Hilal hangover: Why Indian Muslims turn Moon sighting into Moon fighting?

    By TwoCircles Team,

    The strike of crescent gets the knack to bring Muslims at loggerheads, every year it’s the same dilemma which engulf the spirit of Ramzan or Eid ul Fitr across India, the mess over Moon sighting. TwoCircles.net spoke with different players across India umpiring the Moon Match to bring out a perspective on why the supervision is going astray and how this crescent chemistry is igniting strong reactions among Indian Muslims.

    Moon sighting or Moon fighting?

    By Shaik Zakeer Hussain,

    Bangalore: Once again, as it is the case every year, Muslims in India and across the world are facing the same dilemma that has encapsulated us for decades – the issue of Moon sighting.

    Whether the moon was actually sighted in Delhi or Kerala or some other part of the country, one reoccurring outcome of all this is the state of confusion that it leaves an average Muslim in.

    This year again Muslims in Karnataka and elsewhere faced with a customary situation, when they were left clueless about the first day of fasting.

    Who do we follow, what should we do, was the reverberating question everywhere.

    The controversy surrounding the issue of Moon sighting is nothing new. In the absence of an established leadership, differences are inevitable. While most Muslims put their trust in their local Mosque, some follow Saudi Arabia in this matter and others rely on calculations. These differences, upon a close examination are by and large political in nature and are driven by a group’s view of politics and priorities.

    One particular example that comes to mind is the year 2000, when butchers of Bangalore decided which date Eid would be celebrated. While one set of them had slaughtered animals based on an early incorrect announcement and warned against any postponement, the other set prevented the day of celebrations from being announced on a particular date, as they were not prepared for the animal slaughter. The result was a pantomime of chaos and confusion and as Prof. Mumtaz Ali Khan had rightly put it, “Mutton became the deciding factor”.

    The state of affairs in the thirteen years since has not been promising.

    Advocates of calculations state that, it is one probable solution to end the current chaos and cite examples of some nations in the west, who have successfully adopted it.

    One such advocate is Indian born internationally renowned scientist and founder of Moonsighting Committee Worldwide (MCW), and Moonsighting.com, Khalid Shaukat. Speaking to TCN he said that, “Some Ulamaa in the past and some in the present time agree that calculations can be used to end this dilemma. Some Ulamaa in USA after having 30 years of facing this dilemma and mistaken claims of sighting (seeing something else and thinking it was a moon), made a consensus decision that calculations have attained a perfection for positions of sun and moon, and we should use them instead of remaining uncertain till the last moment. Visibility calculations have also been refined in the last 30 years to a point that they prove to be sufficiently accurate, barring cloudy conditions. Many a times visibility calculations show certainty that the moon should be easily visible, but clouds make it invisible. Such situations have proven that India has seen the moon and all Pakistan was clouded out and could not see the moon. In my opinion, in such situation, Pakistan should accept India sighting, but in actuality, they do not. They insist to see in Pakistan. In this Ramadan, Pakistan could use Australia sighting reports which came way before Maghrib time in Pakistan on July 9, and Pakistan could have started Ramadan on July 10, but they did not (insisting sighting in Pakistan alone).”

    But the question is, whether using calculations to determine the onset of Ramadan, an Islamically viable option?

    Moulana Kamal Ahmed, member of Hilal Committe of Karnataka says that reliance on calculations is not an option, as it goes against the hadith of the Prophet (SAWS), wherein he says “Fast when you see it (the moon) and cease fasting when you see it, and if it is hidden or cloudy, complete counting of Sha’ban as thirty days.” (Narrated by Abu Hurayrah in Bukhari and Muslim).

    In another hadith, Ibn Abbas (RA) reported “A bedouin came to the Prophet and said, ‘I have seen the crescent tonight.’ The Prophet said, ‘Do you bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah?’ He said ‘Yes.’ The Prophet said, ‘Bilaal! Announce to the people that they should fast tomorrow.’”

    So the sighting of the moon and the Shahadat of at least two witnesses plays a vital role in determining fast or no fast, and Eid or no Eid, he says.

    Clerics sighting moon in Lucknow on August 30 2011.

    Frustrated with the current circumstances, a growing number of youths in Bangalore have decided to follow, what they call the global moon sighting. Syed Tauqeer, software professional says, “The difference of time between any two countries, at its most is not more than twelve hours, and the moon sighted in the US is the same one that is sighted in India or Bangladesh, so scientifically there is no problem in taking the moon sighted abroad into consideration.” Tauqeer also argues that the Prophet (SAWS) addressed the entire Ummah in his Hadith and did not ask Muslims to only follow the moon cited in your location. He, along with a small number of highly educated youths and foreign Muslim students studying here even offer their Eid prayers in accordance to this.

    When asked about this argument, Moulana Kamal dismissed it stating that the issue of India is different than the issues of other countries.

    In this situation, wouldn’t it be reasonable enough to have a strong network of communication between different states to avoid the degrading pitfall every year?

    Moulana Kamal Ahmed agrees and says that, there is one Hilal committee for every district in Karnataka and there is a strong co-ordination between them. “In the scenario of moon not been sighted anywhere in the state, we talk to the representatives of Hilal committees of other states and take a decision.” He advocates for a greater use of communication techniques to send the news across.

    Based on the different viewpoints presented, it is quite evident that there is lack of consensus among the Ummah on this matter. Though the majority of the Ulama are binded by the Hadith of the Prophet (SAWS), which demands the Shahadat of two witnesses and the naked sighting of the moon, however, they have restricted this aspect based on national identities, which only makes the matter worse.

    With no central leadership in place, the question of the entire Muslim world starting and ending Ramadan on similar days might be a distant dream, but to desire the same for at least in India is quite moderate an idea.

    Not necessary to celebrate Eid on same day all over country: Shahi Imam of grand royal mosque at Fatehpuri

    By M. Reyaz,

    New Delhi: There is no ruling to celebrate Eid or observe fast on the same day all over the country, but yes we should see to it that it is celebrated in same city on same day at least, says Mufti M. Mukarram Ahmed, Shahi Imam of grand royal mosque at Fatehpuri in Delhi.

    Even though technology has advanced, but we cannot trust it entirely. When asked, if moon is seen in any one place, say Delhi or Kerala, why can’t people all over the country can celebrate Eid, he said, “It’s not always full proof, someone may mislead you over phone. If anyone sees the moon, he needs to have two witnesses and then only can we have an announcement.”

    When asked that in countries like USA, they rely on astronomical department for more accurate lunar calendar or say Saudi Arabia, where uniformity is maintained, the Shahi Imam said that why should we bother about what USA or KSA so much, India is diverse and phone is not always the most reliable source, and we cannot rely on Met Department for seldom they get their predictions right.

    When asked if we can use binoculars, why can’t we use telescope for more accurate position of moon, particularly on days when the sky is clouded, he said that he is not averse to any modern technological tool, and if someone wants to use it for accurate position, they are most welcome. They should see the moon, in presence of witness, and then inform to the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee on time.

    The Moon muddle with Grand Mufti of Hyderabad Deccan Ruyat-e-Hilal committee

    By Mohd. Ismail Khan,

    Hyderabad: Mufti Khaleel Ahmed is the chancellor of Jamia Nizamia one of the oldest Islamic seminary of South India, since past 40 years he is associated with Hyderabad Deccan Ruyat-e-Hilal committee a nearly 100 year old organization, now as its Grand Mufti every decision in the committee have to be passed only after attaining his consent.

    On the contrary view of all the fuss over Ramzan moon sighting Mufti Khaleel Ahmed presents a very simplistic procedure, where committee keeps its representatives in every district and neighboring states to give conformation of moon sighting. If sky is not clear in their respective jurisdiction than they will approach other Hilal committees and accept their Shahadat (testimony), but if sky is clear in their area and moon is not sighted than Shahadat of other state committees are not accepted.

    And eligibility to give Shahadat is much more modest one have to be a Muslim and pious Muslim will be preferable, for beginning of Ramzan one Shahadat is acceptable and for Eid if sky is not clear than two Shahadat’s are required.

    If procedure is as simple and logical given by him than why so much of hassle every year? According to Mufti Khaleel Ahmed confusion arose because Muslims have certain misunderstanding and misconception of moon in an over simplistic nature, “Moon doesn’t have a uniformity in its movement, sometimes moon can be sighted in a single night in entire Indian subcontinent and in the Arab world at the same time, and sometimes there won’t be any clarity between north and south India.”

    He then adds, “It is difficult to draw limitations of moon cycle, even modern science is bound by it, science can juts draw adjusted positioning of moon or any far can just predict the possibility of moon spotting in a particular day.”

    Taking a gibe over Muslims living in the western world who have come up with scientific lunar calendar to follow Islamic Hijri, Mufti Khaleel Ahmed said Muslims in western world has made up that Lunar calendar for their own facility and concurrence, but he cautions, “In some months even science cant declare uniform answer on moon positioning, how will Lunar calendar help in those situations, those fixed calendars has the possibility to misguide. Science can help us and it is helping no doubt, but solely relying on it is not good proposition, because in the end science is also dependable on nature.”

    Mufti Khaleel Ahmed said Lunar calendars in the form of Islamic Hijri calendar are also made in India by many Islamic seminaries including by his Madrasa basing on the astronomical science, but it’s not necessary that even these calendars have to be flawless, “Sometimes Hijri calendar issued by our Madrasa or Hilal committee can go wrong, calendar might predict that moon will be sighted on this day, but if due to over clouding and rain it can’t be sighted than we have to change the calendar according to future moon vision. Just because it’s written in Lunar or Hijri calendar we cannot keep Islamic sharia aside. The basic principle of Islamic month counting is begun by spotting the moon, which is not predictable, thus dates in those calendars cannot be constant in nature, and they have to be changed when required.”

    That is why he feels, “Shariat has given us an easy way, start the Roza or Ramzan when you sight the moon, and stop it when you sight it again after certain require period.”

    So if Shariat has given Muslims easiest way than science, then why so much of confusion? Mufti Khaleel Ahmed said confusion is unavoidable in case of narrow visibility of moon. In this condition he said Muslims should trust their respective regions Hilal committees, otherwise “If everyone start following on their own decisions than there will be different date of Eid’s in every street. Which will tarnish whole Islamic system; this is not in the interest of Muslims.”

    But Grand Mufti of Hyderabad Ruyat-e-Hilal agrees that moon visibility is not the only factor in unending moon muddle, Hilal committees also has to share the blame, “Sometimes there will be laxity in coordination among different Hilal committees, on some occasions Shahadat’s are not accepted due to some regional atmosphere or feelings and more often due to sectarian issues.”

    If majority of times confusion arises due to differences in many Hilal committees than why not create a single central Hilal committee as in case of our neighbor Pakistan, Mufti Khaleel Ahmed responds, “Pakistan has Government controlled committee, where as in India Government will not interfere in religious establishments, but Indian Government is not stopping it either, if Indian Muslims want they can establish that kind of centralized system according to Shariat.”

    But then he adds, “Even if Indian Muslims are not able to establish a central Hilal committee than at least Hilal committees working under different regions should cooperate and communicate with each other.”

    Mufti Khaleel Ahmed said during his young days with Hilal committee people use to be dependent on radio and telegram to get any news, thus confusions use to arise resulting in one village celebrating Eid before its neighboring village. With the development of technology people are more interlinked with each other, thus an avenue was being provided to decrease the confusion, but now in this modern technological age confusion take place more due to differences on regional and sectarian lines.
    In the end he made a request to all Hilal committees, “Committees can continue to work with their own existing policies but they should cooperate with each other so the increasing unease in Muslim community due to ambiguity and differences over moon sighting gets an end.”

    Postscript: It is easy to brush aside the confusion over Ramadan or Eid ul Fitr, based on sighting of Moon. However, the confusion over Moon sighting is not restricted to the festivals, it would be reflected in the Hijri calender. The basic purpose of having calender is to bring uniformity and make arrangements systematic. By reiterating the confusions every year, the very purpose of a calender is nullified, and perhaps that is one main reason why for most of the year we are simply not bothered about Hijri calender, and rely more on Gregorian calender for routine works.


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