Apr 7, 2012

Posted by in Articles | 136 Comments

THE NEW MOON SIGHTING DEBACLE

            There is a mystery galore about the sighting of the new moon, particularly in this community, when there should be no need for it. This problem becomes evident, particularly, when we mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan and the commencement of celebration of the first day of the succeeding month of Shawwal, known as Eid-ul-Fitr.

             The problem occurs due to uncertainty caused by the authority responsible for determining such sightings. The consequence of this invented mystery is that the community members have to wait around until wee hours to determine whether to celebrate Eid the next day. The authority has to, in the absence of physical sighting (confirmed by at least 2 bearded men or 4 women – or some thing to that effect), seek sighting information from the neighboring or regional communities, using the interpretation (in such matters) of international religious guide as to what construes the sighting. And the great guides do not concur among themselves with the criterion.

             And there lies the causes of the mystery and its consequential chaos. Some members of the community follow the religious guidance of a leader who has passed away and the majority follows one who is very much alive. The one who is alive has ruled the new moon sighting on the orbital path (I am told) of the moon and the previous guide had ruled such sightings to affect all areas (I am told) that fall within the time zone of the region where the physical sighting was confirmed to have occurred.

Be as it may, there is still no need to inflict the mystery onto the poor and timid members of this community. In matters of religion, this community likes to play dumb and acts totally impotently by itself. It needs the religious guide to sort its issues. And the religious guide does not encourage personal independent decision making process. It wants to hang on to the power it has over the community.

We live in the modern scientific age. No only do we know when the new moon will be sighted on any given month today but also thousands of years in advance from today. Notwithstanding the criterion or the interpretation thereof by the religious guides, the new moon sightings can be determined ahead of time. All we need for the local authority to visit a local astronomical centre, spell out the religious guide’s criteria and they will be happy to spill out the full chart of many future sightings more accurately. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if we could plan our Eid festivities months or years ahead without having to wait for the local religious authority to wave his flag in assent just hours before it has to occur?

I see the irony when I get the monthly electronic newsletter from NASIMCO (our North American federal body) that Maulana such and such has confirmed the sighting of the new moon to mark commencement of the new month as per Islamic calendar. The fact that we have to be told by the religious authority when the new month has occurred is totally absurd. I suggested to the then president of Nasimco to send the local religious authority up the CN Tower (the tallest free standing structure in Canada) twice a day – during sunrise and sunset – to witness the occurrence of this natural phenomena and send out electronic newsletter to all the members of the community that the new day has begun or the day has ended, otherwise we poor timid members of the community would not know what to do with our lives.

This is called power grab. One or a few of the group of religiously elite people  holding so much power over their adherents so that the followers cannot take a small step without their religious masters’ consent. We have the scientific knowledge at our finger tips (go to Google and you will know when the new moon was sighted or when it will be next sighted) but are not encouraged to make use of it.

And while we are talking about the undue power of the religiously elite over the Muslim masses all across the world, let us speak about ideas where we can take steps to curtail some of that power from their hands and give it back to the people where it belongs.

We all know these days without any doubt that our earth is a sphere and as such its surface has no beginning and no ending. We human beings are used to a term which has a beginning and an end. We can only achieve this on the surface of our earth by inventing marks as a starting point, thus establishing the end point as well.

There is an International Date Line (IDL) running in the Pacific Ocean longitudinally (0 hour), just east ofNew Zealandand this is the line that marks the new day. Then there is the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) at half-way mark (-12 hours). These artificial date lines were created to bring order into the lives of the dwellers of this planet, so that we know what day it is, what time it is and since all the inhabitants of the earth are guided by the same demarcations, it naturally brings order in their lives. They allow us to plan ahead. They allow us to relate to other people living in a different region. We can all agree to vary our time (plus or minus an hour) to suit the daylight hours that are brought about on us by changing seasons.

We need a Muslim Mean Time (MMT) demarcation on the globe. What will be ourGreenwich? Of course, no other thanMeccadeserves that distinction. It isMeccawhere Islam started, where the House of God is situated, where its beloved Prophet was born. Further more, the Islamic calendar was born in that region. I am sure we Muslims can come to accept that there is no other holier or more relevant spot on earth for Muslims than Mecca.

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Now, if you look at the globe you will notice that holy city is situated somewhere between minus nine ( – 9) and minus ten ( – 10) hours on the global sphere. These lines are imaginary and not etched in stone and therefore may be varied a bit to suit the practicality on the ground. You will notice that IDL is curving aroundNew Zealandso as not to separate, time-wise, the country from its surrounding territories. A similar treatment can be given to – 9 longitude so that it covers the entire two-hour time zone. I am not a scientist and I really don’t care how the scientists will work this out.

My interest is to bring order in the Muslim world and the first step to do that is for all of us to agree when the Muslim date line begins and by default, when it ends. MMT will facilitate that.

If MMT is the beginning of our date line then it does not matter where the new moon was sighted as long as it was sighted in Mecca and as soon as it is sighted there, that would mark the beginning of an Islamic month all regions to the west of it will observe the new month, as the earth turns and within 24 hours the new month will prevail in the whole world.

Now, as I said earlier, we don’t have to have a grand ayatollah proclaim the dawn of the new month in Mecca with a 21-gun-salute but science can help us determine when the new moon would be sighted in Mecca (that being the only place of our reference and concern) and publish Islamic calendar thousands of years ahead and not have this mystery over our head for rest of our lives.

Would the people who have a power over what we do or believe be willing to relinquish their hold on us? Past experience is very discouraging. But we the people have tremendous say in how we live our lives and we should take a stand in this matter and get rid of the imposed barrier on our lives from and by others. They have made us believe that this (obedience to them) is a matter of faith. This has nothing to do with God or faith. Rather, it has to do with power and money!

Salim Sachedina

April, 2012

  1. Arif Asaria says:

    Very interesting concept. Science has to be the new frontier for Muslims.
    Perhaps we should publish such a calendar vs the empirical evidence.
    Looking forward to more readings on this subject.

    • Abujaafar says:

      Assalam alaikum

      The time has come for the Ummah to use all the resources available with us to solve all of our problems; the emergence of this huge technology and super information high way is not here for coincidence! But it is the last neema (divine bounty) to this Ummah and to the rest of the World to be in a clear guidance and on top of the straight path.. Kindly be cncious and do not blame any one who wish to solve the moon sightening mystery, can this religion live in mystery even in this century which is in the light of the true inyterpretation and taawil of the Book of Allah?

  2. Dr.Meenaz Kassam says:

    As comment to “The New Moon Sighting Debacle”. Your article reminds me of an incident. I was at a lecture given by one of our esteemed religious clerics. I asked him who would make a more credible witness for the sighting of the moon: a woman with a Ph.D in Astronomy or two bearded holy men. He hummed and hawed – and changed the topic!

  3. Arif Ali says:

    So go and decide on your own when you want to do Eid, fast, etc. It is funny how people like you like to be “know it all”. You are neither qualified nor have any in-depth knowledge of Islam to make statements and judgments like these. This goes for your posts on Music, Khoja weddings etc.

    • Now, now! We don’t have to get personal about it. People have been brainwashed into believing that no one has a right to express any opinion, particularly if it is against the prevailing religious absurdity. Obviously you have problems in my posting on Moonsighting, Music and Khoja weddings. But just don’t brush it off with a wild statement. Give your intelligent respond to them. I guess you don’t have anything logical to say. You just don’t like them because they say something against what you have been raised and programmed to blindly follow.

      • Islam is more extensive in knowledge than science.Therefore our Marja decision is based on quranic verses and SAunanh of our rasululah (saww) and our Aima.
        Islam knew about embryonic development of a child more than 14 centruries ago that science came to discover now.
        It is only our fault that we have abandoned Islam and sunnah of our Ahlubayt that we are now at the mecy of these so called theories.
        I quote what our 1 st Imam Ali (a.s) that he knows the alleys and path of outer space more than the street of Kufa.He said ask ask me and people like you and some of your audience went to ask how many hairs do I have .
        Please stop call our Marja bearded and names.This is derogatory and the author must apologize.

        • It is interesting to note that everything religious to some of you is sacrosanct and thus is beyond question. I said nothing derogatory about the Marja and never referred to them as bearded in the article (of course they are bearded but I did not mention it). I don’t intend to apologize and I don’t feel that the Marja is beyond question. It would appear that you’re aware of some religious history and if so, you will note that people questioned the Holy Prophet at times.
          The problem with the Muslim world, according to my opinion, is that it lack the facility of intellectual discourse and it does not encourage people to express their opinions freely and if one does, he risks being persecuted. Thus there is no intellectual discourse at any level. Particularly, among the experts (where it should matter and where the future slavation of the religious ideology rests) because we like to label them and treat them harshly when they express opinions that is contary to the brainwashing that we have been put through. Therefore we Muslims live under the climate of intellectual bancruptcy. Whoever sings the party line gets heard, the rest are banned from speaking to us.
          So there is no apology forthcoming from me. You can’t stomach my writings, don’t read them. If you want to argue intellectually (rather than emotionally) with what I have written please submit it and I will be happy to include it as part of our dialogue.

  4. I did not say that you said about the beareded but one like you.
    He or she when addressing our marja with utmost respect.
    Who said that Muslim do not enagage in intellectual discusion they do so all the time.
    Coming to the question of moon sighting and differences among 2 marja is normal and I would advice to knindly refer what Imam Ali said.Sermon Number 18.

    Amir al-mu’minin said in disparagement of the differences of view among the theologians.

    When [1] a problem is put before anyone of them he passes judgement on it from his imagination. When exactly the same problem is placed before another of them he passes an opposite verdict. Then these judges go to the chief who had appointed them and he confirms all the verdicts, although their Allah is One (and the same), their Prophet is one (and the same), their Book (the Qur’an) is one (and the same).

    Is it that Allah ordered them to differ and they obeyed Him? Or He prohibited them from it but they disobeyed Him? Or (is it that) Allah sent an incomplete Faith and sought their help to complete it? Or they are His partners in the affairs, so that it is their share of duty to pronounce and He has to agree? Or is it that Allah the Glorified sent a perfect faith but the Prophet fell short of conveying it and handing it over (to the people)? The fact is that Allah the Glorified says:

    . . . We have not neglected anything in the Book (Qur’an) . . . (Qur’an, 6:38)
    And says that one part of the Qur’an verifies another part and that there is no divergence in it as He says:
    . . . And if it had been from any other than Allah, they would surely have found in it much discrepancy. (Qur’an, 4 :82)

    • Now we are entering into the world of semantics. It is not important that the religious authorities differ in their interpretations of what construes a new moon sighting in the absence of physical sighting, rather, we have scientific means at our dispossal to determine well in advance (days, years, decades, centuries or milleniums)when the new moon will be sighted. Therefore, rather than holding the community at ransom until the early hours of the morning to determine if there would be Eid or not, we can tell the community well in advance about moon sightings and get rid of the mystery. In other words bring order in the community’s life. It doesn’t matter whose interpretation is used. The Maulana can determine that and get the local astronomical society to give him the print out of the new moon sightings in advance. Now some people don’t like order in their lives and would still prefer the religious authority to hold them in ransom. There is nothing I can do about it other than complain about its absurdity.

  5. Your concept of Makka Timing for moonsighting is very similar to the Ummul Qurra Calender currently used by the Saudi Salafist/Wahabi Rulers!!!

    Coincidence???

    Grand Ayatollah DO NOT pronounce the sighting, they just clarify the Sharia/Jurisprudence rules as according to Quran and hadith

    ITS US, We need to sight the moon either physically or by scientific calculation, if it gives certainty

    If you in Canada or US have abdicated your role and rely and Mulla s to tell you whether the moon has been sighted or not that is your fault and you need to rectify it instead of blaming Ayatollahs…. unless you have another agenda..

    the “mystery” is more lack of proper in depth understanding of sharia principles…

    • I don’t know what animal is Ummul Qurra and if it is a celandar used by Saudi Salafist/Wahabi Rulers, so what? If it makes sense why not use it? I have not blamed the Ayatullahs in matters of the new moon sighting debacle. I have only mentioned them as I relate to their interpretations as to what constitutes the moon sighting in the event it is not physically seen in an area (due to weather conditions, for example) by taking note of where else in the surrounding areas it has been sighted.
      The gist of the article deals with the fact that we have modern scientific methods of determining the new moon sighting at our dispossal. Why don’t we use it (again not undoing the interpretation of an Ayatullah, rather following it – whatever it may be) to determine when the new month begins (and thereby, by specific reference, to Eid) well ahead of time rather than at the last minute. What’s wrong with accommodating the community members WITHOUT BREAKING THE SHARIAH? Some of them have to seek permission from their employers so that they may partake in the Eid prayer; others have to prepare for family gatherings, etc. It just doesn’t make sense when the facility is available for us to determine ahead of time.

  6. Zishaan e Fatima says:

    For the same reason for which the artificial line running through the Pacific was created, were the sheria rulings laid down- to bring order into the lives of people
    I fail to see how one is accepted and the other questioned so blasphemously…

    Then you talk about Mecca being the MMT… Where are your ideas of using scientific calculations diffusing to?
    Are you not regressing now leaving aside the scientific calculations (which, by the way, the maraje’ have accepted, only that you are perhaps NOT TOLD) and going towards the stone-age era in accepting only Mecca as the place for decision making? If you do not reside in Mecca, how can moon sighted in Mecca be a criterion for you when moon sighting is different in your location?
    You seem to be confused!

    If you keep saying “(I am told)”, which is an obvious confession of lack of knowledge, do you not think it is your duty to first check out on the sheria and how it accommodates data collected through scientific reasoning, before writing such ambiguous articles?

    • If the maraje’ have accepted scietific calculations then explain why on some Eid-ul-Fitr when the interpretation of the two Ayatullahs fall into conflict and we have some members observing the Eid on one day and others on the next day? The findings of science is absolute UNTIL there is new evidence to the contrary. The suggestion of having the MMT is not regressive at all. The IDL and the GMT are as imaginary (no science is required here, except for public consensus) as what I have suggested the MMT to be.
      There is no ambiguity in my article. If there was a valid sheria, as you assert, then there would be no mystery and its consequential chaos because one of the purposes of Sheria is to contribute to the human order and discipline.
      If a community cannot observe one of its most important celebrations without the air of mystery (and the sadness of it all is that it doesn’t have to) then you can claim all you want about Islam and how scientific it is. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. And on that scale, your arguments don’t hold water.

  7. Mustafa Jaffer says:

    Salamun Alaykum,

    I guess the faith you have displayed on science is more than what science can say for itself. I am particularly intrigued by ‘Not only do we know when the new moon will be sighted on any given month today but also thousands of years in advance from today.’

    I have been on contact with several observatories and I would like to challenge you to produce such a list from any one observatory. All that science can do for you is to give you an exact location and the age of the crescent. They cannot specifically tell you it will be sighted – that is pure speculation as there are so many factors that affect the sighting possibility – pollution, altitude, weather conditions, etc. Hence, whilst we know the exact position of the crescent for thousands of years, we simply cannot tell, using science, when it will be first seen by people.

    Here, we use empirical data collected over the past century or so to indicate that new crescents have been seen when they are of a certain age, elongation, illumination etc. Thus giving us parameters to use of when the first probable and likely sighting can be expected.

    Nowadays, there is discussion among Muslim Astronomers, especially from Iran who have tremendous resources at their disposal, about Daytime sightings – Can a new crescent be sighted during the day – before the sun sets? Opinions vary and I will not dwell into this as I believe one has to grasp the primary concept of physical sighting as opposed to scientific data of location, size, etc.

    With Salaams

    Mustafa

    • The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth about once every 27.3 days (its sidereal period). However, since the Earth is also moving in its orbit around the Sun at the same time, it takes 29.5 days (its synodic period) for the Moon to show the same phase to Earth. If we know this fact then you don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to determine when the next synodic period will occur and onwards to the infinite future. May I suggest you go to this site: http://www.moonconnection.com/moon_phases_calendar.phtml and you will notice that they are carrying a “search” feature to find Moon phases that goes forward to 2022 (from 1939) and I am sure they can stretch to infinite time period in the future. What we don’t have here is the religious interpretation of what constitutes a sighting in the event the sighting does not occur at a particular place due to weather conditions. So if we can get hold of that religious criteria (respecting the religious aspect of it and not challenging or degrading it) and approach, say the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (or at any other places) then they will be able to tell us when the new Moon will be sighted (from a religious perspective if it differs from a scientific one)at a particular point (MMT or IDL)and that would mark the beginning of our Islamic month. You know, we have all the information available to us. All we need is a will power and a willingness to forego our ego in the interest of bringing order in lives of Muslims. Really, it is not a bad idea at all, even if I say so myself.

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  9. salaam alaykum

    Very interesting. Not a single respondent has said, “let us look at it and see if there is a solution”. We hear many comments about Muslim unity but there is no move towards this lofty goal. While Salim you are suggesting following the scientific formula, one of our Islamic scholars from UK has gone beyond. He is suggesting that real unity comes through compromise. This means that thereshould be a local Muslim moon sighting committee and we be part of it and collectively agree that the Eid for all Muslims in the region would be on a particular day. This committee should also agree that the scientific data is valid. Now if according to our traditional Shia calculations the date is “wrong”, then we do kadha fast. This scholar questioned, “would Allah be more pleased with the unity thus created or will He punish us for celebrating Eid one day early?”. His conclusion was that Allah would be more pleased with us for moving towards Muslim unity.

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