Q: Is it permissible for a Muslim
to count on astronomical calculations to decide the beginning and the end of Sawm (Fast) (in Ramadan)?
Or should we depend on seeing the crescent?
The Shari`ah (Islamic law) is a lenient one; its rulings are generic and comprehensive to both (Human and Jinn) alike, regardless of their ranks; whether they are scholars or illiterate people, rural or urban. This is why Allah has made it easy for them to identify the times of acts of worship. He has made specific signs for them by which they can all know the beginning and end timings of such acts. He has made, for example, the meridian (Part No. 10; Page No. 105) and the inclination of the sun towards the west a sign for the advent of Zhuhr (Noon) Prayer time. He also made the time of sunset a sign for the advent of Maghrib (Sunset) Prayer and the end of `Asr (Afternoon) Prayer. Also the time of `Isha' (Night) Prayer can be recognized by the disappearance of twilight. In addition to this, Allah has made the sighting of the crescent at the end of every lunar month a sign for the advent of the new month, and the end of the previous one. Allah has not obligated us to observe the beginning of the month based on something that is not known but to only some people, which is astronomy and its calculations. Thus the texts of the Qur'an and Sunnah have made sighting the crescent a sign for all Muslims to start fasting Ramadan; as they stipulated for them to end their fast on sighting the crescent of Shawwal. The same applies to `Eid-ul-Adha (the Festival of the Sacrifice) and the day of `Arafah. Allah (Exalted be He) says,
So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Saum (fasts) that month
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.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said,
When you see the crescent (of the month of Ramadan), start fasting, and when you see it again (that of the month of Shawwal), stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast (and you can not see it) then regard the crescent (month) of Ramadan as of 30 days.
Thus, he (peace be upon him) has ordained fasting when the sighting of the crescent of Ramadan is confirmed, and ordained breaking fast on seeing the crescent of Shawwal. However, he has not linked this to any astronomical calculations or to the movements of the stars, and this was the way things used to be at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the Four Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik, Al-Shafi`y, and Ahmad), in addition to the time of the three generations to which the Prophet (peace be upon him) witnessed to be the best. Therefore, referring to (Part No. 10; Page No. 106) astronomy in establishing the advent of the lunar months to start any act of worship or to end it without sighting the crescent, is an act of Bid`ah (innovation in religion) in which there is no good, as it is not supported by any evidence from the Shari`ah. For this reason,
the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still abides by the way of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the righteous Salaf (predecessors) in confirming the acts of worship like Sawm, breaking fasting, `Eids (Muslim Festivals) and times of Hajj, which is to sight the crescent. Following the Salaf in all religious matters achieves welfare for the Islamic nation, and all evil lies in following the acts of Bid`ahs innovated in our Din (Religion of Islam). May Allah protect you, us, and all Muslims from both hidden and apparent tribulations.May Allah grant us success. May peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family, and Companions.