Singapore’s approach to determining the start of the Hijri month

Singapore Muslims celebrated Hari Raya Aidilfitri on 3 May, unlike others in the region. Will this happen again for Hari Raya Haji? When does Zulhjjjah start for us?
by Muslim.Sg 2022-06-27 • 13 min read
Muslim.Sg is a one-stop online media platform that aims to inspire and empower millennial Muslims with powerful and engaging Islamic religious content.
2022-06-27 • 13 min read

Singapore’s approach to determining the start of the Hijri month

 moonsighting or calculation

On 22 June 2022, Deputy Mufti Dr Ustaz Mohd Murat Aris and experts in the science of Falak (Astronomy), Dr Firdaus Yahya and Mr Faizal Othman, shared excellent insights on the method used by Singapore for the official sighting of the new moon to determine the start of the Hijri month.

This is particularly significant for Muslims as there are important acts of worship that are closely related to the Hijri calendar. For example, the fasting of Ramadan, the fasting of Arafah, the celebration of both Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Hari Raya Aidiladha and the Hajj, just to name a few. Without knowing the dates of the Hijri calendar, it will be difficult to observe the aforementioned deeds.

Read: 4 Intriguing Things You May Not Know About the Islamic Hijri Calendar

In a Hadith, the Prophet s.a.w. said:

 إذا رَأَيْتمُوه فَصُومُوا، وإذا رَأَيْتُمُوه فَأفْطِروُا، فإن غُمَّ عليكم فَاقْدُرُوا له

“When you see it (the new moon of Ramadan), fast, and when you see it (the new moon of Syawal), end your fasting (of Ramadan). If it is covered, then calculate it (as thirty days)”

(Sahih Muslim)

 moonsighting or calculation

This Hadith tells us that the sight of the new moon determines the beginning of a new Hijri month on the following day. Scholars have deduced several ways for moonsighting, or rather, to determine the appearance and visibility of the new moon. This is particularly relevant for some countries where the new moon might not be visible to be seen over the horizon.

This article intends to address the issue of moonsighting to determine the Hijri months in Islam, and Zulhijjah in particular, by extracting points and excerpts from the media briefing.

1. What is Singapore’s approach to determining the date for the beginning of the Hijri month?

Singapore uses the method of Imkan ar-Rukyah (calculating the possibility of visible moonsighting) as the basis for determining the beginning of the Hijri month.

Imkan ar-Rukyah refers to the conditions which permit the actual sighting of the new moon. To know the condition, a calculation is needed. The conditions required for the new moon to be visible depend on the altitude of the new moon from the horizon and the elongation (angular distance) between the moon and the sun during sunset. Both mentioned criteria must meet a certain measurement for the moon to be visible by the naked eye or by a regular telescope.

 moonsighting or calculation

Hence, on the 29th day of every Hijri month, the moon must meet the criteria of Imkan Ar-Rukyah as agreed by the countries of MABIMS[1] to officially announce the start of a new Hijri month. The announcement is usually made for Ramadan, Syawal and Zulhijjah, all of which involve significant acts of worship, as mentioned above.

Back in 1974, the Fatwa Committee in MUIS concluded to determine the beginning of the Hijri month by Hisab. It was a method used to determine the appearance of the new moon without considering its visibility. This method has been the official way for Muslims in Singapore to determine the dates of the Hijri calendar. When MABIMS was formed, Singapore adopted the Imkan Ar-Rukyah method.

However, on 1 May 2022, Mufti was seen using the telescope in an attempt to observe the new moon. Observation of the new moon through a telescope was made specifically to assess a possible established need to confirm the calculation of the new moon and to collect data for research and future observations. 

This is important to clarify as some misleading notions claim that Mufti uses ‘Sighting’ (Rukyah Haqiqi) of the new moon to determine a Hijri month.

2. Based on the Imkanur Rukyah method, can Singapore see the new moon and meet the criteria set by MABIMS?

Since 2017, experts in astronomy from the countries of MABIMS have discussed and revised the criteria of Imkan Ar-Rukyah. The new criteria were developed and determined based on the results of more than 700 observation data collected from all over the world. 

The new MABIMS criteria only need two parameters during sunset, on the 29th day of every Hijri month:

a.    The altitude of the new moon
b.    And the elongation between the sun and the moon.

 moonsighting or calculation

The altitude of the moon must exceed 3° and the elongation must exceed 6.4°. If the position of the new moon at sunset does not meet the criteria, scientifically (astronomical) and based on the data from the 700 observations mentioned earlier, the new moon cannot be seen with the naked eye or even with the aid of optical observation equipment (regular telescope, binoculars, etc) at sunset.

In addition to that, the new moon is even more difficult/impossible to observe in Singapore due to several reasons, among others, weather factors, atmospheric contamination and thick clouds. Singapore is one of the countries which experience very frequent thunderstorms. We receive about 170 days of lightning thunderstorms in a year.

 moonsighting or calculation  Sunrise at the eastern horizon of Singapore

Astronomical calculations show that on 29 June 2022, the new moon is unlikely to be visible on the western horizon of Singapore as the sun sets in the evening. Moreover, it does not meet the requirements of the Imkan Ar-Rukyah criteria (The altitude of the new moon must exceed 3° and the elongation must exceed 6.4°).

The altitude of the moon on 29 June at sunset will be at 2.23° with an elongation of almost 4.48°. With the criteria unfulfilled, it is unlikely that the new moon will be visible, even with the aid of an optical observation device.

Therefore, Singapore will likely start the month of Zulhijjah on 1 July instead of 30 June. As for Hari Raya Aidiladha, it will take place on 10 July accordingly.

3. Will there be any expected differences in dates for Zulhijjah by the countries of MABIMS? And in general, has these differences ever occurred in history?

In sya Allah, the beginning of Zulhijjah is expected to fall on 1 July 2022 for all four countries of MABIMS. Hari Raya Aidiladha will, therefore, take place on 10 July.

However, there is no denying that there is a possibility (although very unlikely) that some Muslim countries (whether in this region or in the Middle East) will announce the date for Hari Raya Aidiladha a day earlier.

Although the criteria are the same, each country of MABIMS has its own respective process to determine the new Hijri month. Therefore, there is a possibility of having different dates for the beginning of a Hijri month.

In view of these possible differences, it's important to know that this has happened before. 

In fact, if we look into the History of Islam, such differences have happened during the time of the Companions r.a. Imam Muslim has narrated the differences in determining the dates for the beginning and end of fasting in Ramadan amongst the Companions who resided in different cities.

 moonsighting or calculation

At that point in time, Sayyidina Mu’awiyah r.a fasted on Friday, while those in the city of Madinah fasted on Saturday, due to the differences in seeing the new moon between the two cities of Syam (the Levant) and Madinah respectively.

When the residents of Madinah asked, “Why not follow Sayyidina Mu’awiyah r.a. to align the period of fasting among Muslims as the new moon has already been seen in Syam?”, Sayyidina Ibn ‘Abbas r.a. replied that Rasulullah s.a.w. taught them to determine the start of a Hijri month (according to the respective location resided by the individual or community), even if it may lead to differences among Muslims at that time.

 moonsighting or calculation

4. If there are members of the community who claim to have witnessed the new moon, while it does not meet the criteria for its appearance that has been agreed upon by astronomers, how can this be clarified?

Observing the new moon is a field that requires competent knowledge. For example, to know:

a. The right geographical direction for the observation.
b. The height of altitude of the moon and distance of elongation.
c. The shape of the new moon
d. The time of observation
e. The age of the new moon, and so on.

So for example in observing the new moon, the observer must ensure that the new moon is located at the western horizon and not the eastern horizon. This is to differentiate between the ‘old moon’ and the new moon. If anyone claims to have witnessed the new moon at the eastern horizon, then it is not a new moon but possibly an ‘old moon’.

It is mentioned in the Book of Tuhfah At-Tullab, by Sheikhul Islam Zakariyya Al-Ansari, one of the main references for the Shafi’i fiqh school of legal thought (Mazhab) – that if anyone witnesses the new moon, but it contradicts with the findings from the science of astronomy, then the claim is rejected.

6. What is the role of MABIMS in setting an astronomical criterion?

MABIMS or The Unofficial Annual Meetings of Religious Ministers in Brunei, Darussalam, The Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia and The Republic of Singapore, is a form of regional agreement that operates on a religious basis to safeguard the welfare and interest of Muslims in each of these countries.

 moonsighting or calculation

There are several areas of cooperation between the countries of MABIMS, both in the religious and social fields.

Among others is the collaborative work in astronomy. MABIMS members regularly hold meetings and discussions as well as share information related to astronomical findings for the benefit of Muslims in the region.

See: Report on the media briefing by Berita Harian

[1] The Unofficial Annual Meetings of Religious Ministers in Brunei, Darussalam, The Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia and The Republic of Singapore

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