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Letter to the Editor
Statement on the 'Eid Date Controversy
I am writing this statement to express my disappointment with the decision taken by the Shura to coordinate ‘Eid al-Adha in this country [U.S.A.] with the standing of the pilgrims at Arafat. I feel that this decision is wrong and will result in greater confusion than the decision it replaces. That previous decision, to base all of the Islamic occasions in North America on a confirmed North American moonsighting was the only path that would eventually assure unity for the Muslims of North America. This is especially true in light of the flawed methodology employed by the Saudis for fixing the Islamic dates. They have consistently erred on those dates, as affirmed by Muslim and non-Muslim astronomers1. That being the case, the issue at hand is not one of unified and variant moonsightings. Rather it is an issue of introducing a new methodology for establishing Islamic dates, a methodology that totally disregards the actual sighting of the crescent moon.
This conclusion, concerning the erroneous nature of the Shura’s decision, is further supported by the following facts:
1. It leads to basing the timing of Ramadan and ‘Eid al-Adha on two separate methodologies. This in turn negates the relevance of the Hijri calendar as a determinant of the Islamic dates, for we are in effect working with two calendars, one based on actual North American moonsightings, predicated on variant geographical and astronomical conditions; the other based on the astronomical new moon. This leads to a negation of many prophetic traditions relating to moonsighting, such as his saying, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him:
“The two months of ‘Eid will not both be incomplete2, [those months being] Ramadan and Dhul Hijja.”3
2. It is a reversion back to the Jahili practice of the Arabs. It is significant that the only date Allah has designated by name to be established by moonsighting is the Pilgrimage. He says, “They ask you concerning the crescent moons. Say, ‘They are determinants of time for the people and Pilgrimage (Hajj)4.’” Many narrations come from the early Muslims, some of them directly from the Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, others Mursalan5, concerning the timing of the Pilgrimage with the appearance of the crescent moon6. Both Imam al-Qurtubi and al-Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi mention that the Pilgrimage is designated for mention in this verse because the Arabs used to play with the months, basing the Pilgrimage on an erroneous calculation, ignoring the crescent moons. This resulted in the Pilgrimage occurring at other than its proper time. Hence, Allah specifically mentioned the Pilgrimage (Hajj) in this verse, as a refutation of the practice of the Jahili Arabs7. To revert back to establishing ‘Eid al-Adha based on calculations is a reversion back to a practice condemned by the Qur’an.
3. The advocates of coordinating ‘Eid al-Adha with the Pilgrimage have to produce a legal proof to support their claim. The two ‘Eids were legislated during the second year after the Hijra. After arriving in Madinah, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, inquired, when informed that there were two days that the people of Madinah were celebrating (Nayruz and Mahrajan), “What are these two days?” They said, “We used to celebrate them during the pre-Islamic period.” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said, “Allah has substituted for you two days better than them, The Day of the Sacrifice, and the Day of Fast-breaking (al-Adha and al-Fitr)8.
The Hajj was legislated eight years later9, in some opinions seven years later. Hence, for seven or eight years it was impossible to coordinate ‘Eid al-Adha with the standing on Arafat. The question then becomes, when did this coordinating become Sunnah? It never did.
4. The effort to base all of the Islamic dates, every year, on one country, with a total disregard for the actual moonsighting, is problematic, and also negates the relevance of the Hijri calendar. The proof for the unified moonsighting is the saying of the Noble Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, “Fast based on its [the crescent moon] sighting10, and break the fast based on its sighting.” It is well-known that the Hilal first appears at a different point in the moon’s orbit each month. This may be over the Middle East one month, over Africa the next, over the Atlantic or Pacific oceans, or over North America. This divergent pattern is a manifestation of the justice of Allah. Eventually, every land will have the honor of first sighting the crescent moon. To fix the timing of all of the Islamic occasions, Ramadan, ‘Eid al-Fitr and ‘Eid al-Adha on any one country, year after year, with total disregard of the actual sighting, is an extremely problematic practice.
5. As for a saying attributed to Imam al-Tirmidhi that mistakes in the matter of determining the Islamic occasions are of no consequence, based on the Prophetic tradition, “The Fast is when you all fast, breaking the fast is when you all break the fast, and the day of sacrifice is when you all sacrifice,”11 Imam al-Tirmidhi mentions that this is the opinion of some of the scholars. Others, such as al-Khattabi, are of the opinion that such mistakes are only permissible on issues involving personal reasoning, such as seeing the moon on the 30th day, completing the full month, and then being informed that the moon was in fact seen on the 29th day.12 Such mistakes, as mentioned by Prof. Ahmad Hasan in his English language commentary on the Sunan of Abu Dawud, are overlooked if they are occasional, not constant.13 Similarly, such mistakes do not disregard the actual crescent sighting. In these days and times, when computer programs and models can create very accurate visibility curves as to when the crescent might first be sighted, it is inexcusable to overlook repeated mistakes in this matter.
Unity of our ranks is definitely desirable. Especially, during these challenging times. However, that unity has to be based on truth and the well-known conventions of our religion.
Zaid Shakir, 1-29-03
1 For a clear admission on the part of the Saudis that they do not consider the actual sighting of the crescent moon, see the website of the Jordanian Astronomical Society, www.jas.org.jo. Click the “Crescent Section,” click link for “Actual Saudi Dating System.”
2 The scholars differ as to the meaning of this expression (…will not both be incomplete). Ibn Hajar mentions in Fath al-Bari that one of the well-known meanings among the righteous forebearers was that both months will not be 29 days in one year. This opinion is related from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Imam Ahmad’s opinion is supported by a prophetic tradition, “The two months [Ramadan and Dhul Hijja] will not be 58 days.” See Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqilani, Fath al-Bari: Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari, (Damscus, Syria: Dar al-Fayha’, 1997) vol. 4, pp. 160-162.
3 Related by al-Bukhari #1912; Muslim #2526, 2527; Abu Dawud #2323; al-Tirmidhi #692; and Ibn Majah #1659.
4 Al-Qur’an, 2: 189.
5 A Mursal hadith (plural Marasil) is one in which the companion who heard the Hadith from the Prophet is not mentioned. All of the Marasil of the Sahaba are accepted uncritically. The Marasil of the Tabi’een are accepted by the majority of the Fuqaha, uncritically – providing there are no other problems with the Hadith. Imam al-Shafi’i sets certain conditions for the acceptance of the Marasil of the Tabi’een.
6 Imam Tabari mentions narrations from Ibn ‘Abbas, al-Rabi’a, Qatada, Ibn Jurayj, al-Sudi, al-Dahhak, and others concerning the incumbency of basing all of the Islamic occasions on the sighting of the crescent moon. According to Ibn ‘Abbas’ narration, “The people asked the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, about the crescent moons.” The following verse was then revealed, “They ask you about the crescent moons, say, ‘They are determinants of time and pilgrimage.’ “By them they know the limit of their debts, the waiting period of their [divorced] women, and the timing of their pilgrimage.’ ” See Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tafsir al-Tabari, (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1997/1418) vol.2, pp. 191-192.
7 See Abu Bakr Ibn al-‘Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur’an, (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Fikr, no date) vol. 1, p. 140. See also, al-Qurtubi, vol.1, p. 343.
8 Abu Dawud al-Sajistani, Sunan Abu Dawud, Al-Riyad, Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Salaam, 1999/1420) p. 170.
9 Dr. Mustafa al-Bugha, et. al, al-Fiqh al-Manhaji, (Damascus, Syria: Dar al-Qalam, 1998/1419) p. 370.
10 This Hadith is related by Imam al-Bukhari #1959; and Muslim #2496.
11 Related by al-Tirmidhi #697. See Imam Abu ‘Isa Muhammad al-Tirmidhi, Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, (al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Salaam, 1999/1420) pp. 177-178.
12 This is a paraphrase of al-Khattabi’s opinion mentioned in Muhammad Shams al-Haqq al-‘Adhim Abadi, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud: Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud, (Cairo, Egypt: Dar al-Hadith, 2001/1422) p. 411.
13 See Prof. Ahmad Hasan, Trans., Sunan Abu Dawud, (Lahore, Pakistan: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf 1984) vol. II, p. 635.
Published: April 2003
Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756