In many countries (mostly Western countries–America, Canada, Europe, etc.) our communities fight over the actual start date of Ramadan. This, itself, is not so bad–because, alhamdulillah, everyone backs up their opinion with a legitimate fiqh source (more on that in a second). However, the problem is that people in the same region fast on different days–sometimes, even two people in the same house fast on different days!
So how do we go about picking an appropriate date to start fasting?
First, read the hadith below:
Abu Huraira (رضي الله عنه) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (صلي الله عليه وسلم) made a mention of the new moon and (in this connection) said: Observe fast when you see it (the new moon) and break fast when you see it (the new moon of Shawwal), but when (the actual position of the month is) concealed from you (on account of cloudy sky), then count thirty days. [Sahih Muslim 6⁄2381]
To give you a glimpse of where different opinions stem from, note some key-words. For example, the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) said, fast when you see the moon. What’s meant by you? Different opinions sprout from it–does it mean people in the same city? People all over the world? He (صلي الله عليه وسلم) also said, count thirty days, i.e. calculate, so should we calculate the starting date according to the phases of the moon?
And this is just one hadith! What’s a person to do? Who do we follow?
Don’t look for the one “true” opinion to rule them all, and think the rest are wrong–they all have legitimate fiqh bases. Don’t try and evaluate the sources of the opinions yourself, either–Usool-ul-Fiqh is a science in itself that takes years to learn properly. In cases like this, with multiple opinions, all strong, and all backed up by legitimate proof, you end up confused about what to follow.
So what do you do?
Find a person of knowledge and taqwa, and follow them!
Remember, if they have knowledge–and taqwa (somewhat evident by their actions, their manners, how many scholars and people of knowledge agree with them, etc.) then they conduct all the research on your behalf (and on behalf of the community), and tell us what they think is the closest to what Allah () and His messenger (صلي الله عليه وسلم) instructed us to follow. The responsibility falls on them to teach us and guide us to the truth as best as they can.
And remember, in an Islamic state–like in many Muslim countries today–they follow one opinion. They make shura, decide what they think is best, and then everyone abides by it–even if they personally disagree with that opinion. And if someone decides to open a masjid across the street and follow a different opinion, under Shari’ah, they can actually be punished for that. Subhanallah!
Does that mean you change your own, personal opinion in your heart? Nope! Don’t we allow for difference of opinion? Of course! But breaking the ummah is a very serious matter. If trustworthy leaders pave the way, we follow.
And Allah knows best about all things.
Muhammad Alshareef. Lecture. AlMaghrib. Rizq Management. University of Toronto, Toronto. June 2006.