For Muslims, since the time of Prophet Mohammad (s) time-keeping was important. The sun or the moon were important tools in a larger template of time-keeping, which itself was meant to give order and meaning to life.

While the world fought battles over calendars and the dates on which to base their rituals and festivals, Muslims celebrated Eid in serenity, content with simple but meaningful concepts that sustains their world. That is how 1400 years went by. 

The Fiqhi Issues

Qur’an

Islam does not attach any religious significance to the moon, the sun, or in fact, to the time itself. They are all considered the tools for human comfort – be it spiritual or material.

“It is he who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light and measured out stages for her; that you might know the number of years and the count. Nowise did Allah create this but in truth and righteousness.  He does explain his signs in detail, for those who understand.” (Quran 10:5)

Ahadeeth

And Ahadeeth (sayings and practices of the Prophet) need to be seen in context; otherwise, they seem inconsistent:

  • “Whenever you sight the new moon observe fast, and when you sight it break it, and if the sky is cloudy for you, then observe fast for thirty days.” (Sahih Muslim, 2378)
  • “Do not begin the fast until you see the new moon, and do not break the fast until you see it. If the new moon is obscured from you, then work out.” (al-Muwatta, 18.1.1).
  • “Abu Umayr: Some men came riding to the Prophet and testified that they had sighted the new moon the previous day. He, therefore, commanded the people to break the fast and to go out to their place of prayer in the morning.” (Abu Dawud, 1153)

Context

We know that Qur’anic commands are principles and Ahadeeth are contextual. It is now up to us to figure out the intended hikmah of Allah. If the early Muhadiththoon had not worked out the Sahih Ahadeeth, we would have never agreed which is true and which is a fabricated hadeeth today. It was a human effort. 

Why moonsighting controversy today?

Internet

The urge to celebrate Eid on one day is driven by globalisation of world, through the internet and social media. Now, one can constantly relate to events happening on the other side of the world in real time. These events become acutely significant when family or friends live far away, yet are very close to heart.

Mass migration

The appeal of the internet would not have been significant if related people had not settled in widely different parts of the world. Today, it is not uncommon for families and friends to live and work at extremes of the world and still feel connected. It is understandable they want to celebrate Eid together. We are social beings; it is Fitrah. 

Speaking the global language

After opposing European languages in the 19th century (when language was weaponised to subjugate), the ulema warmed up to the modern world in the later 20th century. Now all Muslims have an easy access to Arabic traditions and modern sciences simultaneously. The paradigm is shifting.

Options available

Astro-Eid (Global Eid)

The Turks were the first to use the astronomical data to celebrate Eid. In the early 20th century, the socialists of Modern Turkey had accepted the astronomical data as a good evidence. Islamists ruling Turkey today find no contradictions with this practice. Science tends to unite people. 

The French has been using the astronomical data to celebrate Eid since 2013. Many societies in the US and UK too.

For the many Muslims, finding a link between the tradition of sighting Hilaal (new-crescent) and establishing the credibility of the astronomical data is a challenge. It is as much an emotional issue as Fiqhi. If one can use astronomical data to keep times for the salah, one may as well use the same for the moon too. 

The ever widening ‘local’

Modernity has introduced the word local, national and regional hilaal. However, the Ulema could never define what ‘local’ means.

In the remote past, ‘local’ meant few kilometres covered by the human foot or animal transport. In the 20th century, mechanised transport brought the news of the sighting of the Hilaal to the cities from few hundred kilometres away. When telephonic and telegraphic communication arrived, the meaning of ‘local’ was further widened to mean the whole country – then under the influence of colonial empires.

During this dawning of new realities, the ulema rightly agreed to widen the definition of ‘local’ to a geographic land ruled by a sovereign government. This was the age when trans-national trade or mixing of the population was banned by mercantile colonial powers. That meant the information on the new-moon was limited to the national boundaries. Eid united people, uplifted them, information flowed, progress was slow but spread.

Today we live in a global village, in the age of the internet. Today, the borders are meant to keep only the people out. Ideas move around easily. 

Australia, more than twice the size of India, is considered as ‘local’. Why should a person living in Darwin accept a Hilaal in Sydney (~ 4,000 km south) and not East Timor (~700 km north)?

Is current confusion ‘Permissible’

It will be very difficult to accept the current divisive scenario as desirable. Islam came to make life easy and wither contradictions in life.

The practice of Prophet Mohammad (s) was quite clear: celebration of one eid on one day in the same city (Abu Dawud, 1153).

One Eid around the world, in our connected global village, will be a welcome legacy for our children.