Astronomer Threatened with Lawsuit for Doubting Eid Moon Sighting

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Md. Humaidan / Arab News

MoonSighting

JEDDAH: A number of conservative scholars have threatened to sue Saudi astronomer and scientist Khaled Al-Zaaq for doubting the testimony of citizens who reported to the Hilal panel (moon sighting committee) that the Shawwal crescent was visible on Ramadan 29 (Aug. 29).

After confirming the veracity of the sighting by the people who had reported to the panel, the committee declared the end to the fasting month of Ramadan and signaled the advent of Eid Al-Fitr the next day (Tuesday).

The threats of action came amidst an ongoing debate between Muslim scholars and astronomers about the possibility and probability of sighting the moon on Aug. 29. The astronomers claim the moon could not be sighted on that day as it had eclipsed before sunset.

According to the Islamic calendar, the Arabic months can be either 29 or 30 days long. On many occasions, Eid has been celebrated after only 29 days of fasting.

But this year the debate turned heated after Al-Zaaq was widely quoted by local press and electronic sites that there was no way to sight the crescent on the night of Ramadan 29, thus casting doubts on the testimony of those who claimed to have seen it.

The purists said the astronomer should not have cast doubts on the testimonies of the people who sighted the moon because their antecedents are checked before their word is accepted. Those who call in after sighting the moon are known for their integrity and straightforwardness.

A number of Saudi astronomers had issued press statements claiming that the moon could not be sighted while renowned Islamic scholars defended the testimonies of the people who sighted the moon and said Eid came at the right time.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh in his Friday sermon at Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque in Riyadh described those who doubted the moon sighting as “motivated and deviated people with foul mouths.”

“There are unjust pens and foul tongues that cast doubt on our religion which should be silenced. We are strictly following the Sunnah of our Prophet in fasting and marking Eid days,” he said, accusing the doubting astronomers of trying to impose their opinions on the nation.

The mufti said the Shariah was clear in the procedures of moon sighting and added that Muslims would never give up the Sunnah for false opinions.

The moon was very clear the next day and was seen in various areas on Tuesday night. This supported the stand of those who said they had sighted the moon on Monday evening.

A number of citizens in the western Al-Ais area said they were able to sight the moon on the night of Monday for half an hour. Their testimony contradicts the claims of the astronomers who said that the moon could not be sighted.

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Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

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Saudi Arabia Tightens Media Laws

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Royal order threatens fines and closure of publications that jeopardize kingdom’s stability or offends clerics.

Security has been strengthened in Saudi Arabia in an effort to crush possible protests [AFP]

Saudi Arabia has tightened its control of the media, threatening fines and closure of publications that jeopardised its stability or offended clerics, state media reported.

The tighter media controls were set out in amendments to the media law issued as a royal order.

They also banned stirring up sectarianism and “anything that causes harm to the general interest of the country”.

“All those responsible for publication are banned from publishing … anything contradicting Islamic Sharia Law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests,” the state news agency SPA said.

Saudi Arabia, which is a major US ally, follows an austere version of Sunni Islam and does not tolerate any form of dissent. It has no elected parliament and no political parties.
It has managed to stave off the unrest which has rocked the Arab world, toppling leaders in Tunisia and Egypt.

Facebook call unheeded

Almost no Saudis in major cities answered a Facebook call for protests on March 11, in the face of a massive security presence around the country.

Minority Shias have staged a number of street marches in the eastern province, where most of Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are located.

Shias are said to represent between 10 and 15 per cent of the country’s 18 million people and have long complained of discrimination, a charge the government denies.

Clerics played a major role in banning protests by issuing a religious edict which said that demonstrations are against Islamic law.

In turn, the royal order banned the “infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country’s senior clerics or statesmen”.

King Abdullah has strengthened the security and religious police forces, which played a major role in banning protests in the kingdom.

According to the amendment published on Friday, punishments for breaking the media laws include a fine of half a million riyals ($133,000) and the shutting down of the publication that published the violation.

It also allows for banning the writer from contributing to any media.

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In Egypt’s Democracy, Room for Islam

April 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Islam

AliGomaaLast month, Egyptians approved a referendum on constitutional amendments that will pave the way for free elections. The vote was a milestone in Egypt’s emerging democracy after a revolution that swept away decades of authoritarian rule. But it also highlighted an issue that Egyptians will grapple with as they consolidate their democracy:  the role of religion in political life.

The vote was preceded by the widespread use of religious slogans by supporters and opponents of the amendments, a debate over the place of religion in Egypt’s future Constitution and a resurgence in political activity by Islamist groups. Egypt is a deeply religious society, and it is inevitable that Islam will have a place in our democratic political order. This, however, should not be a cause for alarm for Egyptians, or for the West.

Egypt’s religious tradition is anchored in a moderate, tolerant view of Islam. We believe that Islamic law guarantees freedom of conscience and expression (within the bounds of common decency) and equal rights for women. And as head of Egypt’s agency of Islamic jurisprudence, I can assure you that the religious establishment is committed to the belief that government must be based on popular sovereignty.

While religion cannot be completely separated from politics, we can ensure that it is not abused for political gain.

Much of the debate around the referendum focused on Article 2 of the Constitution — which, in 1971, established Islam as the religion of the state and, a few years later, the principles of Islamic law as the basis of legislation — even though the article was not up for a vote.

But many religious groups feared that if the referendum failed, Egypt would eventually end up with an entirely new Constitution with no such article.
On the other side, secularists feared that Article 2, if left unchanged, could become the foundation for an Islamist state that discriminates against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities.
But acknowledgment of a nation’s religious heritage is an issue of national identity, and need not interfere with the civil nature of its political processes. There is no contradiction between Article 2 and Article 7 of Egypt’s interim Constitution, which guarantees equal citizenship before the law regardless of religion, race or creed. 

After all, Denmark, England and Norway have state churches, and Islam is the national religion of politically secular countries like Tunisia and Jordan. The rights of Egypt’s Christians to absolute equality, including their right to seek election to the presidency, is sacrosanct.

Similarly, long-suppressed Islamist groups can no longer be excluded  from political life. All Egyptians have the right to participate in the creation of a new Egypt, provided that they respect the basic tenets of religious freedom and the equality of all citizens. To protect our democracy, we must be vigilant against any party whose platform or political rhetoric threatens to incite sectarianism, a prohibition that is enshrined in law and in the Constitution.

Islamists must understand that, in a country with such diverse movements as the Muslim Brotherhood; the Wasat party, which offers a progressive interpretation of Islam; and the conservative Salafi movements, no one group speaks for Islam.

At the same time, we should not be afraid that such groups in politics will do away with our newfound freedoms. Indeed, democracy will put Islamist movements to the test; they must now put forward programs and a political message that appeal to the Egyptian mainstream. Any drift toward radicalism will not only run contrary to the law, but will also guarantee their political marginalization.

Having overthrown the heavy hand of authoritarianism, Egyptians will not accept its return under the guise of religion. Islam will have a place in Egypt’s democracy. But it will be as a pillar of freedom and tolerance, never as a means of oppression.

Ali Gomaa is the grand mufti of Egypt.

New York Times

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