Neighbouring Countries and their Moonsighting

Fiqh, Moon Sighting / Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Muslim communities of the neighbouring countries, i.e. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, etc. have always relied on South Africa for moonsighting purposes (if moonsighting was not reported within their own countries) and consider South Africa’s moonsighting as sufficient and valid for their calendar purposes. Ulama in South Africa had adopted a policy to accept moonsighting in South Africa only (and not that of neighbouring countries) for various reasons. Amongs them:

1.      If the moon was not sighted in the eastern parts of the country, then it would in most cases be sighted in the Cape (due to its far west geographic location), depleting on the need to rely on moonsighting outside South Africa.

2.      Due to poor co-ordination and administration difficulties (between South Africa and neighbouring countries), the Shar’ee contact, which is a prerequisite for reliance of moonsighting, was found to be unacceptable in terms of the precedence of high standards  created by the South African Hilaal Committee.

Of late, the infrastructure in neighbouring countries in respect to Hilaal committees as well as their Shar’ee contact (co-ordination and administration) have been receiving attention. This has resulted in Ulama from neighbouring countries questioning the South African policy on accepting moonsighting in South Africa only. These sentiments were also emotionally echoed by their respective communities driven largely by the fact that they have always accepted our moonsighting (so why not us theirs) as well as in the interests of unity.

The Ulama in the eastern parts of South Africa (predominantly Hanafi) find themselves torn between two loyalties. If they accept moonsighting of the neighbouring countries which is acceptable in terms of the official ruling of the Hanafi Madhab as well as the Fataawa of the contemporary Hanafi Muftis, they expose themselves to the risk of this moonsighting being rejected by the Shaafi’ee Ulama in the western parts of the country because of them being on a different Matla`. The result would be the South African Muslim split into two.

On the other hand, if they take a decision that will be acceptable to the Shaafi’ee community of the Cape (and reject moonsighting in a neighbouring country), they fear a feeling of disunity and tension being created between South African Muslims and its neighbours.

The challenge is for the South African Shafi’ee Ulama, working within their Madhab, to adopt such a policy (for moonsighting purposes) that will maintain and strengthen unity between not only the Shaafi’ee and Hanafi communities of South Africa but also between South Africa and its neighbouring countries.

A suggestion would be to improve and strengthen co-ordination and Shar’ee contact between the countries and for SA to consider the moonsighting of its neighbouring countries if it is acceptable in terms of astronomical data.

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