Many questions are asked by the brothers in Britain concerning how one assures the start of the month of Ramadān and its conclusion, so how is a Muslim supposed to start fasting and what course is he to follow?
It is because of these questions that this clarification becomes necessary, so we say, and Allāh is the One, without any partner, Who grants accord and aids to arriving at what is correct.
The Muslims in this country and others like it which are not ruled by the Islamic Law differ greatly concerning how to assure the start of the month of Ramadān and how to assure that it has ended and Shawwāl / 'Id al-Fitr have started.
Some follow the opinion that the new moon must be sighted or Sha'bān must be completed as thirty days in order to assure the start of Ramadān and the same goes in order to assure the start of Shawwāl. This is the correct position and there is no doubt concerning this due to the large number of evidences supporting it and it is the opinion of the majority of Muslims amongst the Salaf and succeeding generations. The Prophet sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam said, " fast when you see [the moon] and cease fasting when you see it, and if it is hidden or cloudy, complete the counting of Sha'bān as thirty days," agreed upon being reported on the authority of Abū Hurayrah .
Others follow the opinion that astronomical calculations should be employed in order to assure the start and end of Ramadān.
Others follow the opinion that they should follow the sighting of their homeland or the country from which they arrived here.
Some of the Muslims, and perhaps they are the majority here, following the sighting and announcement made by Makkah al-Mukarramah because it is the direction of our prayers and an emblem of Muslim unity.
It is clear that all of these opinions mentioned above have those who would criticize them. Those who go the way of sighting criticize those who use astronomical calculations and there is no doubt that this critique is correct, these in turn are criticized by others who state that sighting is just not possible in the majority of areas of these lands and so these criticizers rely upon the sighting of their homeland. Hence you will see the Pakistani fasting with Pakistan, the Egyptian fasting with Egypt, Moroccans fasting with Morocco etc. each one thinking that the sighting of his homeland is the most authentic sighting!
Everyone has his opinion, but there is no doubt that the greater benefit lies in the Muslims of one land fasting as one body, starting the same day and celebrating 'Id on the same day so as to display unity. Unity is one of the greatest features and benefits that the Islamic Law calls to and this is why some of the scholars were of the opinion that it would be good for Muslims living in non-Muslim lands to appoint one leader who would determine the likes of these matters for them.
However, unfortunately, this matter is absent in these lands and the Muslims remain in confusion as to how to start fasting, when to celebrate 'Īd al-Fitr and the likes of this. Therefore we advise the generality of Muslims in this land to follow the opinion of the majority of Muslims in this land with regards the starting and ending of the month, even if this opinion oppose an individuals opinion or the opinion of an organization.
Leaving individual opinion and following the opinion of the majority in matters of ijtihād for the sake of the benefit of unity is something that is well established in the Islamic Law. 'Abdullāh bin Mas'ūd prayed dhuhr behind 'Uthmān bin 'Affān in Minā as four rak'ahs despite his opinion and the fact that the Messenger of Allāh sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam had prayed two as had Abū Bakr and 'Umar; when asked why he did this, he replied, 'differing is evil'. Moreover the Islamic Law has enjoined one to stick firmly to the Jamā'ah and to all the means that would lead to actualizing this. Allāh, Mighty and Magnificent says, what is translated as, " Obey Allāh and His Messenger and do not differ such that you lose courage and your strength depart, be patient for Allāh is with the patient " and " Hold fast to the rope of Allāh, all of you, and do not split."
So, if the majority of Muslims in this land decide to follow the sighting in Makkah to determine the start and end of Ramadān, it is desirable for the Muslim to follow his brothers in this and not to depart from them. This opinion can be supported by the hadīth of Abū Hurayrah in which the Prophet r said, " the fast is the day you all fast, the breaking of fast is on the day that you all break fast, the day of sacrifice is on the day that you all sacrifice." Recorded by at-Tirmidhī; and the wording is his; Abū Dāwūd and others. At-Tirmidhī proceeded to say,'some of the People of Knowledge explained this hadīth to mean that fasting and breaking the fast should be done with the Jamā'ah or the majority of people.'
It is for this reason that a group of the People of Knowledge were of the opinion that if someone sights the new moon alone which the Imām rejects, for some reason, then the people should not fast until the Imām has given the order. The same applies to breaking the fast.
To summaries, its is necessary that the Muslims living in the western countries appoint an Imām that they can follow, follow him in starting and concluding the fast and other such matters of ijtihād, if this is not possible then the individual Muslims should follow in this matter, the majority of Muslims who live amongst them, even if that individual has an opinion that opposes the majority.
Allāh knows best. We ask Allāh, Mighty and Magnificent, to unite the Muslims upon righteousness and taqwā. Peace and blessings be upon our Prophet Muhammad sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam, his family and all his Companions