Monday, September 02, 2013

Belated Eid Mubarak

Growing up in Christendom, I knew some Christians who went to church regularly, but didn't really know much about Christianity. Now that I'm in Dar al Islam, I find some Muslims don't seem to know Islam very well.

Islam follows a lunar calendar. The lunar month is approximately 29½ days, so, every Islamic month (and the months may be a few days different in different countries) the Moonsighting Committees must go out just before sunset on the 29th day of their Islamic month and look for the new crescent moon right after sunset. If they see it, then it's the first of the next month; if they don't, it's the 30th of the same month (days in Islam start at sunset), and it's the first of the next month the following sunset. So every Islamic month must have 29 or 30 days.

But I've heard Muslims say the new month starts whenever the Moonsighting Committee sees the moon, so the month could be as short as 25 days or as long as 35, which is wrong. Mostly.

This year, the Eid Holiday for government workers started on the 29th of Ramadan. Then, on the 28th of Ramadan, someone said, 'I saw the moon. It's Eid,' which would have meant a 28 day Ramadan. Farook called and said, 'Eid Mubarak. It's Eid. Fasting is over and we go to say the Eid prayers tomorrow morning.'

Of course, the Islamic scholars said that Ramadan must have at least 29 days, so the reports of seeing the moon on the 28th were wrong.

I was talking about this, and how the Moonsighting Committee can only go out on the evening of the 29th of the month, when someone told me, 'Not always.'

It was more than 30 years ago. I have no idea why, but someone with great influence (in Arabic, wasta) wanted Ramadan to start. It was only the 27th or 28th of the month before Ramadan, but wasta can sometimes trump normal rules.

The Islamic scholars had to say that it was NOT the 27th or 28th, but the 29th of the month, because the Moonsighting Committee had incorrectly failed to see the moon for one or two months, and they'd had to go out and they'd seen the moon. So the next day would be Ramadan, and everyone would have to fast. Restaurants must not open.

Of course, no one thought the Moonsighting Committee could go out that night, so no one was ready for Ramadan to start, and the police drove all over, sirens waking everyone up at 2 am, and megaphones announcing that it was Ramadan and everyone must have the early meal called sohour that takes place about 2½ hours before sunrise.

So, in fact, Ramadan can start somewhat randomly if the King insists and the Islamic scholars all agree. But that hasn't happened for more than 30 years.

And Ramadan must last at least 29 days, so there is no way Eid can come early.

But many Muslims believed that this Ramadan was only going to have 28 days, and that the scholars could declare Eid anytime they wanted to. Which they can't.


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