Kuraib says: Ummul Fadle (RA) sent me to Muaviyah in Sham on an errand for her. I reached Sham. I fulfilled her request. While in Sham Ramadan dawned upon us and on the eve of Friday we saw the Hilal of Ramadan. Then I came to Medina by the end of the month. Ibn Abbas (RA) questioned me and enquired about the Hilal. He said, "When did you see the Hilal?" I said “We saw it on the eve of Friday". Then he said, “Did you see it?” I said, “Yes, the people too saw it and they fasted and Muaviyah ® fasted." Then he said, "But we saw it on the eve of Saturday and we will continue fasting until we complete thirty or we see it." Then I said, "Is not Muaviya's seeing and his fasting enough for you? He said “No, That is what the Prophet (SAW) ordered us." (Muslim)
1. Due to ignorance of the scientific facts certain scholars have interpreted that Ibn Abbas ® did not accept Kuraib's statement because it was a distant place. If it was a matter of distance and Matla’ he would not have investigated it. He would have said that the sighting of Sham is not applicable to us in Medina. Rising of the Moon differs every year and every month at every place. Mostly all places in Kerala may come in one Matla'. But at times even Kozhikode and Kasargode would differ in the moonset. The Hilal seen at one place may not be visible at another place. This does not mean that date of the two places would differ except on the Matla' asshams (the Date Line). Ibn Abbas ® knew very well that Friday of Sham is Friday for Medina too. So if Friday is the first of Ramadan for Sham then Friday must be the first of Ramadan for Medina also. Ibn Abbas ® cannot be ignorant of this. He was aware of the saying of the Prophet (saw) that: "If two Muslims bear witness, you begin fasting or celebrate Eid." Then why did he reject Kuraib's statement that Sham began fasting on Friday? He did not get two witnesses who could say that Ramadan began on Friday at Sham despite the fact that many people had come to Medina with Kuraib.
2. Sham (Syria) is about 1000 km away from Medina. Will those who interpret that Ibn Abbas ® did not accept Kuraib's statement because of the difference in the Matla' (horizon) argue that Makkah and Ryadh which are situated about 1000 km apart should observe the Eid on different Days? The argument that within such and such distance the rule of Hilal should differ at times is baseless.
3. Imam Shaukani ® has given a scholarly explanation to this Hadith in his Nailul Autar. His explanation is quite satisfactory. An important comment in it says: Ibn Abbas ® has referred the sayings of the Prophet. "Fast at the appearing of the Hilal and celebrate Eidul Fitre at its appearing, if it is doubtful complete thirty." that was the command. It does not say that the appearing of the Hilal should be calculated on the basis of such and such distance or that the witnesses should be within such and such distance.
4. Imam Shaukani ® also gives a scholarly reply to this Hadith in his work Addurari. "The manner in which some scholars interpret the Hadith of Kuraib narrated by Muslim and others is not correct, because Ibn Abbas did not express anything to mean that the Prophet (saw) has ordered them not to act upon the witnessing of regions other than theirs, but he meant that the Prophet (saw) ordered them to see correctly and if doubtful complete 30. This was his thinking. By seeing he meant the seeing of that region is a mistake in understanding the Hadith. People fell into arguments and error untill they were divided into more than eight factions on this issue." (Addarari Vol 1P. 143)
5. Kuraib said that they saw the Hilal of Ramadan on the eve of Friday. But Ibn Abbas® said that he saw the Hilal of Ramadan on the eve of Saturday. There is a contradiction here. The Prophet's order is to look for the Hilal on the 29th of the month, not on any other Day. So Ibn Abbas ® looked for the Hilal of Ramadan on Friday evening, which was the 29th of Shaban and he began fasting according to it on Saturday.
We cannot believe that Ibn Abbas® looked for the Hilal of Ramadan on the 30th or on the first of Ramadan instead of 29th of Shaban! He was one of the most knowledgeable persons among the Sahaba ®. He knew very well that Friday of Medina and Sham was same and that the 29th of Shaban too should be Friday at both the places. So the eve of Friday should be 28th of Shaban for the people of Sham too.
The big question now in front of us including Ibn Abbas® is how did Kuraib look for the Hilal of Ramadan on Thursday which was the 28th of Shaban and how could he see the Hilal on the 28th? It was certainly not possible to see the Hilal on the 28th of the month! Most probably Kuraib and others had seen some thing else and mistook it for the Hilal if the statement of Kuraib is correct. Now it was not proper for Ibn Abbas® to act according to Kuraib's statement.
He needed another witness to support Kuraib's statement that Ramadan began on Friday at Sham. The Hadith does not record that anyone else had appeared before Ibn Abbas® to support Kuraib despite the fact that Kuraib did not come alone. Ibn Abbas® had no other alternative but to reject Kuraib's unfounded statement.
He knew very well that the Ramadan should commence on the same Day at all places and he wanted to verify whether the statement of Kuraib that Ramadan began on Friday was correct and reliable. That is why he had to question Kuraib. If he had learnt from the Prophet (saw) that the months could begin on different Days at Medina and Sham and the celebration of the Eid could be on different Days, then there was no need for him to question Kuraib and waste his valuable time. He need not bother about Sham and their seeing. He could have simply said without an enquiry "like this the Messenger of Allah has commanded us and Sham is far away, we need not worry about their seeing”.
His enquiring into the matter, when he heard that the people at Sham had begun Ramadan one day before proves that the Sahaba® had learnt from the Prophet (saw) that the months should begin on the same Day at all places and the Eid should be celebrated on the same Day all over the world.
It is reported that Ibn Abbas® asked Kuraib to fast the 31st.day. This is because Ibn Abbas® was sure that Ramadan began on Saturday that year and that there cannot be two days for the first of Ramdan (Friday and Saturday) in a year. This proves that the people of Sham had made a mistake and they began fasting one day earlier unknowingly. The fast of Kuraib on Friday was actually in Shaban. So his fast is not valid. Since that Ramadan had 30 days according to the correct observation of the Manazil of the Moon, Kuraib must fast one day more and that is why Ibn Abbas ® ordered him to fast. It is reported that the people of Medina searched for the Hilal on their 29th of Ramadan, Sarurday evening. The sky was very clear and the Hilal was not present. According to Kuraib it was 30th day and the Hilal should have been present. The absence of the Hilal proved that there was some thing wrong in the statement of Kuraib that Sham began Ramadan on Friday. (See Bulugh al-Maraam's commentary Subulus Salam).
Some of the Shafiy scholars explain this hadith
Imam Navavi® quotes: "Some of our followers say: If the Hilal is seen at one place it is binding on all people on the Earth. Certainly Ibn Abbas® did not accept Kuraib's information because of lack of evidence. Evidence cannot be confirmed by one person." (Sharah Muslim: Vol 4 P.212)
Imam Shaukani®'s interpretation is quoted and accepted in Turmudi's explanatory work Tuhfathul Ahvadiyya (vol.3, P 379). "Ibn Abbas® rejected Kuraib's statement for want of witnesses."
Renowned works in Hanafi Madhab explain:
"Kuraib is the only witness. For a Qadi to enforce a decree one witness is not sufficient" (Sharah Thuhfathul Qadeer. Vol 2 P.314)
Scholars of Malikiy Madhab:
The scholars of the Malikiy Madhab also have expressed similar views. (Vo1.3 P.211 Areelathul Ahvadi of Ibn Arabi)
Renowned scholars of Hambali Madhab explain:
"Kuraib's Hadith informs us that they did not celebrate Eidul Fitre depending on Kuraib's words. We also say the same. The question is whether compensation for the lost fast of the first day of Ramadan became compulsory. That is not mentioned in the Hadith." (Mugni 3-5)
In short there is no mention in any Hadith that the information of the Hilal seen elsewhere should be rejected or that the Prophet (saw) has specified the limits to accept the witnesses. The reason is that there would be difference in the appearance of the Hilal and it should not be determined according to the distance. Moreover, it changes every month. Moonrise and moonset for every day for any given place can be determined exactly by calculations. We can see in the practice of the Prophet (saw), the directions to the effect that the differences in moonrise shall not be considered in the case of determining the onset of the month.