Every year the story repeats itself at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan and also with its conclusion. Has the moon been sighted or not? In this area or that area? According to this marj’a (spiritual leader) or that marj’a? Within the horizon or not? Consistent with Muslim countries abroad or not? Is Eid (day of celebration) tomorrow or the day after?
Every year brings a renewed frustration when we observe differences among the followers of the AhlulBayt school of thought, let alone the mainstream Sunnis. Unfortunately, the repeated crescent controversy has stirred feelings of frustration among Muslims and distracted them from what is most important. At the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, we anxiously wait to embrace a month where the gates of the heavens are opened, the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained. Yet we get distracted by the multiplicity of moon-sighting results that take our minds away from embarking the spiritual journey of this holy month, instead we spend endless hours engaging in heated discussions about moon-sighting.
At the conclusion of the holy month, we get preoccupied by the different possibilities of when Eid would fall and with whom we will observe that day, to the point that we forget to bid a proper good-bye to the holy month and we overlook the special night of Eid where spending the night in worship is highly recommended and it is the night of receiving in full the reward of the laborer. Instead of exiting the holy month in the best states of unity, spirituality, and tranquility, we exit the month with confusion, frustration, and disunity. Unfortunately the issue of moon sighting has become a habit of moon fighting.
Quran and Fasting
Allah (swt) states clearly in Surah al-Baqarah: “Therefore whoever of you witnesses this month, he shall fast, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days.” [2:185] The commencement of the holy month of Ramadan is determined by either moon sighting on an individual level or through trusted sources and reliable witnesses. We understand from this verse that the possibility does exist that there may be different observations among believers based on their efforts of moon-sighting, or their ability to view the crescent. There may be various astronomical and geographic reasons why the moon cannot be sighted in certain regions of the same country or region. The multiplicity of moon-sighting observations is possible based on the above verse and should not be alarming.
However with that said, intrafaith disunity among Shia Muslims has become an increasing phenomenon which disturbs the overall unity and even within a family where we find one spouse observing Eid on one day and the other spouse on another, while their children stand confused. In the same verse cited above, Allah (swt) also says, “Allah desires ease for you and He does not desire for you difficulty and He desires that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for His having guided you and that you may give thanks.” Yet we find that today somehow matters have become difficult instead of easy. With the existence of many maraje’, this also means the possibility of having multiplicity of interpretations on how the moon sighting can be determined. As a result, people get confused and frustrated when there is lack of unity even when celebrating a major Islamic festival.
To Fast or Not
My family is celebrating Eid tomorrow, but according to my Marje’, tomorrow is the 30th day of Shahr Ramadan. To avoid disunity within my family and for the sake of celebrating together, I decide to travel a distance and then break my fast (due to travel) since my Marje’ has given general permission to travel a distance to justify breaking fast.
In the system of Islamic jurisprudence and practice, there are a wide variety of actions made permissible under general and specific circumstances. The question posed to every believer is: What ranks of divine proximity does we aim to achieve and what choices of actions do we want to take, the permissible action or the best action? Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an, “To fast is best for you, if you only knew.” [2:184] In a hadith Qudsi, Allah the Almighty says, “For every good deed there are ten to seven hundred times reward, except fasting. For fasting is for Me and I am the reward of it. (al-Mahajjatul Baydha Vol 2, pg 121) Also, it is narrated by Prophet Muhammad (sa) that he said, “No believer fasts the month of Ramadan for the sake of Allah but He (swt) will definitely grant him seven rewards: 1) It will melt the haram (forbidden) from his body 2) It will bring him close to the Mercy of Allah 3) It will rectify the mistake of his father 4) Allah (swt) will ease for him the stupor of death 5) He (swt) will secure him from thirst and hunger on the Day of Judgment 6) Allah (swt) will grant him liberation from Hell-Fire 7) Allah (swt) will feed him from the pure things of Paradise.” (Wasail ash-Shia Vol 10 pg 241)
Twenty-Nine or Thirty Days?
Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an, “So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it.” [2:185] Indeed the beginning of the new Islamic lunar month is marked by the sighting of the crescent. If the moon is not sighted, then that means we complete the month to 30 days. It is only when there is moon sighting that we cut the month short at 29 days and start day 1 of the new month. The default is the completion of the lunar month, unless moon sighting is confirmed by trusted sources. If there is doubt or unconfirmed reports about moon sighting, then we simply continue the lunar month to 30 days. Keeping this in mind will decrease our stress level when it comes to determination of the new lunar month.
Moonsighting and Muslim Unity
No one can argue that we are disadvantaged by the disunity experienced at the level of the Muslim Ummah when we are not able to all observe the start of the holy month of Ramadan on the same day, or celebrate Eid on the same day, or observe the day of Arafah on the same day. Indeed it is a test to the Muslim nation and a consequence of our failures to achieve unity in faith before unity in action. This is a consequence which will continue till the promised time of reappearance of our beloved Awaited Imam (ajfs). His re-appearance will bring enormous blessings, one of which includes the obligation of Friday prayer congregation, and unity in Salatul Eid. Only then will we taste the joy of justice, the enjoyment of equity, and the pleasure of peace among our brethren of faith. The crescent controversy is yet another occasion which reminds us of the dire need of the reappearance of our living Imam (ajfs) and our continuous prayers for his coming to manifest peace and unity among Muslims and across the world.