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The Magical Meccan Moon

October 11, 2007 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—October 9—A magical moment of unity seems to have swept through American mosques this year. An informal survey of local mosques shows that the majority began their fasting together on Thursday, September 13th, and will celebrate ‘eid on Saturday October 13th, which dates coincide with the determination of the Fiqh Council of North America regarding the beginning and ending of Ramadan.

FCNA calculated the timings of fasting months based on the conjunction of the hilal and the moon setting before sunset in Mecca (was originally GMT, now Meccan time). Despite FCNA’s endorsement by ISNA and its affiliation with some of the highest-level people at ISNA, including Muzzammil Siddiqi, some people do not accept this view.

An example of the naysayers is Omar Afzal, Ph.D., of the website islamicmoon.com—who proclaims in the title of an article that “ISNA & Saudi calculated dates violate Shari’ah”; he then explains his assertion that “Shari’ah requires visual observation of the Crescent moon (hilaal) to commence an Islamic month.”

Muzzammil Siddiqi explains in response that “Our position is that [calculation] is permissible, and if it is permissible, why not take advantage? We are not insisting that people apply our ruling, or saying that others are wrong.”

FCNA determinations were hotly debated by intellectuals last year, and the use by a masjid of the official FCNA date last year was usually explained as coincidental by mosque officials.

But in fact there seems to have been a groundswell of acceptance of this new calculation regime. Dr. Siddiqi explains that “I think that more people are accepting–before Ramadan, we got a lot of emails and phone calls, people saying ‘stick to your position, don’t change it. This makes life easy.’ So this year Ramadan started 9/13/07, and 90% of the community began fasting that day.”

There was early this year a crisis because a similar group in Europe, the European Council for Fatwa and Research (EFCR) determined a different date for the beginning of ‘eid—the European body hinged its findings on the earliest possible conjunction of a visible moon before sunset in Mecca Mukarramah. FCNA had chosen the same calculation but based on GMT instead of Meccan time. By using different locations, the two bodies had come up with different results.

After considering the European group’s results, FCNA issued this explanation on its website: “FCNA after careful discussion has revised its position and has adopted the Fatwa of ECFR. This revised position will change only a few dates in the Fiqh Council’s Five year calendar; but it will bring greater harmony and unity among the Muslims communities in the West.”

A survey of the local mosques shows remarkable uniformity. According to the IAGD website, ‘Eid will be Saturday October 13th at 8 am and 10:30 am at the IAGD mosque. The MCWS website also plans ‘Eid on Saturday, at Burton Manor at 9:30am, 27777 Schoolcraft Livonia. The Tawheed Center, also according to its website, began fasting Thursday and will celebrate ‘eid on Saturday.

Imam El-Amin of the Detroit Muslim Unity Center explained to TMO, regarding FCNA, that he was “in sync with them,” and said that “Everybody was. I was happy that they set that date and I was glad to follow that date, because it coincided with the sighting of the hilal. It’s going to take a while before everyone accepts that date—this is the best year yet.”

Explaining whether FCNA made him decide to fast Thursday he explained “I looked first at FCNA, their determination, the way they calculated it. I guess you can say I did get it from there because I looked at their calculation and their calculation was correct.”

The Shi’a community faces a completely different set of challenges. While many individual Sunnis base their religious practice on the rulings of their madhahib, and base immediate choices of when to fast largely on their community or mosque, the religious Shi’a make large scale and small scale decisions according to the teachings of their individual marja, or religious authority.

There are two maraja whose followers comprise the majority of the Shi’a in the Dearborn area, according to Khalida Beydoun, Public Relations director for the Islamic Institute of Knowledge—they are Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (in Iraq—famous in the early stages of the Iraq war for his restraint in response to a terrible series of attacks that explicitly sought to goad the Shi’a into civil war by atrocious bombings at Shi’a mosques), and Grand Ayatollah as-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, in Lebanon—who relative to Imam Sistani is considered lenient in that he allows women to wear some minimal makeup and pants if they are loose.

Because those two authorities have different interpretations regarding the use of calculations to determine the beginning of months, the Shi’a community is split regularly on issues of fasting and ‘eid.

“Unfortunately,” says Ms. Beydoun, “there are two ‘eids. I say unfortunately because it is really sad. Eid is supposed to be a date when all Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan, and for us to have a split at one of the holiest times of the year,” she explains, is a very sad break. “Sometimes even within houses, the husband does ‘eid one day and the wife on another,” or children and their parents celebrating ‘eid on different days.

The maraja send out their decisions, once made, to the entire world’s mosques through a huge infrastructure of broadcast faxes and emails—individuals around the world call their mosques to find out when to fast. Sometimes the information doesn’t come out until the last minute. “There are times where we don’t know til hours before or even just one hour,” said Ms. Beydoun.

“Two years ago, they did not let us know until 2 or 3 hours before—website, didn’t have anything. Iraqi TV, did not have anything. But this year it was a lot better,” since the beginning of fasting (Friday according to his ruling) was announced a day in advance by Shaykh Sistani.

As for the Sunni mosques’ ‘eid, Imam El-Amin explains, “We’re going to go Saturday—we already calculated and fixed it, we’re not going to be changing it. We stay with it. Saturday.”

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