Magical Unity Fades Under New Moon

October 18, 2007 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—October 17—An irony wrapped in an enigma, an enigma wrapped in a mystery, a mystery wrapped in a Gordian knot. Once again, confusion reigned on ‘eid in the final moments as Saudi Arabia announced at the last minute that ‘eid would be Friday instead of Saturday.

A Saudi embassy spokesman, Tareq Aligani of the Saudi press office, explained to TMO that the Saudi embassy celebrated ‘eid inside the embassy grounds on Friday, October 12th. And in Saudi Arabia ‘eid was Friday. Also celebrating ‘eid on Friday were the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and Lebanon. Saturday saw ‘eid in Iraq, Egypt, Malaysia, and Oman. Sunday, ‘eid was celebrated in Pakistan. In America, ‘eid was celebrated on at least Friday and Saturday.

The ‘eid confusion offered a glimpse into some of the continuing issues that underlie the FCNA’s decision to use calculation to determine timing for religious events. And the occasion provided a cross-section of the American Muslim community’s understanding of the issues surrounding sighting vs. calculation, Saudi vs. local determination, and the distance of a valid sighting from a Muslim who wants to know whether a month has ended or begun. A microcosm of this controversy was reflected in the Southeast Michigan area, which like the United States as a whole saw mosques scrambling at the last minute to determine when their ‘eid would be.

“Sticking to their guns” in relying on the FCNA determinations were the Detroit Muslim Unity Center, IAGD, MCWS (the Canton mosque), and the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center. But many mosques, themselves perhaps surprised, celebrated ‘eid a day earlier–Friday. Such mosques included the Tawheed Center in Farmington, the MCA in Ann Arbor, the Flint Islamic Center, and the Grand Blanc Islamic Center.

The choice of ‘eid days pointed out a deeper and significant fact, that the mosques following Imam Wallace Deen Muhammad have decided to follow the FCNA recommendations and are firmly sticking to that decision. As evidence of this consider that the Detroit Muslim Unity Center held ‘eid prayers at the 1605 Davison property in coordination “with Masjid Wali Muhammad and, Masjid Noor (the West African Zambian mosque),” explained Imam El-Amin of the Detroit Muslim Unity Center, which hosted over 2,000 worshippers Saturday for ‘eid.

True to his earlier prediction, Imam El-Amin explained that “We had already decided. The moon could not be seen in North America, so we didn’t go back on it. I don’t care about Saudi Arabia—but these guys over here need to stick to their guns. They have all these meetings… and they don’t stick with it.”

“They are going to have to decide—if we are going to have unity or everyone is going to do their own thing—if we are going to look like we have any sense to the rest of the world,” said Imam El-Amin.

Echoing support for FCNA was MCWS. “The Canton community has decided to follow the lead of the Fiqh Council of North America, so the FCNA had earlier issued a statement regarding the starting of Ramadan and the ending of Ramadan both, based on their current position of going with the calculations of the crescent sightings,” said Masood Rab of the MCWS.

A little farther to the West, the Zaytuna Institute (based in California) declared ‘eid on Saturday after validating several sightings the previous night.

Zaytuna is in fact one leading proponent of a firm traditional sighting-requiring view–this view is perhaps not so well represented except by an undercurrent of support in the Michigan community.

Zaytuna emphasizes the argument that physical moon sighting is the only determinant for whether a new month has begun. In his article, Cesarian Moon Births, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, Zaytuna’s founder, thoroughly defends his view that calculation has actually been possible for thousands of years, and that even in this context all of the four Sunni madhhahib had a preponderance of agreement that physical sighting and not calculation was necessary whenever the moon is not obscured by clouds.

A Zaytuna spokesman who declined to be named explained to TMO that in the days surrounding the coming of a new moon, the Zaytuna Institute receives many calls and approximately “20,000 to 30,000 visits to our website” by people who wish to know whether the new moon has come in.

Zaytuna works with an umbrella moon-sighting advocacy group, the “Hilal Sighting Committee of North America,” which has created a website called hilalsighting.org, which coordinates moon sighting reports and provides videos in support of their arguments regarding sightings and contradicting the Fiqh Council of North America’s view.

Calculation vs. physical sighting is not the only issue—in fact there is an entire spectrum of issues related to moon sightings and a decision on calculation does not resolve those issues. For instance, despite their agreement that physical sighting is required, the sighting-requiring organizations do have differences in methodology and in the requirements they have of the people who perform their sightings for them—the Zaytuna spokesman alluded to these differences of opinion in reference to the Hilal Sighting Committee of North America.

One such point of dispute is local sighting versus global sighting.

“We are not saying it is invalid to follow sightings in Mecca,” said the Zaytuna spokesman “The problem with global sighting is number one, the nature of the world today is you can get information from the other side of the planet, and it’s a totally different time zone there.”

“Another issue is the international date line—who’s on tomorrow and who’s on today. Right now we would say it’s almost 3pm here, and we would say that it is… 9am or 8am in Japan tomorrow.”

“The other issue is problems with moon sightings in foreign countries—false claims. Nigerians claimed to sight the moon on Wednesday… We can’t base our sacred days off that,” said the spokesman.

“Honestly the ISNA thing was to create more ease for people—we respect that,” he said, but “ISNA has changed their position many times—it used to be based on sightability in North America, then it was sightability anywhere on the planet, now it is based on the moon set time in Mecca.”

He speculates there may be further changes in the future.

All sides declare, however sincerely, that they do not wish to enforce their views on other Muslims. But perhaps the reality, despite the ever-present complaints for unity, is that there will never be a unified single day for Muslims in America to celebrate ‘eid.

“Everyone is so concerned about doing it at the same time—we don’t pray fajr at the same time, we don’t break our fast at the same time. There’s no need to fight about it,” said the Zaytuna spokesman.

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