Where Do We Err?
Adopt Scientific Yardsticks to sight the Moon
Unity in the Light of Holy Qur'an
“Sightability” can be determined if the Ulema put aside the one-upmanship and the mad race for once in year opportunity to appear on TV, and evolve democratic means, confusion and sectarian tussle can be largely avoided.
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
It was yet another Eidul Fitr amid confusion in India. For the second year in a row, the Muslims celebrated the Festival on two days i.e., on January 8 and 9. Several cities witnessed confusion, chaos and disorder. There were instances of Eid being observed on two consecutive days in different localities of the same city. Still worse midnight telephone campaigns disturbed good sections of Muslims at various places while in others festive spirit was marred by ugly scenes and discordant voices. What is clear from the episode is the fact that divergent approaches exist to determine the moon-sighting in various regions and there has been either failure or lack of initiative in evolving a mechanism to coordinate efforts.
Following discrepancies are prominently noticeable:
Moon sighting is done through a variety of means. In Bihar and Orissa, Imarate Shariah takes care of the affair. In capital Delhi, Imam of Jama Masjid Abdullah Bukhari has the final word. Word from Jama Masjid in Delhi reaches all corners of the country due to Doordarshan network. This is an added advantage for Delhi Imam. Kerala has a well coordinated system and the advantage of a wide and clear horizon. It works flawlessly. In other states, moon-sighting committees (Rooyath Hilal Committees) organise the sighting and the announcement. Of late Karnataka has developed a network but its coastal area invariably follow Kerala in determining the dates.
While a section of Muslims are eager to celebrate Eidul Fitr on evidence of moon sighting gathered from anywhere in India, eagerness or effort to begin the fasting on a similar evidence is sorely lacking. This results from absence of synchronisation of Lunar Calendar.
The Ulema are still unsure of the use of scientific methods to determine the “sightability” of the crescent. But scientific means of mass communication carry the news to masses from far flung areas and pressure builds up to unify the celebration within the national boundaries.
Conflicting versions of moon-sighting from different quarters confuse the Muslims. Mostly this is evidenced in case of sectarian differences. It will be in the fitness of things if tug of war, one-upmanship and sectarian differences or the mad race for appearing on TV is avoided by the community leaders and authority for announcement is vested in democratically constituted bodies. Only such bodies should advise the government about holiday or decision within the Negotiable Instrument Act.
These being the noticeable discrepancies, it will be advisable to call a national seminar on moon sighting and synchronisation of the Lunar-based Islamic calendar in India. But more than anything else, the Muslims and the Ulema would do well to adopt a scientific approach to the issue. We have entered the new millennium and moon-sighting can well be replaced by the “moon-sightability”. Science has advanced far too ahead to leave such questions in the realm of doubt. Birth of the new crescent can be determined without the difference of a fraction of a second. Once this is known, the sighting can be predicted in a particular geographical region with the help of the difference of sunset and moonset timings. This will remove the necessity of actual sighting of moon and fix the “sightability” as the main criterion. This will not only free us from the Eid eve confusion but also perfect the Islamic calendar for centuries to come and even may enable us to fix up Hijrah Calendar dates for incoming events.
Scientific Approach May be the Answer. Instead of actual sighting, "sightability" can be determined and lunar calendar can be synchronised.
Vagaries of Monsoon
Within next three years, the month of Ramazan will enter into monsoon era. That would mean that for close to 12 years Eidul Fitr will be celebrated in the monsoons. Does this also mean that in these years Eid moon will not be sighted after the 29th roza and for 12 years all months of Ramazan will have 30 days? Obviously not. A step in the direction of determining “sightability” will impart better accuracy to the calendar. The moon is a small satellite and appears on horizons of different continents in different phases. However it is not so small that it should appear differently between Delhi and Chennai or Rajkot and Bhopal. Let there be a discussion between the Ulema and the scientists to determine the likely magnitude of a horizon for India. Reportedly there used to be a single day Eidul Fitr in the whole subcontinent before the Independence and Partition (1947). Have we now moved backward to have Eids on different days in say Jaipur and Patna and, going by the last two years record, between Ulsoor and Rajajinagar within Bangalore. Such distortions are of our own making and owe their origin to lack of scientific thinking. Dr. Siraj Hassan of Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Astrophysics feels that it should not be difficult to celebrate Eid on the same day within the entire country. Infact, Dr.Abdul Zahir of Bangalore has been predicting the moon’s birth and sightability in India with exactness for the last few years. However, there have been few takers for his advice. But now that such valuable hands are available, it should not be difficult to bring together Ulema and astronomers together to work out a permanent solutions. An initiative in this regard will go a long way in coming to terms with an issue that has long been controversial.
It was a chaotic picture on 29th Ramazan i.e., in the January 2000. Moon-sighting was not reported till 9.30pm from major cities in the country. Even Delhi skies had reported no moon. Most Muslims had prayed their 30th Taraweeh and settled for a 30-day Ramazan. But then the scene changed over night and Muslims all over the country awoke to a disparate picture the next morning. Some of our staff writers report on what happened the next day.
Karnataka: No Roza, No Eid
For the second year in a row the Muslims of the state faced the peculiar situation of ending the Ramazan after 29th roza (fasting) but not celebrating the Eidul Fitr the day after. The Rooyath HIlal Committee, a well represented body with an elaborate network in the state had made elaborate plans to sight the moon and gather evidence from throughout the state. By 9.30 pm none of the centres reported sighting of moon. The 15-member committee met at the Waqf Board and signed a statement declaring that Eid will be celebrated on January 9 (Sunday). It may be recalled that evidence from coastal areas is discounted as a rule because they generally act on advice of sighting from Kerala. The committee members pledged that no further reports will be entertained and no member will alter his advice after the hour. Taraweeh for the 30th night were held all over the city and people went to sleep in the hope of a call for sehri.
Around 2am, the phones rang across all Muslim homes in the city. There was announcement from a group of Muslims which had met in the Madrassa Sabeelur Rashad that Eid would be celebrated the next morning i.e., January 8. The group had decided on the evidence coming from Bhatkal, a coastal town in North Kanara district. Later mosque microphones began blaring the message. None knew how the Sabeelur Rashad could alter the Rooyath Hilal Committee’s decision. Amid confusion, some sections avoided sehri while others went ahead with the 30th roza. But lo and behold! It was not the end of the controversy. Around 7am on 8th January, the microphones in the mosque came alive yet again. This time the announcement said: “The Eid will not be celebrated today (i.e January 8) but there will be no roza either as there are reports of moon being sighted.” In the confusion that followed Eid congregations were held at Sabeelur Rashad, Ulsoor and some places in Shivajinagar. But in majority of localities there was neither roza nor Eidul Fitr, “ an additional opportunity for shopping with bellies full,” as a wag remarked. Mercifully it was a second Saturday and government offices were closed. But for this the confusion would have been carried to the corridors of administration. Interestingly, some of the signatories to the Rooyath Hilal Committee signed the second statement too. This lack of integrity contributed to the confusion.
West Bengal: Supreme Confusion
There was chaos and confusion all around on 29th Ramzan in Calcutta. No one, not even the heads of Nakhoda Mosque, the official authority to announce sighting of moon, was absolutely sure whether or not the Eid would be celebrated next day. When this correspondent contacted, mosque’s imam, Maulana Sabir said the moon had not been sighted and the Eid would be observed on January 9.
Even the Bengali news telecast at Doordarshan at 10.30 pm announced that there was no report of moon being sighted. However, the viewers were shocked when the anchor person, halfway to the news, quoting Maulana Sabir announced that “moon had just been sighted”. Understandably, this late night change caused a great deal of resentment among the Calcuttans. Many were seen cursing maulvis for what they felt was manipulation of the dates of religious celebration.
Sabir defends himself saying that he had made the announcements after he received the same news from Delhi, Lucknow, and Bihar’s Imarate Shariah.” No one blames Delhi’s Shahi Imam Abdullah Bukhari who did the volte face. What if the moon had actually been sighted on January 8? The people who chose to celebrate Eid next day should know that it was un-Islamic to fast on Eid day.”
Barring Injeer Bagan and Matiabruz, where people completed 30 days of fasting, the Eid was celebrated on January 9 all over Calcutta and West Bengal after a lot of confusion.
Uttar Pradesh: Two Eids
“Subject to the visibility of the Moon” is the catchphrase most commonly used to describe the arrival of the festival of Id-ul-Fitr after month-long period of fasting. This year, however, an unprecedented event occurred when two Id festivals were celebrated in Lucknow, as well as in other towns of Uttar Pradesh, thanks to the mess created by the Maulanas and the office-bearers of the Idgah Committee representing the Sunni Muslims and the Shia Chand Committee representing the Shia Muslims. This while the first Id was celebrated with traditional gaiety and religious fervour on January 8, in some localities the festival was celebrated on January 9 for the simple reason that the moon had ‘not been sighted’ on Friday January 7.
Indeed, when the first news of the sighting of the moon trickled in on Friday evening it was given that the Id moon had ‘not been sighted’ and hence the festival would be celebrated on Sunday January 9. The news quoted the Naib Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari. Consequently, it was confirmed by the two moon committees in Lucknow that the moon had not been sighted on Friday evening. Assured that Id would now fall on Sunday, the Muslims of UP went to bed (the state at the time was in the grip of a severe cold wave) hoping to observe the last ‘roza’ (fast) on Saturday. However, that was not to be when at about 10.45pm in the night the calm was broken by pronouncements from the mosques interspersed with blasts of crackers that the moon ‘had been sighted’ and the festival would be celebrated on Saturday. Though the moon sighting was confirmed by Maulana Abu Tayyab Ahmed Mian, the Imam of Idgah and Abid Tabatabai, secretary of Shia Chand Committee, nobody was willing to disclose the ‘source’, of their confirmation, or, who gave ‘gawahi’ and ‘shahadat’ (evidence and proof) that the moon had indeed been sighted.
The eagerness to celebrate Eidul Fitr after 29th roza (fast) results in hasty decisions. Similar eagerness to gather evidence to begin the fasting is conspicuous by its absence on 29th Shaaban.
Muslims were clearly incensed at the controversy and felt that more scientific methods should be adopted for this purpose than just merely relying of the unscientific method of ‘gawahi’ and ‘shahadat’. In Saudi Arabia and Iran there is a fixed lunar calendar and the sighting of the Id moon is merely a formality.
Prof. Dr. Mumtaz Ali Khan
A wrong perception generally prevails among Muslims as well as non-Muslims that Islam does not stand the test of scientific scrutiny. This wrong perception is based on the closed eyes and mind with which we look at the sky as well as the earth. The various procedures, messages and lessons that Islam has given to its followers are not based on just blind faith. It looks blind faith because the doors for scientific views are shut. The priestly class in other religions like Christianity and Buddhism is exposed to learning literature which has scientific temper. Whereas, Ulema are perceivel as dogmatic, uncooperative and unadjustable to the various methods and learning processes advanced by modern science and technology. There is a fear that Islam and scientific temper do not go hand in hand. This is nothing but a myth, a fallacious reading which is destroying the progress of Muslims who have become misfits to live in modern society. It is wrong to presume that modernism is synonymous with vulgarism. Modernization is not anti-Islamization.
In such a conflicting context, I would like to raise the ugly episode of reign of terror that was unleashed at the end of the period of fasting and celebrating the Idd. If Idd means happiness which is a spontaneous cumulative result of fasting for 30 days, the happenings in many parts of India pose a challenge to those who had a hand in determining the actual day for celebration of Idd. There was always an element of doubt about the exactness of the Idd day. On the 7th of December last year, Muslims were disturbed very much as the evening approached fast. Heads were raised and eyes were cast at the blue-sky to trace the signs of moon. It was not sighted in many places. It was almost taken for granted that the Idd would be celebrated on the 9th.
But by 2-30 a.m. of 8th, it was announced through traditional and modern means that Idd was on 8th itself. Some people got up from the bed and some who were expecting a probable announcement got ready for the next process of action. But soon came a bolt from the blue. There was a revised decision that Idd would be celebrated on the 9th and therefore Muslims were asked to keep fasting on the 8th. It was around 5 a.m. Groups of men, young and old, were seen near the mosques and on the roads, discussing among themselves various implications caused by conflicting pronouncements.
Some mosque committees decided to observe Idd on the 8th. But later on reversed their decision. All types of rumors started vitiating the peaceful environment. It was said that in one area the mosque was under attack and some property was damaged. Police was summoned to protect the mosque property. Another rumor was that some moulvis were threatened lest they should advise Idd on 8th. It is also said that butchers reigned supreme in preventing Idd on the 8th because they were not prepared for slaughtering the animals! In some other areasit is said, the butchers had already slaughtered the animals as soon as the first announcement was made, they were opposed to any postponement. Thus two groups of butchers had vested interest, one against advancement and the other against postponement.
Ultimately, Idd was celebrated in some cities on the 8th itself and in some other cities on the 9th. Within the city itself some celebrated on 8th and some others on the 9th. Those who kept fasting on the 9th were advised to break it. Thus, within India, there was difference between State and State; City and City and divisions within City. There was utter disgust, confusion and chaos. Muslims became a laughing stock, no norms were followed. Whimsical decisions were taken. Rule of law was subordinated to rule of thumb. Vested interest groups took law into their hands. Moulvis were pawns in the hands of powerful lobbies. The sanctity of Ramzan month was polluted. Mental torture and physical pain numbed people. Should mutton be the deciding factor? Can we not have non-vegetarian for dinner and vegetarian for lunch.
The Hilal committee failed miserably in controlling the situation. Why shouldn,t we adopt some scientific and rational mechanisms? Should moon be spotted in every State, City and Village? Should we not give up outdated methods? Let there be one central committee. This committee should adopt scientific and technological procedures and make one irrevocable pronouncement which should be binding on all Muslims in India. Ramazan Idd should be celebrated on one common day from Kashmir to Kerala, West Bengal to Maharashtra. Can the Central Wakf Board or Islamic Fiqh Academy take up this responsibility? Let us hope that Muslims are not forced to put their heads in shame again.
“Veriliy the believers are one brotherhood.” (48,10)
“If they seek help from you in a matter of the deen, then it is your duty to help them.” (8,72)
“Hold fast all of you together to the rope of Allah, and do not be divided. (3,103)
“This nation of yours is one nation, and I am your Lord, so worship me and no other.” (21,91)
“Oh mankind, we created you from male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Of a truth, the most noble of you in Allah’s sight is the most pious. With all things, Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted.” (49,13)
Islam for Humanity
‘We have not sent you but as a universal messenger to men, giving them glad tidings and warning them against sin.” (34, 28)
“Say Oh men! I am sent unto you all as the apostle of Allah.” (7,158)
“It is he who has sent the Messenger with guidance and the deen of truth, so that it may dominate over all other religions, even though the disbelievers may detest it.” (9,33)
“Oh you who believe, stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah; even as against yourselves or your parents or your kin and even if it be against rich or poor.” (4,135)
“Say : My Lord has commanded justice. And that you set your whole selves to Him. “ (7,29)
“Oh you, who believe! Save yourselves and your families from the fire of Hell, whose fuel is men and stones.” (66,6)
“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents, whether one or both of them obtain old age in your life.” (17,23)
Ruling By Islam
“Whosoever rules by other than what Allah has revealed, such are the disbelievers... wrong-doers....oppressors.” (5,45-47)
“It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, that when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision. If anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path.” [ 33,36]
“Then is it only part of the book that you believe in and do you reject the rest? But what is the reward for those among you who believe like this, but disgrace in this life.?” (2,85)
“Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding.” (3:190)
“Behold, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, in the alternation of night and day, in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind, in the rain which Allah sends down from the skies and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead, in the beasts of all kinds that he scatters through the earth, in the change of the winds and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth, here indeed are signs for a people that are wise.” (2,164)