The Calendar related Pronouncement in Verse 2.189
This verse was revealed in the early period of Medina after it had become a Muslim city-state, plus its inhabitants were not being allowed by the Meccans to pilgrimage to Mecca. Therefore, Meccans’ practice of كبيثه (intercalation) and نسى (postponement) were having no effect at all in the life of the people in Medina, and their own calendar was running fine. So this verse, like verses revealed in Mecca, was not meant to correct any calendrical problem there.
It fact, it was revealed in connection with a superstition related to the Moon. God is very wise; He used this occasion to paraphrase the content of verse 10.5 with reference to crescents only (instead of all visible lunar stages) exposing that the nature and function of each and every crescent, whether it is of day1 or day25 for instance, is the same. This “crescents specific” exposition indirectly pinned down for ever the nature of the first crescent that starts a new month. An elaboration is given below.
In actuality, verse 2.189 talks of two superstitions — one related to the Moon, the other related to Ihram (iH-rɑːm; the obligatory dress for the pilgrimage). Since the subject at hand is Moon Sighting, only the first section of the verse would be discussed.
2/189: يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْأَهِلَّةِ قُلْ هِيَ مَوَاقِيتُ لِلنَّاسِ وَالْحَجِّ
|Translation:||They ask thee, [O Muhammad], about the crescents. Say:|
|They are devices to mark times (dates) for people and Hajj.|
Here are two things about which there is confusion in general:
|(i)||Why is the verse talking of plural crescents, أَهِلَّةِ , while it is|
|the first crescent that precisely regulates the dating process?|
|(ii)||What is the meaning or concept of مَوَاقِيتُ ?|
THE REASON AND SIGNIFICANCE OF PLURAL أَهِلَّةِ :
The question asked — what is the reality of the crescent moons — was not concerning any calendrical issue in Medina but superstitions related to the waxing and waning crescents in the first and the last quarters of a lunar cycle respectively. Many in Arabia considered the day-to-day widening crescents in the first quarter of a month as good omen for pursuits like travel, business, etc. Conversely, they linked ill omen to the day-by-day diminishing crescents of the last quarter of a lunar cycle. Superstitions were common in former times because humans had neither adequate knowledge nor the attitude of critical thinking. Rather, they relied on information passed on from generation to generation. However, Islam was changing that trend, and the believers were becoming interested in knowing and going with the facts. Therefore, some of them asked the Prophet (PBUH) about the reality behind the widening and diminishing crescents. In reply, God told them to the effect that the reality of all crescent moons is the same, and that is they all are date-indicating devices in Nature.
Please note the questioners did not make clear whether they had believed the omen, or denied it, or were unsure about it. Rather, they plainly asked the reality of the crescents. Therefore, God told them that the reality behind the crescents is that they are natural date-indicators. And He left the answer of their indirect query as implied — those who believed it were in error, those who denied it were right, and those who were unsure should know that the ideation was unreal. God is very wise: it is very possible that the different questioners had different takes.
After knowing the reason why plural crescents have been used in the verse, let us now focus on the additional guidance the Wise God has encoded in it — specially as regards the issues surrounding moon-sighting today.
FROM THE COMPARISION OF THE CRESCENT MOONS
Since the verse is revealing that the reality (nature and function) of all moon crescents are the same, it indirectly is making out:
(A) If the crescents such as of day3, day4, day25, day26 are visible to the human eye, day1 crescent moon is also visible to the human eye. Therefore, “mathematical only” moon is NOT among the crescents according to the verse.
(B) If the crescents such as of day3, day4, day25, day26 are seeable by the naked eye, the day1 crescent is also seeable by the naked eye. Therefore, telescopic or binocular moon is not a crescent in the above verse.
(C) If the crescents such as of day3, day4, day25, day26 are observable locally, the day1 crescent moon is also observable locally. Therefore, there is nothing like Global Moon or Moon of Mecca For All.
(D) If the crescents such as of day3, day4, day25, day26 are seeable by all the people at a place, day1 crescent is also seeable by all moon-watchers at a place. There is not a single record that during the period of the Prophet and the Upright Caliphs (about 35 years i.e. 420 months), the first crescent was seen by only one or two persons out of the tens or hundreds or thousands of moon-watchers at a specific location.
(i) This verse by saying لِ … الْحَجِّ , made it clear that the calendar in God’s religion is based on visible crescents. All over Arabia, الْحَجِّ was known as the religious observance prescribed by God.
(ii) Wording لِلنَّاسِ is open to peoples’ discretion. For example, if the people of Pakistan adopt the “lunar calendar based on visible crescents” as their civil calendar, it is fine. And if they adopt the Gregorian, or a lunar calendar based on calculations, or any other calendar as their civil calendar, it is fine too.
FROM THE ESTABLISHED VOCABULARY
From BCE time: Egyptians, Hindus, Jews, Romans, and all other civilizations defined the word crescent (i.e. the corresponding word) as a VISIBLE moon less than half moon — irrespective of the root-meaning of those corresponding words in their languages. This means the inquirers of Medina used the word الْأَهِلَّةِ (the crescents) in the meaning of visible moons less than half moons, and also God used the word in the same meaning. Furthermore, in those days, visibility meant seeable by bare eyes in the local sky.
When God has declared ALL the crescents (الْأَهِلَّةِ) as seeable by bare eyes in the local sky, how can today the first crescent moon be mathematical only, or invisible locally, or telescopic, or visible only to one/two persons out of hundreds or thousands of moon-watchers at a location? Does God’s Disclosure about the Fact of Nature turn out to be wrong with time?
FROM THE STATE OF A SUPERSTITIUS PRACTICE
A superstitious practice is connected with the occurrences that are observed by common people. Or, do you believe, in Arabia, the leaders used to announce that the time of good omen began since the first crescent had been observed mathematically, or seen in Egypt, or seen by the telescope, or seen by one/two residents of the city?
This is plain common sense that the superstitious practice of good omen itself reflects that the first moon crescent was seen widely, with bare eyes, and in the local sky.