Sunday, September 24, 2006

Moon Sighting or Moon Fighting

"Ramadan Mubarak!" My aunt called from Bangladesh, "we started our Ramadan from yesterday. How about you?"

"Well," I answered, "we started it from today ..."

"Hmm." I could imagine her raising an eyebrow across the transatlantic phone conversation. "H (her son - my cousin - who also lives in Toronto) started it yesterday. Did you miss one?"

Ofcourse we missed one, her son obviously was on the dot. Given that this was H's first year in Canada, we will excuse aunty's confusion. Yes, the media talks about the 'Muslim voice' and 'Muslim street' and the 'Muslim world ' as if we are one homogeneous entity, yet we in the same city cannot decide on the dates of our holiest days!

There are three schools of thought. The first one says since we follow Saudi calendar for the Hajj (i.e. the pilgrimage is performed in Mecca when it's time for Hajj according to the lunar calendar in Saudi) so we should follow Saudi time for Ramadan.

There are two problems with this school of thought. First, we don't pray when it's the time for prayers in Mecca. Though it would be very convenient to pray Fajr (our dawn prayer) in the evening, we pray when it's time to pray locally. Hajj we do according to Saudi times because we are there in Mecca when we do the Hajj.

The second problem is that the Saudi government is not sincere when it comes to their lunar sighting. They shift around the dates of the calendars according to their whim. Last year, Hajj fell on a Friday. Suddenly the Saudi government was petrified - Hajj on Friday is special, so there would be more people than usual and it would be a nightmare for the security forces. Suddenly, two 80-year-old men "appeared". They claimed they had "seen" the new moon of the Hajj month one day than previously thought. So the Saudi government declared it "believed" them, and shifted the day of Hajj to one day before - i.e. Thursday. Now two 80-year-old guys cannot see enough to tie their own shoelaces, and they can see the moon?

Personally I have seen that most of the minority of the mosques in Toronto that follow Saudi timing are Arab-centric mosques who want to celebrate at the same time as their families back on home.

The second school of thought is the one favoured by ISNA, who decide on astronomical calculations to predict the Islamic calendar. According to them, moon sighting is the means to an end. They point to prayer timings as an example. For example, in the times of the Prophet the time for Asr was when the length of the shadow of a stick is twice the length of the stick. No one does that anymore, we use calculations and clocks to say the time of Asr today, for example, is 6.13 pm. Similarly, one shouldn't have to physically sight the moon nowadays, we can use the calculations. Given this reasoning, ISNA has published the lunar calendar for the next two years (2006, 2007).

There is one problem with this though. There is a clear Hadith that says the Prophet's verdict in case of cloudy nights (when it would be impossible to see the moon even though it should be there by calculations) is to continue the month to it's 30th day.

The third school of thought is the orthodox school of thought. Every 29th day of the lunar month, people go and look for the new moon. If it is sighted, then the next day is the first day of the next month, else the next day is the 30th day of this month, following which the next month starts. Muslims have been using this rule for the last 1400 years.

My own personal opinion as a laymen is that following Saudi timing is complete bogus. The Saudis themselves are not honest brokers of the lunar calendar, relying on the Saudi government is fallacious. The ISNA suggestion should be debated at length by clerics around the world. When people first suggested using clocks and timings for prayers there was opposition as well. If found sound by the majority of the ulema, it should be adopted and we can have a Global Calendar. However, it should also be noted that ISNA is not consistent in its methodologies - it used different rulings last time around.

I personally favour the orthodox method, for now. It's agreed to by majority of the Muslims, mosques and ulema - and according to the prophet the Ummah will not agree on an error. Since the majority of the Muslims follow the orthodox method for now, this is how we should as well.

Not to mention that the date of Sunday as day 1 of Ramadan implies Eid will most likely be on a Monday - which is really convenient as a long weekend.

The same time, last year.


Crimson Mouzi said...

I really really made a promise to keep away from blogosphere to be able to do more important stuff in the month, but your post really really makes me want to post a comment:
My bro and Khala live in NY. My bro went to FIVE mosques (which included a Bangladeshi mosque knowns as Jamaica Islamic Center) for taraweeh and NONE of the mosques prayerd taraweeh. He and his wife came home and fasted anyway thinking that Boston, where I live, is only about 200 miles away and we prayed taraweeh. And also in Long Island, NY they prayed taraweeh. I am talking about Friday night, by the way.
So, there is this family really involved with the BD mosque in NY comes back from the mosque knowing that NO fasting on Saturday. However, both Boston and most of NY decided to discard ISNA's decision. So, when I got the taraweeh prayer in Boston, I realized tey must HAVE SEEN the moon. But NY folks didn't. So, that family that was really involved with the mosque communtiy gets a call from the mosque at 3:00am, telling that moon has been sighted and they must fast Saturday!

I mean, seriously, how in the world do you not see the moon in the beginning of the night. In fact if you don't see it right after dusk, you should not be able to see it anyway and hence should not change your decisions like this. So, my bro and his wife fasted this day whereas my khala's family who lives right around the corner from my bro (literally) NOT fasting saturday.

I liked Colorado... the WHOLE state would fast or not fast at the same day, even though it may not be the same as the rest of the country. But when your fasting days are not even the same as your neighbors, that is scary.
But i think that only shows how many peole want to do it RIGHT. And I am proud of Muslims' concern about doing it the RIGHT way. At the end of the day, it's the intention that counts, and inshaAllah,we all will be rewarded for our effort and strength.
It also makes us different from the other Ahl-al-Kitaab, where they have like a set calendar for it all. Starting ramadan a day early or a day late does not show piety either way. Maybe it's just another test of tolerane and patience for us.

Ramadan Mubarak

Anonymous said...

i start ramadan on monday.... :/

Ek Umeed said...

"Late is better than never," I have been told. I know I have been MIA from the blogging scene, but I could not help it. I have been drowning in lots of work this semester from my classes. And realize this: Even when I appear MIA, I am really playing the role of a silent reader.

And yes, your toad comment on my blog was hilarious. It induced uncontrollable laughter from me, and I wonder if my next-door dorm neighbor thought I had gone loco.

And again, your comments on my Ramadan post were appreciated. I was actiually posting this time from my home late at night instead fo my dorm, which is why I did not catch some of the grammatical and punctuation errors until now. (I am such a stickler for using correct English, which is why I was absoutely horrified to find the mistakes I did. I was even more horrified to learn that I had subjected you and possibly other silent readers to such a post. Oh, well, it was late at night. That qualifies as an excuse, right?)

Anyhow, I still appreciate you sharing your memory of your first fast. Yesterday was my first fast of this year. And boy, was I hungry! And as I was helping my mom prepare the feast, I accidentally tasted a sip of liquified "pani-puri" masala. But it is intention that counts in Allah's omniscient eyes, which is why I was not worried. But still...

And what you write here is so true. I have never understood why there is so much controversy over which day is Eid or when Ramadaan starts based on moon sighting. I wish Muslims would be more unified in terms of making their rulings. In fact, I think one of the many reasons Muslims have never been able to stand united for any common cause is because of so much infighting over little matters. As usual, a great and insightful post, Mezba. :)

'liya said...

I agree with you, we use the 3rd option as well :)

Em said...

Ramadan Kareem everyone!

Ramadan 1427 for the city I'm in: About a third went with ISNA's Saturday start. About another third went with the first "confirmed" North America sighting for a Sunday start. Yet another third will start with the local mosque on Monday because there wasn't a local sighting even on Saturday night (and Sunday was apparently 30 Shaaban locally).

So much for united Islam. PLEASE let's all make sincere du'a for our unity.

May Allah ease our path to Him and the Garden.

Aisha said...

I'm with you on this. I'm following ISna's thing this year which is using the calender. Amen to that.

The Bengali Fob said...

Yep, I completely agree that the SAudi method is just completely illogical! I too am following the Orthodox method.

When will muslims truly unite?!

sonia said...

no one is ever going to agree on everything - if that's the definition of 'unity' then it's unattainable.

in any case! if people start fasting the next day it's hardly 'missing one' is it - you'll simply fast one more day at the end. what a lot of fuss! just goes to show this general obsession with the nitty-gritty.

sonia said...

there was a joke in my young days - about how the Saudis would go off to the Moon to have a look to see if they could sight the moon..;-) heh heh!

sonia said...

There seems to be an idea floating about that one should keep away from the blogosphere during Ramadan. Is blogging a necessarily frivolous task? it's quite an interesting notion.

generally the thing that amuses me about people's attitudes towards Ramadan is 'oh suddenly we should be good. Some folks even say they won't go the cinema that month! if you do it 11 months of the year i fail to see what's suddenly so bad. or perhaps the converse of that..perhaps we should be trying to be 'good' all year round instead of just one month!

mezba said...

MFH: I really wish they would unify the fasting time. It's hard enough as it is to book holidays.

'Oh I need Monday and Tuesday off OR Tuesday and Wednesday, I will know tonight after I see the moon.'

You can imagine the faces of your boss!

Lol at seeing the moon at 3 am.

Anon: where are you located?

Ek Umeed: Yes, we need to unify on small steps first. People should avoid blindly aping Saudi time just because 'it's Saudi'.

Liya: Ya, I follow the Nugget mosque timing (which is what over 70 mosques (the majority) in Toronto do).

Em: Ya even in cities where there are a couple of mosques you have three dates - some people just arbitrarily decide they would follow Pakistan timing, for example.

Aisha, Bfob: I wish the ISNA calendar system would be greatly debated. It would be neat to know when is Eid for sure.

Sonia: I guess in the absence of a government decision it's hard for people to unite - but atleast the mosques should come together for the sake of its followers and be firm on one date.

I don't think blogging is frivolous but just that people want to devote more time to religious worship in this month. Also being good for one month is better than being good for zero months ;-)

Crimson Mouzi said...

this is to Sonia:

Well, you are right that if you are trying to better yourself that should be an year round effort. And in order to achieve that, Allah has given us Ramadan, Alhamdulillah. This is the time when Jihad-un-Nafs is a bit easier (I practically find it easier), as I think the shaitans are chained and ALhamdulillah, it's so much easier to go above our shahawat (our physical desire) and shubuhat (desire of the heart)! So, it's like a training camp and we hope to be able to continue our good deeds even after Ramadan and hence the ambition of strict disciplining of ourselves.

Another thing is that, in this month, every second's worship is worth SO MUCH MORE than what would be in other times. It's a chance to help ourself save from the Fire, it's a chance to ensure the paradise, it's the time when the gates of Jannah are open and the heavens are literally asking Allah to make inhabitants of Jannah, in this month. When it's so easy to just flow into the gate and a bit harder to fall on the Fire, would we waste your time blogging, even though I AM? Going to movie? Having "halal" party? Or would we rather use the time to make your account weigh heavy on good deeds?

ANd of course, since it's a training season, whatever we practice now, we must try to hold onto them in the coming year. And of course if we are sincerely trying to change something about ourselves, and we do it for at least 29 days, don't you think it will leave us with some after effect? I hope it does! Otherwise, there is not point of observing this month at all.

I thought I should reply because I think I brought up the issue about it!! :)
Hope that clarifies the point.