering the moon)  فَقدُرُولَه (estimate, make your best judgement). The disagreement surrounds  فَقدُرُولَه. Vast majority of scholars say that the Prophet saw clarifies in other narrations what it means.

Hadith from Ibn Abbas r.a., Prophet saw said “If there is a cloud between you and the hilaal then complete your month 30 days and don’t greet month of Ramadan before time for greeting it comes.”

Aishah r.a. says that Prophet saw used to protect his fasts in Shaaban in a way that he’d not protect his fasts in other months[he made the point to fast majority of Sha3baan except for a few days] then he’d fast for the ru2ya(sighting) of Ramadan and if he was obstructed from seeing the moon, he’d complete 30 days. فَقدُرُولَه is explained by فَأَكمِلُو عِدَّةَ ثَلاَثِين (complete 30 days).

The idea that is really important here is that Prophet saw is making a distinction between the birth of moon and the ability to sight the moon. In Arabic, the moon being born is called muh7aaTt. Whenever it’s sightable, it becomes Hilaal. The meaning of the word hilaal is announcement. So when the moon ‘announces’ itself, that’s when it’s called hilaal. The birth of moon means absolutely nothing.

Sh Omar emphasizes that he wants to offer perspectives.

When we have discussion between sighting versus calculation:-

We respect all scholars that hold every opinion. The point is not to say that a scholar is not a scholar and should be criticized.

When people say “How come we calculate time for salah but can’t calculate Ramadan and Eid?!” They’ll usuallay say it in a way that implies that it’s backwards. Then you’re accusing the majority of scholars of being backwards. Whether you agree with calculation or not, when you say it that way, you’re accusing the scholars of having elementary knowledge. The reason is, from a, fiqhi perspective…the only 2 papers written in English that were widespread is by Hamzah Yusuf and Mokhtar Mughrawi. Mokhtar Mughraawi talked in particular about this point :-

The عِلَّة (cause) of Ramadan entering is not the moon being born, rather it’s the sighting of the moon (ru2ya of Ramadan). The عِلَّة (cause) of salah time coming in, Allah mentions nothing about ru2yah,

Sahih International

Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed. [Al Israa 17:78]

Instead, Allah mentions times coming in, which can be precisely calculated. So the cause of salah time coming in was never tied to a sighting/viewing.

So those scholars, they’re not ignorant. It’s wrong to say that. Those people that say that they’re(scholars) backwards, because they do salah according to calculation but don’t do calculation for Ramadan and Eid. That would be a false accusation against the scholars, it’s misunderstanding of fiqh.

The Prophet saw said in the form of نَهي (forbidding),

Do not fast until you see the hilaal, do not break your fast until you see the hilaal.”

Another hadith in Sahih Muslim :-

“We are an ummah that is illiterate. We don’t write and we don’t calculate.”

Here, the Prophet saw was not saying that we shouldn’t read or calculate. He’s saying that the deen is accessible to everyone in ummah. Imam Nawawi said in his Shar7, “The acts of worship are accessible to everyone.” So when the Prophet saw says this, it’s not that Islam encourages illiteracy, but a person’s acts of worship shouldn’t be tied to that.

The Prophet saw said, “The month is like this (he used his hands to demonstrate 29 and then used his hand to demonstrate 30)”.

He (saw) was talking about the importance of a person not overcomplicating his religion. Imam nawawi said that it’s actually a mercy that each and every person (if a person is traveling and cut off from the rest of the world) anywhere in the world, will know when to pray fast break fast even if he has no internet. The deen has been made simple. That was the point of that hadith.

When it comes to calculation, there is a saying from a tabi3een (generation after the sahabah’s), Mutarif ibn Abdillah (from the Tabi3eeen after sahabah). Its important to look at both sides of the point.

Mutarif said,

If a person himself is skilled in calculating (back then they were capable of that too) then the one who is skilled can fast and break his fast according to his own calculation.

We have to acknowledge that opinions existed but he said no one can follow him(that man) in that because that would contradict what Prophet saw is saying (that deen should be accessible to everyone). That’s one of evidences used for those who allow calculations.For scholars who allow calculations, you have to understand that they don’t do that on the basis.

There is a difference between scholarly arguments and arguments among the masses. You won’t hear among the scholars “How come they don’t this and how come they don’t do that?”

The reason that scholars who approve calculation specifically Sheikh Yusuf Qardawi and the great late Muhaddith who passed away rahimahullah, Sheikh Ahmad Shafi, because they said it poses a hardship on the ummah to have to sight and break their fast etc esecially living as minority. They approve it more on this principle in fiqh, ‘hardship always leads to ease”. We shldn’t ciriticize too much. We have to understand that this moonsighting issue will never die. Even if you say global calculation that will unify the world, we have many issues. Libya follows calculation, but their criteria are different than Turkey’s, they always go a day or two or 3 before everybody else.

Libya calculates the birth of the moon. Turkey will calculate birth of moon and when sun set and moon set is equal anywhere in the world. Then you have the Europan fatwa council who says that the birth of the moon has to be sighted with optical means anywhere in the world. The fiqh council says that the moon must be born and sun must set before moon in Makkah. So there is a whole other discussion on local versus global moon sighting and it becomes global versus local calculations! It’s not a simple issue.

Some of them used the Polynesian Islands and some use Makkah. In every opinions you have all these multiple factors. No one opinion that can unite the entire world and solve the problem. It’s really then about respect and perspective.

As far as using optical means is concerned, there is nothing to object to it.

How many witnesses are needed to sight the Moon?

How many people can be trusted to sight the moon?

In establishing month of Ramadan, Ibn Qudaamah says it takes 1 witness to establish the month of Ramadan whether male or female. In Dr. Jamal Badawi’s book, on the issue of women in witnessing , he mentioned some cases where women’s testimony is equal or even more than a man in some cases. So it’s not necessarily that a woman’s testimony is less than a man’s. This is one of those situations where most fuqaaha said in this case that testimony of 1 man or woman who is trustworthy is sufficient to establish the month of Ramadan.

in and authentic hadith of ibn Omar in Abu Dawud, “The people try to see the new moon and I told the P saw that I had seen it and he fasted and he commanded people to observe the fast.”

Here, the Prophet saw took testimony of Ibn Umar.

Hadith of bedouin man who came to the Prophet saw and said “I saw moon,” and Prophet saw asked him, “Do you testify that there is only one god and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah?” He said yes and the Prophet saw established the month. This hadith is dhaif (weak).

So the idea here is that 1 witness of عَدَالَة (technical translation = just/known witness)….عَدَالَة in essence means that a Muslim is credible unless proven otherwise (not that I need to know everything about you and your family).

Story of The Imam In New Orleans

In New Orleans, it’s always cloudy, and even though Sh Omar always went to sight the moon, they never see it. One year, a few years agho, Sh. Omar and a group of brothers saw the moon. He called Dr. Muhadduraani, a brother who used to be a specialist with ISNA for moon sighting and he asked Sheikh Omar questions about the clock etc, and then said ok, you saw it, we’ll announce it. So they announced it. Then Sh Omar started getting phone calls from all over the country, people were just thrashing him. “Sir, I’m a professor of Physics of whatever university, from my calculation it’s impossible for you to see the moon.“

One brother said “I wish I never saw the moon that night.” He was so upset because they were getting harassed. This contradicts the shariah completely.

The next day there was a website where there was an article called the Imam in New Orleans, about Sh Omar having issues with his board and that they threatened to fire him if he didn’t claim that he sighted the moon and have Eid. They turned him into a villain. That really contradicts the spirit and essence of shariah. So عَدَالَة is that there is nothing to contradict the credibility of a person. A Muslim is credible in his nature and you shouldn’t start investigating to say there is something not credible about him.

That’s what happens in Muslim countries; if someone says he sights the moon, they look up his criminal record, if he has nothing on him, then they accept it.

Witnesses in Establishing Ramadan and Establishing Eid

What is interesting is, the scholars made distinction between 1 witness establishing Ramadan and establishing Eid. Scholars that allowed establishing Ramadan with 1 witness didn’t allow breaking it with 1 witness. They would need 2 witnesses. Because there is only the precedence of Prophet saw establishing Ramadan with 1 witness but when it came to establishing Eid, in an authentic hadith in nasa2i,

“If 2 witnesses witness it, then break your fast.”

The hikmah(wisdom) in this is that people don’t really care about Ramadan, people want to get rid of it, so you get all these strange claims of seeing the moon. When it comes to the end of Ramadan, everyone just wants to have Eid. People no longer care about credibility of moon-sighter or how scientifically impossible it is to sight the moon or from whichever part of the world it’s sighted.

Then you have the reasoning of Imam Abu Hanifah, but his fatwa is often misquoted. His fatwa :- there has to be multiple witnesses on a clear day because if the day is clear and the moon is visible then it shouldn’t just take 2 people to see it.

Then you have the position of global versus local moonsighting :-

  1. global moon sighting is traditionally the position of Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad
  2. local moon sighting is generally position of Imam Shafie

If you read classical books that’s how it is divided as classical opinions.

Contemporary scholars from each of those mazhaahibs might differ with the established positions within each mahzhab. Wihtin local and global moonsighting, there are more than 25 positions listed  just in al Mughniy of Ibn Qudaamah. So it’s not that simple. How global and how local do you go? It’s also important to understand that.

The hadith that is used for zoning, is the one by Qurayd came to Ibn Abbas in Madinah and inforned him of the sighting of someone in As-Shaam. Ibn abbas didn’t accept that and took the sighting from Madinah and said that’s what the Prophet saw commanded us  to do. Because of this, scholars took to justify different sighting zones.

Splitting up sighting zones versus Having 1 sighting zone

Whenever you define a zone, one of the greatest mistakes is to divide by political borders. Imagine if Texas(once upon a time not considered the United States) would sight the moon, can you imagine Lousiana not accepting the sighting of Texas because of political borders even if the time zone is the same and they have close proximity to each other?

In essence, a مَطلَع(zone) is defined by time zone, not political. Defining it by political borders would contradict the ikhtilaaf of different sighting zones. For example, if you consider Hawaii but not Texas as part of United States, it would contradict the entire purpose of different sighting zones.

It’s important to understand that those scholars who consider local moon sighting as correct opinion also considers it for days of  hajj. Some people mock about not wanting to follow Arafah of this country or that country, “We’ll only follow one Arafah!” That is an opinion and actually a majority of opinion (local moonsitghing even for days of Hajj). Mocking another opinion is ignorance.

In fact, Sh. Ibn Uthaymeen and the permanent fatwa council in Saudi Arabia says that a person should follow his local moonsighting wheter it’s hajj or eid fitr. The reason for that opinion was that the fasting of Arafah was legislated in the 2nd year, whereas hajj was legislated in the 9th year. Ibn Uthaymeen said that they’re 2 independent institutions (fasting of Arafah and standing in Arafah) and that Allah’s mercy is wide enough to encompass that that wherever you are it would also be included. Sh Omar is not saying this is the opinion to follow but we need to respect it also.

As far as global moonsighting there is still zoning. There is no such thing as absolute global moonsighting. The majority opinions says you have to share part of the night. Some scholars said, e.g. Ibn Qudaamah “only bound by sighting to the east of you.” For example, what if Japan woke up and then they’re told it’s Ramadan, but their day is already done.

The main hadith used (authentic) for this:- “Fasting is the day that you fast and the day that you break your fast is the day that you all break your fast and the slaughter is the day that all of you sacrifice.”

Prophet saw was talking about community here. The majority of scholars say this is talking about the ummah collectively. So as much as ummah can be informed of sighting of certain people, then they should collectively take part in that fasting and that breaking of the fast.

Emphasis on Unity

Sh Omar wants people to have perspective on this. Look at how scholars look at things. There is  a section in the books of fiqh about a person who sights the moon but the authority rejects it.

Ibn Taimiyah’s fatwa : in establishing and ending month, if the authority rejects a person’s sighting for whatever reason, this person should abandon his sighting and go with authority. The majority says, that for Ramadan, that person has to still fast even if community doesn’t.

According to the majority  (particularly Hanafi and Maliki), for Eid, they should continue to fast as a precaution because it’s better to accidentally fast than accidentally break your fast. Better to err on side of caution. Perhaps you didn’t see the moon and saw something else.

Imam Shafie said he has to break his fast. Imam Ahmad says the person has to break fast but don’t even tell your wife.

That’s how strict the scholars were on maintaining the unity in this mas2alah


Acording to Ibn Qudaamah there are 25 opinions. Contemporary opinions  are now doubled (over 54 opinions) because of adding components of calculation and technology. The issue will not be solved. However, the issue of beginning and ending by consensus is from احكَام سُلطَانِيَّة (authority decision). The individual muslim doesn’t make that decision. The lay person follows authority. Where we live as minority where there is no sultan, like when it comes to issue of wali and you have no one to dissolve the marriage, who do you go to? You go to your local imam, shura council, authority etc. Allah didn’t place that responsibility on us. For issues of delcaring Ramadan, if your local authority declares Ramadan, it’s best to follow the authority in spirit of maintaining unity even if you disagree and they would bear the blame of that if they were wrong.

Dua of sighting the Hilaal

If you do see the moon, this is the dua that you are to say when you first see the hilal,

From authentic hadith from Ibn Hibbaan:-

اللّهُمَّ اهِلَّهُ عَلَينَا بِليُمنِ وَلإِِيمَان وََلسَّلَمَاةِ وَالأسلاَم وَلتَوفِيقِ لِمَا تُحِبُّ وَتَرضَى رَبِي وَرَبُّكَ الّلَه

Oh Allah let this moon pass over us with blessings, with iman, with safety and with belief of Islam and grant us the ability to act on actions that You Love and that please You, My Lord and  Your Lord is Allah (you’re talking to the moon now).

This is my notes taken from the seminar held on July 6, 2013. However, this might be the only notes I took in great detail in this seminar. If I have time, I might polish the rest of the notes, but for now, this is it. May it be of benefit to others (and myself in Allah’s sight) who missed the seminar or are short in time in terms of listening to the whole seminar.


2 thoughts on “Fiqh of Fasting : Siyaam, Sha3baan, Moonsighting, Calculations, Witnesses, Unity

  1. subhanAllah, thank for this Juli. i haven’t read it all, but i understand better the sighting versus calculating aspect, i always thought it was a little backward until last Ramadan, when i saw the moon, it was just so special and magical almost…Ramadan to me is mystical in a way…the Earth seems more alive, despite the billions of people going on that don’t even know its Ramadan, i feel the other creation does…just as Allah (swt) said, if the Qur’an was given to a mountain it would crumble…so the month the Qur’an came down, imagine the specialness and power of that month…but now I see why scholars say things..i feel at the heart of fiqh is alot of common sense and beauty and pursuit of simplicity, but it just sounds legalistic and boring lol.

    on that note…


    🙂 🙂 🙂


    • I know too! that’s why I never really warmed up to fiqh bec anything ‘law’ is not really my cup of tea, but this one is really interesting and I found myself realy paying attention and came up with the same conclusion you did abt fiqh subhanallah…beautiful subhanallah

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