Getting sanctimonious about early moon sightings

This year, as usual, there was a controversy over what day was Eid al-Fitr, with the majority celebrating it on either Tuesday or Wednesday, with some countries waiting until Thursday and some Nigerians having it as early as Monday. In some countries, like the USA and UK, Eid was on different days in different towns despite major Muslim organisations calling Eid for Wednesday or Tuesday, and sometimes different mosques in the same suburb celebrating it on different days. By and large, the difference has been good natured. However, I found a disturbing exchange on a particular Yahoo forum, in which a dubious claim of sighting was coupled with statements questioning the faith of those who doubted it.

The author of the message was identified only by a Yahoo ID; the message read (note: the Arabic is in Windows-1256 encoding, which you can find in the Encodings section of the View menu in Internet Explorer and Firefox):

At Both al-Bukhari and Muslim relate the following statement from the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace,

‏إِنَّا أُمَّةٌ أُمِّيَّةٌ لاَ نَكْتُبُ وَلاَ نَحْسُبُ

“Verily, we are an unlettered nation (ummatun ummiyyatun). We do not write nor do we calculate.”

We have learned over the years that some organizations do not consider a sighting as reliable unless the one doing the sighting is from their network. Others only accept a sighting if it can be supported by the latest technology. This is not our method as we believe that Allah, the Most High, does what He wills.

Based upon the above-mentioned Hadith and its commentary, we are thankful to Allah that He did not require us to fast based upon calculations that the common person is not capable of understanding.

At approximately 6:45 pm this evening (the 29th of Ramadaan), a group of believers (to be exact, 9 Muslim men and 3 Muslim women and of course to honorably mention the 15 Muslim children in our midst) witnessed the hilal in Philadelphia, PA. There was a break in the clouds and all of a sudden the hilal appeared. And it seems as if after we were all certain that we had in fact seen the moon, we gained our composure and started to pull out our cell phone cameras to take a picture, Allah immediately moved the clouds back in front of the moon.

After this sighting, some of us went back home to check some of the well-known moon-sighting websites only to see those visibility charts claiming that it would be impossible for us to see the new moon on this day. It is for this reason that we must always protect are belief in Allah for verily,

فَعَّالٌ لِّمَا يُرِيدُ

“He does what He wills.”

Nobody, of course, disputes this. However, the website in question did not only contain insistence that the moon could not be sighted in North America on the evening of the 29th; it contained (or, at least, contains now) a number of reports from people in various parts of the world that negative sightings occurred, in many cases despite clear skies (as in the case of one attempt at a sighting in Apex, North Carolina - a place to the south and west of Philadelphia, PA). Meanwhile, the same page has a welter of sighting reports from several parts of the world for the following day, except in places which typically receive the new moon late, such as India and Pakistan.

When people on the same forum objected, there was a reply which included the story of a Bedouin who came to the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his report was accepted solely after giving the affirmation of faith. This, therefore, should cover a larger number of people, as there supposedly was in Philadelphia on Monday, who claimed to have sighted the new moon. There are a few problems with this parallel.

  1. Perhaps people then knew how to spot a new moon, and the possibility of something else - like a waning crescent - being mistaken for one was not an issue, as it is known to be today.
  2. Perhaps there was no issue of baseless sighting reports then
  3. There was no controversy over how to determine the dates then, as there is now
  4. Madinah at that time did not have light pollution, i.e. substantial amounts of light from electric lights being directed skywards, as affects many large cities today, and I am presuming that Philadelphia is no exception
  5. There was a face-to-face encounter, not a posting on an electronic bulletin board from one individual, who gave no name, citing the word of a number of unidentified people

All in all, why should we believe the word of unidentifiables in Philadelphia when we have reports from named individuals who say they did not see the moon, despite clear skies, in places which receive the new moon before Philadelphia? It is true that the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) did not ask that Bedouin if he had checked his visibility curves, but it is also true that we know the curves today, and they are relevant because people can communicate readily across continents as they could not do then. Back then, it did not matter whether the moon had been sighted in Jeddah, let alone anywhere in the Americas, which were more than a month’s journey even if they had known of the continents’ existence.

While I, for all my opinion is worth, do not agree with the notion that we only accept sighting reports from people of “our network”, I would still refuse to accept sightings reported from unidentifiables in the media or on the internet; there were plenty of names given for people who failed to see the new moon, while the names of those who saw the moon in Philadelphia were thinner on the ground and the original announcement gave none. Furthermore, these people do know how to sight a new moon properly, something we do not know of about the group in Philadelphia.

Most of all, those who contributed to the list did not accompany their reports with sanctimonious remarks about how “Allah does as he wills” and is not bound by the norms He has established, and veiled questioning of the doubters’ belief in Allah, which is what makes the Philly announcement even more offensive than the routine dubious Saudi reports. The worst I have ever heard is people being accused of causing a fitna by going against their local community’s decision, or of bad faith in making certain accusations against the Saudis, such as that they are part of a conspiracy to divide Muslims, or that they just did not want to fast an extra day. While I do not dispute that a miracle might happen, it seems a bit far-fetched that this was a miracle (and how convenient that the clouds covered it in less time than it took for them to prepare their mobile phones, when no such problem affected those who attempted sightings elsewhere) and not a mistake. If people are convinced that a given day is Eid, or the first of Ramadan, let them feast or fast respectively, but let them not be sanctimonious about it or bring others’ faith into question.

Possibly Related Posts:


You may also like...