By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
14 July 2013
From ancient times the Sun and the Moon has fascinated mankind. But more so the Moon and hence it is depicted in its crescent shape on various emblems; shields, armours, flags and gods ‘adornments have them too. From ancient times calendar also was based on lunar phases and many nations link their religious activities to it.
This ticto a lesser planet like the Moon’s crescent is evident in Muslim communities too. The most important joyous days, that is the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, the end of Ramadan for Eid celebration and the First of the Zil Hijjah month for the determination of the annual pilgrimage to celebrate its completion as Eid, are three of the most significant celebrations.
These are established by observing the crescent’s appearance in the sky at the end of lunar month. For some communities the new moon to establish the Lunar New year is significant.
Although it is accepted that the Eids have no ordained religious importance, however socially they are considered as important occasions, to the extent that Muslim majority countries declare few days as national holidays even lasting as long as a week.
In Religious tradition it is maintained that the new-moon, that is its thin crescent appearing at ‘Sunset ‘for the first time above the horizon, must be sighted by a few reliable people as witness to establish the next day as being the First of the coming month.
Notwithstanding that the crescent shape ‘hilalun’- crescent itself is supposed to extend over number of days in the beginning and also towards the end of the month, as given in some dictionaries.
It is then a subject of heated debate among the young ones today as to why it has to be ‘sighted with human eyes’ to establish something that is a fixed natural phenomenon that occurs at least twelve times a year. It is argued that modern science has advanced enough to calculate it precisely even centuries in advance?
And why does the community has to accept the divisions which Quran condemns, it is asked? Divisions that are caused by celebrating Eids on different days in the same town and city sometimes spread over two or three days, making the community a laughing stock of non-Muslims as to how is it the one moon in the sky appears on different days to different people!
In non-Muslim countries where governments allow sectional holidays for Eids; it becomes even more problematic for the government as to when to declare those holidays as it cannot be decided till very late on the eve!
The contention is that it is ordained in ‘Hadees’, the voluminous apocryphal documents, where it is stated that it was the ancient practice and that Muhammad the Messenger of God followed it; and so that practice-‘Sunnah’ must be followed if one is a Muslim.
However the same corpus too tells of his advice that “goes even to China if it is to obtain Knowledge”.
Many simplistic scientific solutions; such as establishing the zero longitude meridian at Makkah instead of Greenwich are suggested as solution to eliminate the confusion, disharmony and divisions in the community that occurs due to the insistence of sighting the new-moon or the first crescent.
This seems to satisfy some of the requirements except when, with somewhat convoluted logic it is pointed out by the knowledgeable advanced people –“a’limud-deen”-that the countries east of Makkah, like say Australia, New Zealand etc. would end up celebrating the Eid ul Adha a few hours before the Hajj had been completed in Makkah, thus negating the pre-eminence of Makkah, as the focus of the religion and the hajj!
The second most interesting point that always comes up as to why then many Muslim majority countries today follow the astronomically calculated calendar? Are they not Muslim countries, it is asked? The religious brigade immediately and unequivocally issues an ‘edict’ that they are not really Muslims!
In similar vein a comic comment is made, unfortunately disparaging to traditionalists. It is said in a light hearted manner that the reason for the crescent not being visible on the same day in all countries is because the ‘small-bang’ as opposed to the Big Bang that occurred, shattering the moon asunder, had scattered its pieces far and wide, and that since the universe is expanding, there is no possibility of the pieces ever coming together!
During this often long discussion on what is considered as important issue affecting coherence and unity of Muslim community as a whole; not once does anybody refer to the source Book Quran if it has anything to say on this issue. As if to assert that such issues are beyond its scope and so it cannot rule on this matter.
But strangely, the Quran has many references on this subject. Such as:-
2-189 “They ask you (Muhammad) concerning the New Moons. Say: They are but signs to mark fixed periods of time in the affairs of mankind and for pilgrimage.”
Then there are 6-96; 10-5; 17-12 and 55-5:
6-96 “He(God) it is that has ……And the Sun and the moon for reckoning – hisaab- of time:…”
10-5 “It is He(God) who has made the Sun to be … and the Moon to be a light of beauty and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and count -Hisaab-of time…”.
17-12 “We(God) have made …….And that you may know the number and count- Hisaab- of years….”
55-5 “The Sun and the Moon follow courses exactly computed-Hisaab- for them”
It is argued here that Fourteen hundred years ago and even today in remote and rural areas it was and is necessary to climb up the sand dune, top of a hill or a minaret to see the new crescent, if the horizon is clear of clouds. But that too is debatable now as even the tinker, tailor and candle maker plus Rickshawwallah has a mobile phone and can therefore receive any news instantly from the city.
It can be seen that the Book lays stress on “computing and calculations”. In it Mankind is encouraged repeatedly to “contemplate” these, scientifically observing the physical workings of the universe, so as to realise how vast and precise it is and which follows natures fixed laws:-
33-62 35-43, 48-23 etc. “No change will you find in God’s laws”.
To then insist upon sighting the new moon, in this day and age is not only casting doubts on the Creator’s claims but also it has catapulted the Muslims far back many centuries. Not to mention the divisions caused in the community for celebrating what is supposed to be happy social occasions. Sometimes even splitting asunder the families!
But then division of the community is the only contribution that the churches and religions dogmas have made; which is completely contrary to the unifying scheme of the good Book.
“Deen-e-mullah fi Sabillilah Fasaad”. The mullahs’ Deen is to spread discord in the community in God’s name.
This religious new-moon differs from the Astronomical New moon, as defined by:-“The phase of the moon when it is in conjunction with the sun and invisible from earth, often referred to as ‘dark moon’; or shortly thereafter when it forms as a new crescent”. But that happens at any time of the day or night. This therefore is not acceptable to the Muslim Broad Church.
Here then is a solution by a simple mind for consideration of contemplative people! Draw out a religious specification of the New Crescent, such as this for example:-
-The crescent that appears immediately after the conjunction, to be “so many degrees” above the horizon “at sunset”, and which lasts minimum of “so many minutes” before it disappears.
-The computation to be carried out on the longitude and latitude of the Capital city of the country; irrespective of the size of the country and its time zones.
This can easily be done by the Astronomical Observatory. In fact for years in advance, thus to facilitate the printing of so called Islamic calendar, the same as the time table for fasting and for breaking the fast to the minute that is so common today. The added advantage would be that the traditionalists are guaranteed to “see” the crescent; if the horizon is clear of clouds or pollution that is……and also that the governments and employers are then facilitated to declare holidays in advance.
Thus, at least the whole nation can celebrates the Eids on the same day. Furthermore if there is a will, neighbouring Muslim countries can have a pact to combine the calendar for larger group of countries within a region to come together on this issue. And maybe, just may be one day the whole Muslim world might join in.
“Neel kay saahil say lekartaabakhhak-e-Kashgar”
From the shores of the Nile to the land of Kashgar.
Then everybody wins and a further practical step is taken after thousand years slumber towards- 20-14, “Rabbi Zidni Ilaman”, Oh my Lord Advance me in “knowledge”!
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is An Australian-Indian retired Engineer