A lesson given by Agha Rafi’pour (a jurist and teacher in the Hawzah of Qom), transcribed by Sayyid Husayni and translated by myself from the Farsi. It seems he must have given this talk a while back, since he refers to both Ayatullah Montazeri (d. 2009) and Ayatullah Fadhlullah (d. 2010) as if they were alive.
Four Methodologies for Sighting the Crescent
When it comes to establishing the first day of a new lunar month – a discussion closely related to the issue of the sighting of the moon – there are four different methodologies that different jurists have ascribed to. Though one of the methodologies does not have any proponents anymore and no one has given a verdict based on it.
1) Birth of a Crescent
Some scholars had accepted this methodology before, but today there is no one who accepts it. Based on this methodology, the mere birth of a new moon is enough to establish the first of the month. Meaning, if it is scientifically proven that a new crescent – during the course of the day or near sunset – has been born and has left the stage of a New Moon, the next day will be the first of the new lunar month. This is the case, even if it was not possible to sight the moon at all. Sayyid Fadhlullah was a proponent of this view for a while, but later he changed his opinion on it.
2) Mere Possibility of Sight
Based on this methodology, the criterion to determine the first of the month is the birth of a crescent, but with the condition that it is possible to sight it. In other words, it is not necessary that the moon is actually sighted or not in order for the month to be established. So, if scientific and astronomical calculations prove that a crescent has been born such that 1) it can be referred to as a “crescent of the new month” and, 2) if there is no obstacle preventing the possibility of seeing the moon, then the first of the new month is established, even if no one was able to actually sight it.
A scenario would be if the crescent is only visible from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and it is possible to see it from there, but no one is able to travel there to see it. The Qur’an says (Baqarah:189): They ask you, [O Muhammad], about the new moons. Say, “They are measurements of time for the people” – meaning the crescent itself is the measurement of time, not the sighting of it. Therefore, narrations that mention the term “sighting”, like in: Fast due to sighting, and break the fast due to sighting, is only considered a means (has tariqiyyah), and is not a condition for the validity of establishing a new month (does not have mawdhu’iyyah).
Therefore, if we attain satisfaction (itminan) in the existence of a crescent, it suffices, and seeing it physically with the eyes is not necessary. Based on this methodology, if astronomers or weather experts give a report about the existence of a crescent which is possible to see, and one attains satisfaction due to their words, it is enough to establish the beginning of a new lunar month. Scholars such as Sayyid Fadhlullah, and Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari are proponents of this view. Thus, based on this view it is possible to predict the birth of a new moon and its possibility of being seen in some part of the world much quicker due to precise calculations that are at our disposal today. The website of Sayyid Kamal al-Haydari publishes all the calculations for the new moon every month. Agha Rashad has also accepted this methodology in a paper, and has argued that the Hawzah in the near future will eventually arrive at a near majority consensus on this methodology. Based on our own previous research and investigation, this methodology is indeed the strongest of all methodologies.
Although, in light of recently published works on the issue of the new moon – such as the treatise of Ayatullah Sistani, Ayatullah Montazeri, Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Sistani, and treatise of Agha Mohsin Araki, as well as the discussion of Ayatullah Zanjani on the matter in his Kitab al-Sawm – it is definitely worth researching and investigating it once again.
3) Mere Sighting (even with an optical aid)
Ayatullah Behjat, Ayatullah Khamenei, Ayatullah Shahroudi, and some other jurists are proponents of this view. The criticism that has been laid against this methodology is that if the term “sighting” (ru’yah) in the narrations have relevancy (mawdhu’iyyah), then without a doubt its meaning is a reference to a customary and habitual sighting, because jurisprudential terminology must be predicated on their customary and habitual instances. Ayatullah Shubeyri in his critique on this methodology also says something interesting. He says that if the standard is sighting with an optical aid, then if one is able to detect the impurity of something with a microscope, then one must give the verdict of it being Najis as well. There are other responses given against this methodology as well. Although, this methodology is closer to the second view mentioned above, because if a moon can be sighted through an optical aid, it brings satisfaction for a person that a crescent that was possible to sight has indeed been born. Nevertheless, this is not from amongst the famous approaches on the issue of moon-sighting.
4) Sighting with the Naked Eye
Based on this methodology, sighting the moon through any optical aid, and instruments like telescopes, is not enough. This is the famous view amongst the jurists, and even today many jurists ascribe to this view, such as Ayatullah Montazeri, Ayatullah Sistani and Ayatullah Makarem.
According to what has been said above, it is clear that differences that exist on the issue of sighting of the moon, are all rooted in which methodology and approach a jurist takes. Otherwise, from a scientific and astronomical point of view, when a new crescent is born is very clear and obvious.
Additional Point: Between these four methodologies, the first one is the farthest away from the prima-facie of the textual evidence (Qur’an & Hadith) utilized for it. The fourth is the closest to the prima-facie of the textual evidence. The second and third methodologies, are in the middle in relation to their distance from the prima-facie of the textual evidence. In other words, for the first methodology, the greatest amount of Ijtihad has been done against the text, in the last one the least amount of Ijtihad has been done against the textual evidence. The middle two methodologies are once again in the middle with respect to their degree of Ijtihad in relation to the textual evidence.
Unity and Difference of Horizon
Another issue that has seen a difference of opinion amongst the jurists is that if a moon is sighted in one area, does it suffice to say that the month is also established for another area that shares the same night with it? Ayatullah Khoei, Shahid Sadr, Agha Tabrizi, Agha Fazel Lankarani (based on his last view) and a few other jurists, believe that if the moon is sighted in one area, for example in Africa, it is also enough to declare the onset of the new month in Iran. However, according to the famous view and jurists such as Imam Khomeini, Ayatullah Khamenei, Ayatullah Makarem, and Ayatullah Sistani, the witnessing of the moon in one area, only establishes the new month for that area and its surrounding vicinities. The discussion on the unity of horizons does not take need to take place and is irrelevant if one ascribes to the first methodology.
Establishing the First of the Month Due to the Order (Hukm) of a Hakim
This matter has also seen a difference of opinion amongst the jurists. Agha Khoei, Ayatullah Sistani and Ayatullah Zanjani state that the first of the month cannot be proven due to the Hukm of a Hakim. Those who argue that the first of the month can be established through the Hukm of a Hakim, can only act on the Hukm if they do not have satisfaction on the invalidity and incorrectness of the order. Furthermore, if the methodology of the Hakim himself is the third methodology mentioned above – that is mere sighting of the moon, even through an optical aid – and if it becomes known that through an optical aid the first of the month has been proven for the Hakim himself, those who do not accept the methodology of the Hakim cannot act on his Hukm either.
As we know, Ayatullah Khamenei generally does not give a Hukm for the first of the month, and that which is released by his office is an announcement regarding the establishment of the first of the month for the Rahbar himself. The reason why Ayatullah Khamenei does not give a Hukm for the first of the month is either that he himself – like Sayyid Khoei – does not accept that the first of the month can be established through the Hukm of a Hakim, or that like those who have a view other than Sayyid Khoei, he does accept that the first of the month can be established with a Hukm, but due to his awareness of differing opinions on the matter of sighting the moon, and in order to prevent certain disputes and complications, refrains from giving a Hukm.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.