India’s Muslims celebrated Eidul Fitr on three consecutive days this year i.e., January 18, 19 and 21. Even within the same state, such as in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Muslims could not unify the choice of the date and day on which the congregation could be held. It is in total contrast to the situation in pre-Independence India when the whole country (which included the current areas in Pakistan and Bangladesh) had Eids on a single day. Sighting of moon anywhere between Peshawar and Rangoon should be sufficient would be enough to declare Eid. Alas! Those were less complicated times even though moon sighting was a little more complex affair. But the ulema had the clarity of mind, distinct sense of moon’s phases, and more than that, the concern for retaining the solidarity of the occasion and spirit of the festival.
It cannot be the case with the moon that the new crescent would appear on various Indian horizons on three consecutive days. There are fatwas signed by leading ulema who agreed that the entire subcontinent shared a single horizon and sighting of moon anywhere could be enough for celebration of Eids all over the country. The ulema were humble and neither had the foolish arrogance of establishing their reign over a territory nor the desire and vested interest in keeping the community disunited on an occasion essentially symbolising unity and solidarity of the ummah.
With the advantage of the highly developed optic and electronic media, the task of sighting of crescent and its declaration should have been far easier. It indeed is. This magazine has regularly carried predictions of new crescent by a known expert who is humble enough not to claim the status of an astronomer. In fact, the science has developed so much that visibility of new crescent has moved out of the realm of prediction and can be determined at a given place with cent per cent certainty. Data can be compiled for thousands of years to come. But such data can be put to use only if the ulema learn to place faith in modern learnings and live down their myopia as well as arrogance.
More unfortunate was the chaos seen among Muslims on the question of the new moon this year. While the announcement of the new crescent rested in Ulema’s hands, the common Muslims were being led by TV and radio reports that had poured in much before one retired for the day. Announcement from Shahi Imams of Delhi had already reached all across the country. But despite this, the moon sighting committees in several cities of South India decided to forgo celebration of Eidul Fitr on the first Shawwal which in any case could not have been a day of fasting. Confusion reigned supreme and moon sighting committee went out of sight much before they were expected to finish their important assignment.
These are ideal situations for interference and interventions by the government and courts. Unless the Muslims mended their ways, official diktats would become an order of the day even in such affairs. Already, the Administration faces much trouble in declaring official holiday due to confusion, which is of the Muslims’ own making. More grotesquely, it is quite possible, as it happened last year in Mumbai, that the occasion would be used to divide the ranks of the community on the simple question of Eid and hostilities fanned further for electoral advantage of the communal elements. Let us not ignore the wider implications.