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Islamic Society ( 29 Jul 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Scholars: System of Moon Sighting Needs Change


By Syed Mohammed

Jul 22, 2012

More than 80 years of existence and many goof ups later, the Royat-e-Hilal (moon sighting) committee, in charge of announcing the arrival of Ramzan and declaring Eid, still shuns the aid of science and technology in sighting the crescent moon. The unusual delay in announcing the arrival of Ramzan on Friday is another example of how the committee has bungled up yet again- first declaring that the first day of fasting would be Sunday and recanting later at night, creating confusion all across the state.

This instance of confusion is the third in the past five years. In 2008, while Eid was declared on the intervening night of the 29th of Ramzan and the 1st of Shawwal (Hijri), the committee, on account of its archaic methods of spotting the moon, decided not to join the country in the celebrations leaving many fuming over the committee's lack of coordination. Many scholars of Islam are of the opinion that if the moon is sighted at one place in the country, Ramzan or Eid can be declared.

Mohammed Bin Omar, a techie said, "The siren signifying the arrival of Ramzan is sounded latest by 7.30 pm. But when this didn't happen, my family and I went to the outskirts of the city for a drive. It was not till 10 pm that we found out that Ramzan was to start on Saturday. Many like me missed Taraweeh (special night prayers during Ramzan) on account of this confusion."

According to Maulana Qubool Pasha Shuttari, president of the committee and secretary of Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Deccan, science finds no place in religion and more so in matters pertaining to declaring festivals and announcing Ramzan. "There is no room for science here. Even using a telescope for sighting the moon is unnecessary as it has to be spotted with the naked eye without any aid," Maulana Shuttari said. However, he admitted that mistakes in sighting the moon have been made in the past by committees across the country.

Citizens and Islamic scholars noted that the committee lacked a system for making announcements and pointed out that the committee must include individuals with modern education who are open to technology. According to sources from within the committee, of the 17 members of the committee only four have received modern education.

Mirza Yawar Baig, entrepreneur and Khateeb of a mosque in Banjara Hills said, "India is one time zone so Ramzan and Eid must be celebrated across the country on the same day. There are ways to sight the moon despite the cloud cover. For instance, in Mangalore, people go out on a boat into the sea away from the city so that spotting the moon becomes easy. Also, to avoid confusion, an arrangement can be made with the meteorological department."

Scholars of Islam pointed out that there were many fatwas in favour of the use of technology. Maulana Syed Rashid Naseem Nadwi, associate professor at English and Foreign Languages University, said, "There are many fatwas, compiled by Maulana Salman Mansoorpuri indicating that scientific methods can be used. One such is the use of helicopters. Further, the Royat-e-Hilal committee has no proper mechanism of reporting where the moon was sighted and when the declaration should be made."

Confusion was also palpable in the Shia community of the city with two groups - Anjuman-e-Masoomin and Ulama-o-Zakireen - having issued contradictory declarations with one announcing that Ramzan would begin on Saturday and the other on Sunday. Sabir Ali, secretary, Anjuman-e-Masoomin said, "There still is confusion among many people. Many are under the impression that Saturday is the 30th of Shaban and Ramzan will start on Sunday."

According to scholars the traditionally conservative approach to moon sighting is not restricted to the committee in Hyderabad alone. There are several such bodies in the country that follow the same old methodology in sighting the crescent. "The ulema should agree at national level to a system of sighting moon which is in sync with the modern times. Until that happens the Muslims will continue to be subjected to confusion," one of the scholars said.