What Happened This Year?

The Moon Sighting Controversy

By Adil James, TMO

Ramadan-Moon-Sighting1This year we learned that the death of the moon sighting controversy had been proclaimed too early.  For several years those who insist on physical sighting and those who use the calculations of the Fiqh Council of North America had begun and ended Ramadan largely simultaneously.  This year, however, all that ended.

FCNA announced that Tuesday was the beginning of Ramadan, but many mosques began fasting on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia fasted from Wednesday, as evidenced by their office hours going to Ramadan timings beginning on Wednesday July 10, 2013.  According to the announcement on their website they will be observing a vacation for ‘Eidul Fitr beginning Wednesday August 7th.

The website hilalsighting.org, which by its own statement  holds fast to the “traditional principle that months of the Islamic calendar begin and end based on confirmed naked-eye sightings of the crescent moon shortly after sunset”  announced that there had been no sighting of the moon in the mainland USA on July 8th and thereby made the ruling that Ramadan should begin on Wednesday July 10th. 

The Fiqh Council of North America had months earlier made the announcement that Ramadan would begin Tuesday July 9th, 2013, based on the pre-calculated possibility of sighting the moon.  According to their calculations the moon was born in California on Monday July 8th, and it was possible to sight the moon from there.  To the west, the moon in fact was sighted on Monday in the Polynesian islands.

This year, Monday, the moon was born on Monday and was in the sky for approximately one minute in Saudi Arabia.  FCNA recognized the possibility that there was a likelihood of confusion this year because the possibility of the moon being actually sighted in the narrow window that it was aloft was miniscule.

FCNA’s statement was well-reasoned and thankfully consistent with their previous pronouncements, although their reasoning is obviously not immune to second-guesses.

“The stay of just one minute after the Sunset is an extremely short time for the Moon to be seen by a naked human eye. In reality it will be impossible for anybody in Makkah to sight it on the evening of July 8, 2013. Therefore we may not have any report of actual sighting on Monday, July 8 and Saudi authorities may announce Wednesday, July 10 as the first day of Ramadan al-Mubarak. Potentially this can cause a lot of confusion in North America as the Fiqh Council of North America has already announced that Ramadan will commence on Tuesday, July 9. In the past, FCNA’s Ramadan and Eid dates had pretty much coincided with the Saudi announcements. But this year there is a big chance of divergence.”

FCNA’s announced day for ‘Eid is Thursday, August 8th.

A different but less entrenched view on the hilal sighting controversy is that espoused by ICNA.  Speaking on behalf of ICNA, Muhammad Rahman said to TMO that “We don’t take any side on the issue of moonsighting—Do your Ramadan with your community.”  He explained that in the light of the Fiqh Council of North America ruling on calculations, ICNA does not want to make more confusion in the community by weighing in on the issue.

This position echoes the position ICNA developed and officially pronounced from Jamaica NY in 2009, namely that “Instead of making any moon sighting decisions the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) has decided to guide its members and the general Muslim community to celebrate the beginning of the month of Ramadan and the Eid holidays with their local masajid, communities and Islamic centers.

“ICNA would like to see more harmony and unity among the Muslim community at a local level. We hope that American Muslims will observe the month of Ramadan & the Eid holidays with full piety and dignity—making dawah to our neighbors, co-workers and friends as we embrace this joyous season.”

Local Michigan mosques were split down the middle.  The Flint Islamic Center and Grand Blanc Islamic Center began Ramadan on Wednesday.  The Islamic Center of Detroit fasted Wednesday.

Expressly following the FCNA decision, MCWS fasted Tuesday.  The Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills also fasted Tuesday.  The Islamic Cultural Association of Franklin Road began fasting Tuesday.

In a statement by Asim Khan, an official with the Tawheed Center in Farmington, he explained that “the Tawheed Center voted five years ago to follow the pronouncements of the Fiqh Council regarding ‘Eid by a margin of 80%.  In accordance with this decision, they began fasting on Tuesday.”

In fact, the confusion we North American Muslims experienced was global in reach.  In France there was also a similar controversy, and it came to fruition in a similar manner. 

There is a French Fiqh Council (called the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM)—they also came into conflict with other learned Muslim imans and also with the majority of Muslims in France due to their pronouncement that Ramadan would begin Tuesday, contradicted by the very public decisions in most Arab countries to observe the fast beginning Wednesday—in fact many French Muslims’ families were actually split internally—with some people beginning Tuesday and some Wednesday.

The fact that over a billion Muslims practice Islam in different ways should not come as a shock to anyone–and in reality actions are by intention, and with good intentions it is entirely possible that two sincere Muslims could come to opposite conclusions about an issue, perhaps both being correct, both worshipping properly in different ways, and both being accepted.

As one member of the Bloomfield Unity Center community pointed out, there is still unity although some people may have begun on Tuesday and some may have begun on Wednesday, because all will likely fast the rest of the days together and break their fasts together.

Ramadan Mubarak.


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