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About that moon sighting…

The sweetness of this month of Ramadaan is always tainted at the beginning and at the end because of the stubborn insistence and double standards of the people that proclaim themselves  to be the leaders of the Ummah. Their very own offices will release perpetual salaah time tables that can be used throughout the year, publish calendars that include to-the-minute exact times for starting and ending fast, all based on scientifically calculated methods, while still insisting that the moon for Ramadaan cannot be accurately predicted and therefore must be sighted with the naked eye.

But the ridiculous double standards don’t stop there. They go on further to accept that if someone in another part of the country sights the moon, we can accept that as sufficient proof that the month of Ramadaan has started and therefore we can act on that. However, what they fail to acknowledge is that once again, a double standard exists. On the one hand, they’re trying to leverage off the permissibility of acting on the sighting of the moon in another town close to your own, but fail to acknowledge the practicality of the time taken for travel between the two towns during the time of the sahaba relative to our own experiences now. 

For example, in South Africa, if I’m living in Johannesburg and the moon is not sighted in time for Esha salaah, it is common practice to check with the Muslim communities in Cape Town if they possibly sighted the moon since sunset is usually 45 minutes to 2 hours later than Johannesburg. Given that they’re on the coast with low humidity, their skies are considerably clearer as well making the conditions perfect for sighting the moon. However, Cape Town is 1200km (750 miles) away, which means that it would have been physically impossible to travel from Cape Town to Johannesburg in a single day on horseback or camel back or any other means of transport available during the time of the sahaba. In case I’m not making sense here, the double standard that I see in this is simple. We’re willing to exercise the leniency of making news of a sighting from another town a permissible indicator to start Ramadaan, but we’re allowing scientific/technological progress to be the basis on which we confirm it? Put differently, we’re happy to apply one part of the Hadith while relying on modern technology to fulfil the means. 

There’s a verse in the Qur’an that always echoes in my head when this debate comes up. It says in Surah 21 verse 33:

Sahih International

And it is He who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon; all [heavenly bodies] in an orbit are swimming.

Muhsin Khan

And He it is Who has created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon, each in an orbit floating.
Yusuf Ali

It is He Who created the Night and the Day, and the sun and the moon: all (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its rounded course.

Anyone want to hazard a guess as to what will happen to this earth if the moon suddenly floated in an orbit disproportionate to that of the earth or the sun? Yet we’re willing to abide by calendars that tell us to-the-minute when to start and when to stop performing each salaah, but still insist on having pointless debates about the sighting of the moon whose cycle can be predicted as accurately as the sun?

In the interests of unity, the Sunnah is that we follow the majority opinion of our community so that we don’t create divisions. For this reason only do I continue to follow the decisions published by our local masjid. But I pray that in time, this issue as well as the insanity around the use of the moon and star symbols will become a thing of the past and that Muslims around the world can move beyond the pettiness that erupts every single year without fail just because we can’t separate principles from rituals and apply them consistently. Insha-Allah. Ameen.

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