With the beginning of Ramadan approaching, the confusion and doubts begin. Do we rely upon ‘sighting’ the moon or do we depend upon the modern ‘calculation’ method and begin our Fast at a predetermined time? In relying upon sighting the moon, are our scholars give enough consideration to our needs in a modern society? Do we really need to ‘reconsider’ the arguments for ‘calculation’ over sighting the Moon based on ‘social and cultural’ considerations as opposed to simply Islamic jurisprudence? Shaykh Abdullah Ali addresses and responds to a detail argument for ‘calculation’.
I want to express a few points that I believe are not sufficiently addressed by our modern scholars when it comes to the issue. I’m not a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence by any means and I can’t argue against legal points or discussion about scholarly precedence on this matter. A great case as to why moonsighting can not be argued against in the traditional way that the subject has been examined by our scholars. Clearly, there seems to be little precedence for calculation.
Having said that, there is a different analysis that, in my opinion, is begging to be done on this issue. We all know that the effect of a legal opinion on the public interest is a necessary factor in any scholarly opinion. With all due respect, I am astonished by the lack attention paid to the social justice/public interest issues that arise with following a traditional moonsighting approach based on our current cultural norms.
Other than the strictly legal analysis that is made (that makes a strong case for moonlighting), an argument is also made that it encourages us to incorporate the Divine order into our lives and not the other way around. Again, I can appreciate this and find it to be utterly beautiful with a very strong caveat. Incorporating the awe of the Divine in our lives was never intended to be something that potentially could harm one’s livelihood, family life or love of this community.
So I’m just listing the Gigantic Elephants in the room with a sincere prayer that some day one of our scholars will consider them or in the least address them in any argument/case made about this issue.
1. We live in a pluralist culture. There is currently a bad economy. Schedules do not just rule the lives of busy corporate types and over scheduled soccer moms. For those American Muslims who are not as privileged as you and me, work schedules are determined far in advance. (Actually, this applies to 95% of all working American Muslims but this issue clearly affects those who are at risk of losing their jobs most.) I would like anyone to have the courage to tell a single Muslim mother who has to work to provide for her family, to take two days off of work in order to celebrate Eid with her family. As any other working parent might be able to tell you, taking two days off means that she has taken away an extra day that she now can not take for a child’s sick day. Let’s not even get into what position that puts her in with her employer when she has to explain that “umm yes I might need to take Monday off or I might need to take Tuesday off.” Right. A general principle probably applies here: When people of privilege do not consider how policies and laws affect those without privilege, we’re probably steering slightly off track.
2. What it says when we ignore the above point: Fine then, don’t take two days off. Let us follow our traditional path and you can go to work and miss out on this occasion while those of us who can celebrate will. Sucks for you. See you next year. Maybe.
3. The second point speaks to our American Muslim identity. Perhaps in days of yore, Eid did not carry the same significance that it does today in our current culture. For many Muslims, celebrating Eid is essential to creating a sense of identity for themselves and their children as Muslims. If a significant number of Muslims are prevented from being able to participate in the day, we have taken away an essential opportunity for them to claim their Muslim identity as a part of this community. Anyone who has worked on Eid can attest to this. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to praise God together in jamat given the way our society is structured, unfortunately. Taking away yet another opportunity for people to embrace their identity is devastating.
Someone could critique what I just said by saying that we’re not a religion or community that wants to have “holiday Muslims” and I would say, yes, we are. Obviously, deeper faith is better than occasional faith but if someone comes for even one day, we as a community should welcome them, embrace them and say come, come again. We believe in a Merciful God and we are a merciful and welcoming people.
Anyway, like I said, I’m not trying to deviate from the general consensus about moonsighting. I just earnestly wish that our scholars, particularly the ones who seem to come from a social justice lens, would address some of these issues that our community is facing. We may not be suffering from an obvious affliction as other communities in other parts of the Muslim world are, however, we are suffering from afflictions of the heart. Our identity is in crisis and it would be helpful if our scholars took this into account or at least addressed these issues when making scholarly opinions. There may not be any alternative to moonsighting, but can we at least recognize the elephants?
Anyway, having gotten that off my chest, my vote goes with whatever the majority aligns itself with. Just a request that if any of you do have access to our scholars, it would be nice to have them address these legitimate concerns.
Shaykh Abdullah Ali’s response:
With all due respect to the questioner, celebrating Eid on the same day or getting off a day from work in order to spend it with other Muslims—even if it’s on the wrong day—is simply NOT enough reason to ignore the legal and moral teachings of the religion on the matter!
Brothers often miss Jumu’a due to obligations—a service considered to be compulsory by consensus of the schools for men to attend, but no one has ever called for changing Jumu’a to Saturday or Sunday in light of the hardship it brings on them for not being able to take off of work. Neither Jumu’a nor Eid are compulsory for women to pray. And the latter is not even compulsory for men to pray according to the majority of the schools. So why would it be justifiable to choose a preselected day for Eid even if it does not coincide with the celestial indications of the Shari’a?
Better yet, why don’t we call for changing the times for Zuhr and ‘Asr to the time of Maghrib in light of the fact that a number of Muslims find it hard to pray at work on certain jobs? The reality is that the signs of the beginnings and endings of our worships are all clearly demarcated in the Islamic Law with minimal disagreement about certain exceptional occasions.
It is flimsy argument—-even if it is claimed that they represent “elephants in the room”—to claim that our ‘identity’ is tied to everyone being able to pray the Eid together. Unity starts in the heart. It is not an empty display and spectacle that is void of the production of love, solidarity, and empathy for each others plight. If the Muslims are truly concerned with the less fortunate, they would put more effort in trying to tend to repairing the lives of those converts to Islam who struggle vehemently to transition from a life of vice to the new life of virtue. But where is that in our hearts?
I’m sorry to sound somewhat combative. But I just think this is a poor excuse for justifying a set calendar for Ramadan, Eid, etc. The beauty of Islam is in submission to the will of Allah, even if the “non-Muslims” think we’re nuts for not being as “organized” as “they” might like for us to be.
The true source of our “identity” is in understanding that honor and dignity comes “only” from Allah, not from trying to maintain a false public persona of “unity” and “uniformity.” That might be good PR. But it falls way below the conditions and purity of intentions stipulated by our Creator to be in our actions. “Verily, Allah is good and pure. And He only accepts that which is good and pure.”
And Allah knows best