By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
11 June 2017
The mystery of so called religious calendar is perhaps so intricate that in absolute frustration a poet had said:
Ghair Mumkin Hai Keh Haalaat Ki Ghuthi Suljhey—
Ehle Danish Nay Buhot Sotch Kay Uljhaayi Hai!
Impossible it is to untangle the situation—intelligent ones have entangled it with great skills.
Expressing sympathy with resident friends fasting in Ramadhan in June in the far north of Northern hemisphere, where the days are very long and warm in summer; discussion inevitably turns to comparison with the southern hemisphere where days are short and cool.
People with strict religious bent are easily offended if practical and logical issues are raised in the discussion. It is fraught with danger to attempt to delve into solving the mysteries of religious calendars, that is, whether the commandment in Quran for fasting month is based on Solar or Lunar dating system.
Fasting, that is refrain from consuming food is also prescribed in other religions for people of the Book and is practiced in different ways and times of the year.
The change from ancient Julian to the sixteenth century Gregorian calendar, now adopted after long deliberations by almost all countries, to be in synchronism in matters of calculating and dating international civil events is a welcome relief in spite of the fact that the Gregorian calendar has its roots in Catholic Church.
For Muslims the lunar calendar works out quite conveniently. This year for example the Northern hemisphere is celebrating Ramadhan – if celebrating is the right terminology, in that, the North is going through hottest time of the year and enduring very long days of fasting; whereas in the Southern hemisphere people are enjoying (?) coolest period of the year and shorter days of fasting, in some places even shorter than normal twelve hour day.
Conveniently because, in about a decade the tables will be turned and the endurance and enjoyment of fasting reversed in North to South. This can only happen in the lunar calendar. It therefore balances the “reward” over that of 12/13 year cycle.
However an intriguing aspect of the month of Ramadhan needs to be solved with open mind. The Arabic dictionary meaning of Ramadha is given as ‘intense heat’ and therefore Ramadhan as the name suggests, must be the month that always falls in midsummer.
The historic reference of the battle of Badar fought between the Madinan force of believers and the invading Makkan forces was during Ramadhan, that is, in the intense heat of summer (Ramadha), and is often quoted as an example of endurance of the Believers; as to how the small force of Prophet Muhammad’s followers defeated the disproportionately large Makkan force of non-believers.
A divinely planned event enacted for the victory of ‘truth’ against the followers of ‘falsehood’, because the odds were heavily stacked in favour of the non-believers to win the battle, who were not fasting. The loss would have rung the death knell of the Messenger’s mission of spreading Islam! Therefore, one must turn to the source Book Quran in order to seek some help in solving this mystery if possible. The perplexing questions are whether the Muslim calendar should be Lunar as it is now or Solar?
Chapter 9, verse 36 says: Surely the number of months in God’s ordinance is twelve since the day when He created the heavens and earth…
Only in Solar calendar there are twelve months in three hundred and sixty five days, very close to the complete orbit of the earth round the Sun, as opposed to the lunar calendar where they fall short by about a two weeks or so.
Hence the shifting of Ramadan, that occurs from one season to another every decade or so gives some relief to the Believers from the intense heat of summer. A practical and logical solution to average out the reward over the cycle.
If, according to 9:36 above, a solar calendar is adopted then it introduces the anomaly that the Believers in the north and those in the south would not be fasting in synch and would be out by six months of the year to fast in the intense heat Ramadha of – Ramadhan. That surely would be unacceptable in terms of maintaining the unity of the Muslim nation!
Associated question may be asked as to what should the Believers do when residing say above the Arctic and Antarctic meridians where the sun never sets or rises in summer and winter. It is understood that some Muslims in the far Northern countries have adopted the practical solution of fasting for “twelve” hours of the day. Again a practical and intelligent solution.
But is it so traumatic as to be unacceptable universally? In twenty first century Muslims in many countries insist on sighting the moon and so celebrate Ramadhan and the two important Eid festivals, are two to three days out of synch. Yet that is accepted as some quark of the solar solar/lunar universe.
However 6:97 of the Book says: He is the cleaver of the daybreak and He made the night for rest and the sun and the moon for reckoning. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the All-knowing. And
55-5: The sun and the moon follow an accountable reckoning.
When the above is considered in conjunction with verse 2-184, in which it refers to the fasting in the month of Ramadhan, His mercy extends in 2:185 to making His commandments for Believers easier where ever possible to do so honestly and intelligently:
2-185: The month of Ramadhan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a clear guidance and the Criterion. So whoever of you is present in the month they shall fast therein, and who is sick or on a journey, a like number of other days. God desires ease for you, and He desires NOT hardship for you and that you should complete the number, and that you should exalt the greatness of the Lord for having guided you, and that you may give thanks.
There are some other issues that may require further explanation in terms of the practices and rituals attached to the month of Ramadhan in ramadha- intense heat, however one important aspect of the practice must be addressed by the enlightened ones, and that is: not only the amount and richness of the food that is consumed during the month but also that which is wasted in giving Iftar-parties etc. by those few who can afford to do so.
If refrain from food صوم fasting during the daylight is meant to be, among other things, to cultivate empathy for and sympathize with the large number of people in the world who can hardly afford to have a square meal a day, this issue is of paramount importance for the Believers in the code book of Quran for the guidance of mankind as a whole – and then not only for the one month of Ramadhan but all the year round.
This statistic had appeared somewhere in the past that: one third of the world population after consuming enough nutrition for itself wastes enough nutritious food that would satisfy half of the world population's nutritional requirement! That is some food for thought in Ramadhan for Muslims!
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is a (Retd.) Engineer
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