Don’t call us haters

A picture of the new moon in the red evening sky above London; St Paul's cathedral, Tower Bridge and other buildings are lit up below.
The new moon sighted in London on 4th June. (Source: New Crescent Society, Facebook)

This past Eid, the recurring problem of spurious moon sighting reports emanating from Saudi Arabia and Muslim institutions overseas declaring ‘Eid’ the following day on the basis of them reared its head yet again. As so often happens, people in Saudi Arabia itself and in the surrounding countries attempted to sight the new moon the same day; they all failed. Astronomical data indicated that the new moon would not be visible in any part of the Old World and only with an optical aid, if at all, in parts of North and South America and the Caribbean; in the event, as the relevant page on the Moonsighting website shows, no positive sighting occurred on 3rd June even there. Many of us were hoping for a unified start and end to Eid and the charts seemed to indicate that everyone would celebrate Eid on Wednesday, 5th June. But we didn’t; many of our mosques followed the announcement from Saudi Arabia and held it on the 4th.

The other day, someone shared an article on Facebook from Muslim Matters pleading to the “Religious” to stop attacking imams and religious institutions for following what he considered valid scholarly positions such as following global moon sighting or calculations and sightings using telescopes. He compared this to people griping about mosques holding a taraweeh just for women, with a female imam, also considered by most scholars to be quite valid. There is a long divergence into the etiquettes of disagreement (adab al-ikhtilaaf) in Islam, that scholars have different methodologies and thus may come to a different conclusion about the meaning of a given verse in the Qur’an on the basis of them. Near the start of this piece, the shaikh suggests that people might advise him to “let the haters hate”, which is an astonishingly disrespectful way to talk about Muslims who are trying to practise their religion properly and follow the Sunnah with regard to a pillar of the faith, and to establish a situation where everyone can do this, even if it is not the most convenient way of doing it because the exact day is not always known.

We are not ‘haters’; we are well aware of the issue of different opinions around scholars. We follow all four (well, mostly three of the four) schools of thought (madhahib). We do not even all follow the same position about moon sighting; some of us follow a position of local or at least in-country sighting, while others follow reliable easterly sightings. The watchword here is reliable. We have mosques up and down the UK, but particularly the so-called major mosques which are the most famous mosques which often have the most extensive community facilities besides the prayer space and often have links to governments in the Middle East, such that they can get imams from the two Holy Cities to recite the Qur’an or occasionally lead prayers, following announcements from Saudi Arabia year after year which are based on demonstrably spurious reports of the moon having been sighted. This is not, at least ostensibly, about the use of calculations (very few mosques in the UK use calculations alone); the scholarly position is that the moon has to be sighted. But sighting reports are being manufactured when the moon could not have, and has not, been seen.

In North America it appears that some major Muslim organisations have settled on calculations so as to be able to predict when Eid will be so as to make it easier to book days off work and the such-like. The Americas and Caribbean are where the new moon is visible first, so that position is a stronger one there than it is here in Europe. Some Muslims feel that having unpredictable festival dates makes Islam look backward compared to Christianity, which has festivals on set or predictable dates every year. Even Moonsighting.com, although it relays reports about human moon sightings around the world, is run by people who endorse the calculation method; many of us rely on calculations to filter out spurious sightings. But the fact remains that for most of Muslim history we relied on our eyes to tell us when the new months were upon us, much as we relied on them to know when to offer each prayer, and that some communities would be celebrating Eid the same day as others were still fasting because the new moon had been sighted in one place but not another. In some parts of the world which have rainy seasons, it will be impossible to sight the new moon for several months at a time, so this would make the use of calculations necessary, but we are seeing false Eids foisted on the community in places where it is usually possible to tell whether the new moon is visible or not. It was possible in the UK this year, for example.

So, please don’t call us haters. We know about and respect differences of opinion. This is not about fiqh; it’s about fact, and the fact is that the community has been lied to again and again, and some of us are not willing to stand by and say nothing. There has been a real grassroots effort to revive the Sunnah of human moon sighting and to correct the misinformation spread through official channels and through satellite TV every year. If Muslim leaders want respect from ordinary Muslims, they should behave likewise towards us. And Allah knows best.

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