Here the Prophet SAW who knows that particular month is of 29 days through ‘wahi’ orders the Sahaba to observe the moon and find out the month correctly for themselves. He SAW was teaching them how to find out dates and months by observing the moon. ‘Wahi’ will not come after him and they should know how to find out their dates and months correctly by observing the Ahillah (waning and waxing crescents). It is not an order to see the Hilaal and then begin the month whenever they see it, which is impractical.
It is also not an order to complete 30 whenever the Hilaal is not seen due to clouds. We must use our discretion. We are not permitted to change the limit of the months as we like. Allah SWT has assigned 29 days to some months and we should not give them 30 days.
It is narrated about Ibn Umar RA who reported this Hadhees that he would send someone to see if the crescent is seen on the 29th of Sha’ban, because people believed that it is seen. He was seeing whether it was a fact. If it is reported cloudy Ibn Umar RA would fast the next day without completing 30! So it is clear that the Hadhees is not about seeing the Hialaal and beginning the month after seeing it.
Ibn Umar RA had his own method of finding out the month which he learnt from the Prophet SAW. He must have been trying to find out whether the Hilaal is seen on the last day of the month as believed by the laymen. He himself did not dare to go and search the Hilaal because the Prophet SAW never did it.
During the regime of Omar RA the Shia raised the demand that the month should begin only after seeing the Hilaal with the naked eye quoting the same Hadhees and blamed Omar RA for beginning the month without seeing the crescent and Ijma rejected it. Vide fat’hul baari.
حدثنا محمود بن خالد وعبد الله بن عبد الرحمن السمرقندي وأنا لحديثه أتقن قالا ثنا مروان
هو بن محمد عن عبد الله بن وهب عن يحيى بن عبد الله بن سالم عن أبي بكر بن نافع عن أبيه عن بن عمر قال:
تراءى الناس الهلال فأخبرت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم
أني رأيته فصامه وأمر الناس بصيامه – أبو داود 16920
This is another Hadhees which says: “Tharaa’annasul hilaala fa akhbarthu Rassolallahi SAW innee ra’aithuhu, fa saamahu wa amran’naasa bi siyaamihi. “People were discussing about the Hilaal and I reported to the Prophet SAW that I have observed it. The Prophet SAW fasted next day and ordered people to fast”.
All these Ahadhees tell us that they observed the Ahillah and found out the months correctly. They did not begin the fasting after seeing the first crescent just as people do today. The interpreters of the Hadees do not know anything about the Hilaal. They believed that sahaba RA also were like them.
A critical examination of this Hadees will tell us that Ibn Umar RA has not seen the crescent that evening. The people who were discussing about the hilaal did not see it. This must have been after praying Magrib. Will the Hilaal that appears in the western horizon on the last day of the month remain so long after the sun set? It will set within a few minutes and people cannot see it. Then what is the meaning of the words of Ibn Umar RA “Innee ra’aithuhu” “I have seen it”?
It does not mean that he has seen the crescent just then. It means he has observed the crescents and found out that hilaal must appear that night in the western horizon. If he had seen the Hilaal he would have shown it to others and they too would have seen it. This is not there in the Hadees.