When moon-sighting ends up as moon-fighting

Sh. Sikander Ziad Hashmi – Ramadan 1425

Once again, we find a moon sighting controversy on our hands. Regardless of whether or not the Ramadhan moon was really sighted in Austin, Texas, and whatever the status of the testimony, one thing is for sure: It leaves the average Muslim in a state of confusion.

What should we do? Who do we follow?

Moon sighting differences are nothing new. With the absence of an established Muslim leadership (which is a separate topic altogether), such differences are almost inevitable. It may seem like a big fuss over something minor, but in reality, many of these controversies are caused by significant (albeit seemingly small) differences in understanding, interpretation, and application of the rules of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). They may seem small but they are significant because they make the difference between fast and no fast, and Eid and no Eid.

The fact that the moon sighting decision plays a vital role in the population’s carrying out (or lack thereof) of its obligations (such as fasts) goes to show how weighty and important these decisions are. Surely, such decisions should be made by those who are trustworthy and who are experts in the field, in this case Fiqh, since it is Islamic jurisprudence that spells out when whose testimony is acceptable, and under which conditions. After all, moon sighting for the Islamic lunar calendar is a religious matter that has been practiced since the time of the Prophet (SAW).

Therefore, individuals who are righteous, trustworthy, and are well versed with Islamic jurisprudence and law should make moon-sighting decisions. Similarly, when there is a difference of opinion, we should try to follow organizations whose leadership consists of such individuals.

For those of us who are of the investigative nature, it might so happen that we learn the decision made by the leaders in our community was incorrect. In such cases, if there are two groups in the community, we should follow the one that seems to be correct.

When all the leaders in the community make a unanimous moon sighting decision we feel is incorrect, we don’t have a choice and following the unanimous decision is incumbent upon us.

Ultimately, the responsibility for making the correct decision lies squarely on the shoulders of those making the decisions. Any consequences or repercussions from incorrect decisions are purely their responsibility and the average Muslim has nothing to worry about.

Since it is not our responsibility, we should try to refrain from creating discord and fitnah in the community by publicly bashing the decision makers and encouraging dissent, although constructive criticism may be given in a civil manner if it may help in improving the situation. As well, there’s nothing wrong in advising others to follow a certain organization instead of another if one is aware of problems in the latter’s decision-making process.

Quite often in such situations, families and friends end up being split over whom to follow. Those who have opted to follow the ‘other’ side shouldn’t be targeted or put down. Everyone should be free to follow whomever he or she trusts most.

Now, a difference in the start-date of Ramadhan begs the question: When do the possible nights of Laylatul Qadr (Nights of Power) fall (since one group’s odd days will be another’s even)?

What must be understood is that Allah and His divine mechanism (i.e. angels, etc.) are neither restricted by nor bound to time, days, and dates. The dates and times specified to us, such as the odd nights of the last 10 nights of Ramadhan, are just for our (i.e. the human being’s) understanding and organization. Thus, each group can seek out the Nights of Power according to its own calendar and Insha-Allah, each person will receive the intended reward on the basis of his or her intention. After all, differences in dates have almost always occurred since the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar, since there has never been a universal, global calendar. The dates have always varied, based on when each community was able to see the moon.

May Allah (SW) make this a blessed and fruitful month for all of us, regardless of when we chose to start it!

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