The crescent sighting for Ramadan and Eid (s) has been a point of dispute among Muslims for long time. As the Muslims have spread in all parts of the globe including non-Muslim countries, this problem has grown many folds. Every time when Eid comes, instead of good wishes and warm feelings among Muslims a bitter and heated discussions take away the joy of celebration. Why is this happening? Why is it worsening? Can this be solved? I hope this article will provide the answers to these questions and much more.
Situation in Muslim Countries
Let’s discuss the situation in Muslim countries first. Keeping this problem in mind, we can divide Muslim countries into three categories. Just to avoid any misunderstanding among our Muslim brothers and sisters, I will not mention the names of these countries. I think we all know what these countries are?
First category of Muslim countries include the countries where the form of government is dictatorship (although, the governments of these countries claim that they have democracy in their countries but that claim is false based upon the Islamic principles of government as well as the modern principles of democracy). The governments in each country has established a committee. The members of this committee observe the crescent OR receive the witnesses from the public who might have seen the crescent. After sighting or non-sighting of the crescent, the committee decides the dates for Ramadan, Eid and Hajj and sends the decision to the government, possibly the head of state. The head of state approves the decision and issues a decree OR announcement for Ramadan or Eid. Everyone in the country accepts the announcement. NO ONE DARE TO DISPUTE THE DECISION. Everyone in the country starts and ends Ramadan on one day. Eid-ul-Fitre and Eid-ul-Adhha are celebrated on the announced days. No questions of “firqas” (sects) and “Fiqqas” (jurisprudence) raised.
The second category of Muslim countries are those where the democracy prevails. These countries may not be as democratic as Islam requires, but still these countries do not have dictatorships. In these countries the government has more or less the same setup for crescent sighting as in the category one countries. But everyone has the right to inquire about the decision and every Imam Masjid can dispute the decision. If the Imam of Mosque or Imams of several Mosques think that the announcement from the government is not correct, they make their own announcement and declare Ramadan and Eid on different days. This causes differences among Muslims. Some celebrate on government’s announced day. Some celebrate on the day announced by Moulvees (Imams of Mosques). Most often the division is so deep that the people of one part of the country or people belonging to a specific “FIRQAH” (sect) celebrate on one day and the rest of the people celebrate on the other day. Some time Eid is celebrated on three different days in various parts of the country while the country is not even half the size of Taxes.
The third category of Muslim countries are those where democracy prevails. These countries have elected governments (the standards and criterion of democracy may vary in different countries). In these countries the arrangements for crescent sighting and decision making are more or less the same as in category one and two. When the decision is made about the crescent sighting the people accept the decision. If two persons from any part of the country testify their crescent sighting and the crescent sighting committee accepts their witness. The decision is not normally disputed by the people. The people trust the announcement from the government and willingly accept the decision. No dispute among the people and their government on this issue. Everybody starts Ramadan and celebrates Eid on the announced days.
Lets discuss the situation in non-Muslim dominated countries, North America, Europe, South and Latin America, Australia etc… In these countries the announcement on crescent sighting is made by either individual Muslim organizations OR Imams of Mosques. Regarding the crescent sighting issue we can divide the Muslim organizations OR Imams in non-Muslim countries into five categories
The first category includes the Muslim organizations or Imams of Mosques who strictly follow the rule of crescent sighting defined by the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him). The rule is very simple. “When you see the crescent for Ramadan, you start Ramadan and when you see crescent for Shawwal you end fasting. If it is cloudy and people are unable to see it, complete thirty days of fasting and then celebrate Eid”.
The second category of Muslim organizations and Imams of Mosques in non-Muslim countries are those who follow the scientific / astronomical calculations. They decide Ramadan and Eid based upon the expected crescent sighting dates. They establish calendar for the entire year and follow their calendar. The Ramadan and Eid days of this calendar may or may not coincide with the category one group.
The third category is the largest of all groups. In this category organizations and Imams try to combine principles of category one and two as mentioned above. But this causes a serious dispute. Some give more weight to the category one principle and less to category two principle or vice versa. Therefore, different decisions come out from different Imams and organizations.
The fourth category of Muslim organizations and Imams is that who would ignore the above mentioned principles of category 1,2 & 3 and follow the dates for Ramadan and Eid either of their native countries OR Saudi Arabia. If the crescent has been sighted either in their own country of origin OR in Saudi Arabia, they will accept this crescent sighting for their area of residence and observe Ramadan OR Eid. They completely ignore the long distances (could be hundreds or thousands of miles) of their native country OR Saudi Arabia from their present place of residence in North America or Europe or Australia etc…
The fifth category of Imams and organizations is that who would take the crescent sighting dates from the nearest Muslim country Or a Muslim country with which they share a portion of night and day. For example Morocco and Spain has little difference in their night and day timings. This kind of decision making is common in Europe. For example, if crescent has been sighted in Morocco or Algeria the people in U.K. or France or Spain etc. who follow this thinking will also consider this crescent for their area of residence and observe Ramadan or Eid.
Root Cause of the Problem
But the reality of the matter is that the Muslims are getting more and more divided on this issue. With all due respect, the root cause of this entire problem / division of Muslims is the false ego and pride of Muslim organizations, Imams of Mosques and religious scholars.
Once, a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to Madinah from a distant village during the period of Muhammad (peace be upon him). When he arrived, the Muslims of Madinah were fasting. He told them that he is not fasting because last night, the Eid crescent has been sighted in his village and the people of his village would be celebrating Eid today. Although, he himself was not fasting but he waited till the next day and celebrated Eid with the people of Madinah. This proves the permissibility that far distant cities or villages can have different days of Eid and Ramadan depending upon the decision made by the authorities of that location
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself and the companions of Muhammad (peace be upon him) never asked that the entire Muslim population of the world should start Ramadan same day or end same day Or celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr same day. During the Khilfat of Syyedna Omar Farooq (May Allah be pleased with him) Islam reached far and wide. Did he ever give any instructions to his governors to make sure that all the people of your entire country must celebrate on one day OR they should celebrate when people of Madinah celebrate? I am sure you will say NO.
Don’t we know that Muhammad (peace be upon him) has already given us the principle for start and ending Ramadan and Eids. Don’t we think that by deviating from the principle defined by Muhammad (peace be upon him) we are not only innovating (Bid’a) in Islam but we are also doing some thing knowingly against the instruction of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), which is a sin.
Sources of Disputes
The problem in Muslim countries where the dispute on crescent sighting takes place every year is clearly because of few Imam of Mosques, their jealousy for each other and sectarian differences among them. I do not see any other reason.
In non-Muslim countries like USA and Canada, our problem is certainly influenced by the above reason but there are other reasons as well. Some of those reasons are as follows.
The Information Flow: Since most of the Muslims in western countries are qualified professionals. Many of them are Medical doctors, Ph.Ds., Engineers, scientists, specialists etc. The technology and science has influenced their thinking. They always try to rationalize things. This is good and permissible in Islam. We are living in information age. Information flows from one point on the earth to the other point in seconds. We must take advantage of this technological revolution.
We know during the period of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) OR during the period of Companions of the Prophet (May Allah’s blessings upon them) the information flow was extremely slow compare to present days. We now have telephones, T.V., Radio, Satellites and above all Internet. We can find out in USA what is happening in Saudi Arabia in real time. No delay in information flow. Then, why can’t we follow Saudi Arabia’s crescent in US? This way the Muslims around the world would be able to celebrate the same day hence expressing their unity.
This intentions may be good but it has not worked. It has divided more than uniting Muslims. Did we ever think that this is an innovation (Bid’a). Did Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent his messengers to the near by villages or towns informing them that in Madinah crescent has been sighted, you people should also follow us. The distance I am talking here could have been few miles. Let say 60 or 70 miles where a person can reach within few hours on a horse. Certainly, Prophet (peace be upon him) never did this neither his companions. It proves that the information flow from Madinah (now part of Saudi Arabia) to other parts of the world regarding Ramadan and Eid dates is not required neither desired in Islam. Forcing people in North America, Europe, South America or Australia to observe Ramadan and Eid on the day when Saudis observe them is an INNOVATION (BID’A) in Islam. It is not a valid Ijtihad.
Similarly, people who follow the dates for Ramadan and Eid from their country of origin or a nearest Muslim country or a Muslim country with whom they share a portion of night while they are living in North America, Europe, Australia etc.. is an innovation (Bid’a).
Astronomical Calculations: What about deciding the dates of Ramadan and Eid by using astronomical calculations? But relying on this method alone is not correct. We can certainly benefit from this scientific approach but we should not make decisions for Ramadan and Eid dates by using these calculations only. I will explain the reason later.
Influence on Muslims from Non-Muslim Celebrations: We, specially the Muslims who live in North America, South America, Europe and Australia have seen the celebrations of non-Muslims. Christmas is celebrated all over the world on the same date. Honneka is celebrated everywhere on the same date. Diwalee date is never disputed. Chinese New Year date, no problems. Why Muslims have problems with the dates of Ramadan and Eid celebrations? A very good and right question?
Every human being has some natural feelings and desires. These feelings and desires are part of our self-being. When Muslims see Christmas or New Year or New Millennium is celebrated everywhere on the same day, it looks good and it provides a sense of unity among Christians. When Chines celebrate their New Year on the same day it provides sense of unity in their community etc.. etc…
Please remember all these religions other than Islam stop at a certain point in a person’s life. These religions provide their followers some rituals, celebrations and moral values. Islam is different from all other religions of the world. Islam not only provides its followers the rituals, celebrations and moral values but it requires certain behavior from its followers. That behavior is total submission to Allah in all aspects of life, political, economical, social, spiritual, moral, dealings, rights of individuals, roles & responsibilities, accountability and reward. THE BEST WAY IS ONLY ONE. THAT IS THE WAY OF ALLAH. ALLAH SENT MUHAMMAD (PEACE BE UPON HIM) TO PRACTICE AND SHOW US HIS WAY. Muhammad (peace be upon him) has shown us the way of Allah very clearly without any ambiguity. Muslims came in this world to impress and influence other cultures and religions NOT to get influenced by them. Whatever good in other cultures and religions exist it also exists in Islam plus much more. Rather seeing in other people’s backyard, let’s see what we’ve got in our own homes. We have to see what our Deen (way of life) tells us?
Celebrating Eid on same day by all the Muslims all over the world will not bring unity among Muslims. It is a wrong, unrealistic and un-Islamic approach. It has divided more Muslims than uniting them.
What Unites Muslim Ummah?
If Muslims develop these feelings in their hearts, they will be united.
Jokes with Islamic Shari’a
Last year (1999), in one of the Western Canadian cities, the Imam of a Mosque announced Eid-ul-Fitr on 29th Ramadan in Jum’a prayer (1:30 PM) because in Saudi Arabia the crescent was sighted and Eid was announced. This year (2000), the same Imam did not follow Saudi Arabia (I do not know the reasons) and completed the thirty days of fasting and celebrated Eid on the next day after Saudi Arabia. What kind of “FIQAH” (Jurisprudence) is this? Is it a matter of convenience? OR do our Imams make decisions based upon “pressure groups”?
This year (2000), the Imams of Mosques in another Western Canadian city announced for the Eid prayer on 29th Ramadan at about noon time (no wait for sunset) that the Eid will be tomorrow because Saudi Arabia has announced for Eid on Friday. At the same time these Imams were asking the people to see the crescent in the evening and let them know if they see the crescent. No one saw the crescent (at least to my knowledge) but Eid was celebrated as announced. Is this not a joke with Islam? Why these Moulvees were asking people to see crescent in the evening while they had already made the decision?
A Forgotten Aspect of Crescent Sighting
The predetermination of Ramadan and Eid dates or following Saudi Arabian or other Muslim country dates has taken away a very important component of Ramadan and Eid celebrations. That component is Crescent Sighting. Crescent sighting is a part of celebrations. Some times the management committees of Mosques or Imams of Mosques announce for Eid day at Zohar time on 29 Ramadan because they would have found out that Saudi Arabia was having Eid the next day. They do not care to fulfill the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) of crescent sighting? May Allah give us refuge from Satan. Why bother to look for crescent? Our new generation that is born in North America, Europe, Australia etc. does not even know what crescent sighting is? Why is it important?
I remember when I was a child. All playgrounds, open fields and tall buildings used to get filled with hundreds of adults and children on the eve of 29th Sha’baan to see the crescent for Ramadan. On 29th Ramadan to see the crescent for Shawwal and on 29th Dhulqa’da to see the crescent for Hajj and Eid Al Adhha. The jubilant children and adults with anxious eyes, excited and happy used to look for crescent at Maghrib (sunset) time. Each person asking the other have you seen the crescent? Have you seen the crescent? If someone would have seen the crescent he used to get very excited, as he is the luckiest and important person among that crowd. People would gather around him and he would point his finger in the direction of the crescent to show the other people where the crescent was? After Maghrib, the children used to rush towards their homes and Say Salam to their parents, specially mothers , sisters and grand mothers and tell them their achievement of crescent sighting with pride. The entire family used to celebrate the eve of Ramadan and Eid(s).
Do we know why have we taken away this Joy and FUN from ourselves and from our children? Imagine the Muslim community in all cities of North America getting together on the eve of 29th Sha’ban, 29th Ramadan and 29th Dhulqa’dah in large playgrounds or open fields or high rise buildings and celebrating the eve of these months by looking for crescent. This will be a joyful eve for the entire family and community. It will also expose Islamic traditions to the non-Muslims and above all a fulfillment of our beloved Prophet’s (peace be upon him) Sunnah.
Most often we celebrate Eid in the same city over two to three days . I think by now you know why? The reason is obvious. We follow two many approaches? Today, the people of that Mosque will be celebrating Eid. Tomorrow the people of that sect will be doing Eid and day after tomorrow people of those Mosques will be celebrating Eid. This chaos is because those people who have invented their own ways based upon their sectarian beliefs, interests and their false ego and pride.
What is the best way for deciding the dates for Ramadan and Eid?
The best rule for deciding the dates for Ramadan and Eid is ONLY ONE rule. That is the rule defined by Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him).
Rule: When you see the crescent for Ramadan, you start Ramadan and when you see crescent for Shawwal you end fasting. If it is cloudy or people are unable to see the crescent, complete thirty days of fasting and then celebrate Eid. Places such as near North and South Poles areas, Norway where the days and nights do not have normal duration should continue the existing system.
This crescent sighting must take place in each city, village and town. In non-Muslim countries a committee comprising of Imams of all the mosques with all school of thoughts and other pious Muslim residents should decide the start and end dates of Ramadan. The entire Muslim community of each city, village and town MUST participate in crescent sighting exercise. If at least two trust worthy Muslims of a city or town are able to see the crescent they should testify in front of the committee and committee should decide the dates. If no one from the city or town is able to see the crescent, everyone in the city or town complete thirty days of fasting and after that celebrate Eid.
Why the Muslims of North America, Europe, South America, Australia, etc.. can not decide for themselves based upon the local crescent sighting? Allah has already given us days to be physically, mentally and spiritually in Saudi Arabia i.e. during days of HAJJ. Other than this we should be able to make our own decisions based upon the Sunnah of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Brothers and Sisters, we must go back to the way of Rasool-ullah (sallallaho alaih-e-wasallam). Lets don’t take away the Eibadha (worshipping) and joy of Crescent Sighting from Muslim Ummah. We should make decisions based upon local crescent sighting. May Allah give us the correct understanding of Islam. May Allah help us to be able to recognize and practice the will of Allah and his Prophet (peace be upon him). May Allah make us humble not only in front of him but also in front of other people. May Allah bless us with unity and love for Muslim Ummah. Ameen.
Mr. Syed B. Soharwardy is Founder and President of Muslims Against Terrorism (M-A-T)