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Moon Sighting 2013

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Moon Sighting Fiasco Revealed

Moon Sighting Fiasco Revealed

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  • 1. Assalamu Alaikum Cultures and meanings behind their practices We talk of different cultures. In fact there is so much variety that we even categorize cultures. So we have cultures based on country or nationality, ethnicity, religions, professions, we even have cultures based on old school ties, and so on. Now cultures evoke an exotic connotation, but sometimes or we could even say most times the behavioural patterns displayed by these cultures do not make sense to us. We say ‘it’s their culture, it’s from their traditions’, but we do not understand why they are doing it in that particular way. This is especially so for those cultures which are religion based. Because it does not make sense. We sometimes describe it as dogmas or even ‘cult behaviour’ By studying these practices or rituals of some cultures, especially those practices that seemingly do not make sense, and try to work the logic or the value system on which these practices have evolved or developed and certain that when we find out the deeper meanings and the significance of these practices, then we would begin to appreciate their worth. Remember, many of these cultural practices are looked on as ‘hallowed traditions’ handed down to us through the generations. So it has to make sense. We only have to apply ourselves to seeking. In this essay we lay the sense and the logic or the better word would be the ‘orderliness’ that structures the practices of the Muslim community or the Muslim culture. Discerning the orderliness that structures the practices of the Muslim Culture To many of us or to the casual observer these traditions or practices do not seem to make sense. But then on closer inspection we do notice a structured orderliness. There is an order in their 5 times prayer. There are fixed timings, and we are witnesses to the precision with which Masaajids from all parts of the country proclaim the call to prayer. We watch Muslims setting about their daily rituals with such orderliness. The timings, the dress codes, the discipline and activity in the Masaajids and the ever so many other connected details are all evidence of this orderliness. We also observe orderliness in other socio interactive areas covered by this culture. The dress code of Muslims has order, even the food they select is based on some order. Recently we observed the Muslims celebrate their Eid Festival and read articles about the ‘Moon Sighting’ and how they fix the dates of their festivals through this sighting, and then we wonder, “Why has there to be points of disagreement regarding such a simple matter as a ‘Moon Sighting’? ”We think, “Oh, these Muslims, they have these traditions that are based on some obscure myths, and even then they find cause to disagree”’ Opportunity to explain order in what we view as mythical So to me this is an ideal opportunity to explain the orderliness within the Muslim culture and to explain the clear cut systems and procedure they follow and how through misunderstanding or through mischief, this beautiful well set system can be shown to be both cumbersome and muddled. By addressing a tradition or a practice of a religious based culture, it is appropriate to quote a relevant
  • 2. Ayah from the Quran. The Quran is in Arabic and quoted is a translation of Ayah No’s 11 & 12 of Surah Baqarah (2:11) When it is said to them, “Do not spread disorder on the earth”, they say, “We are but reformers.” (2:12) Beware, it is, in fact, they who spread disorder, but they do not realize. So Allah is advising us through the Quran that there are those who spread disorder claiming that they are bringing in reform. And then we are asked to beware of them. This is part of Islamic religious teaching, so the Muslim Culture makes us aware to be on the lookout for those who are bringing in order as well as to be on the lookout for those who are creating mischief or spreading disorder under the guise of reform (or necessary action) So in the events that are associated with the Moon Sighting we should look out for and try to realize as to those who are involved in bringing in or maintaining order as against those trying to create disorder. We should be able to recognize them and then beware of the mischief maker – the Quran names him as the ‘Mufsidh’ – the mischief maker. Moon sighting revealed There is a wonderful calendar in the sky. Firstly by viewing the sky we can easily recognize day time and night time. During daytime by again looking at the sky we can guess the time. At night time by sighting the moon and its phase we can even identify the day of the lunar month. Let us explain. The Moon goes through a cycle every 29 days. To be more precise, this cycle which is termed the synodic period or lunation is exactly 29.5305882 days. During this period we observe a night which has no visible moon and then we observe the Moon apparently growing, beginning with a phase we call the ‘Crescent Moon’ and then gradually growing to a Full Moon and then again waning, before apparently vanishing. This cycle from ‘No visible Moon’ to ‘fully visible Moon’ takes 14 days. Which means that from the ‘No visible’ phase of the Moon, a visible portion of the Moon grows gradually at 1/14th part of the moon every night. This needs elaboration; From the 1st night when the Moon is not visible, visibility actually begins, and this band of visibility grows to cover 1/14th of the face of ‘the Earth side of the Moon’ every night. So at the end of the 1st such night 1/14th of the Moon would be visible from Earth. At the end of the 2nd night 2/14th or 1/7th of the Moon would be visible from the earth and so on. At the end of the 14th Night 14/14th or the Full Moon would be visible from the Earth. Now on the 1st night, which begins with no part of the Moon being visible, actually the light of the Sun that is being reflected to Earth is only just touching the portion that would be visible on Earth. As this part is lit up, the ‘band’ of such light is so small that it is just not visible on Earth. However this band is gradually growing. It would cover 1/14th of ‘the Earth side of the moon’ in the next 24 hours. So when does the Moon begin to become visible? Well it would take a minimum of 40 minutes for this band to grow to what we call the ‘thresh hold’ of visibility so the fact is that the Moon is up in the sky. It is always there. It never vanishes. It only becomes invisible or not visible, because the light from the Sun is not being reflected from the Moon’s surface to the Earth. However the Moon and the Earth are always moving, so gradually the Moon is moving in an orbit that ensures that more and more of its surface would reflect light to the Earth. So we now have this fact that on the 29th night of the Moon Cycle, from a condition of zero visibility of the Moon, gradually visibility begins to grow. The initial reflection of light from the Moon towards the Earth is termed the ‘birth of the new Moon’ and it is a well-accepted fact that it takes a minimum of 40
  • 3. minutes from the birth of the new Moon for a band to be large enough to be visible to a person on Earth with unaided vision (that is without telescope or binoculars etc.) Since Ramadan is the month in which Muslims fast and this Month is based on the lunar (Moon) cycle, on the 29th night of Ramadan all Muslims are agog with the anticipation that the new Moon would be sighted, thus bringing to an end the month of fasting and heralding in the Eid Festival as well as the new Month of Shawwaal. The Dynamics of Moon Sighting and new factors Now into this dynamics of Moon Sighting there is another variable that comes in to play. On the 29th night everyone looks for the new Moon immediately after Sunset. However, the sky does not become dark enough for the crescent moon to be sighted for at least 10 minutes after sunset. The new variable is that due to the orbits of the Moon and the Earth, the Moon is in viewable range from the Earth only for short period of time above the horizon. So let us list out what happens: 1. A new Moon is born on the 29th Night of every Lunar Month. 2. The Light being reflected from the surface of the Moon to Earth begins with just a dot. This ‘dot’ would not be visible on Earth. 3. This dot gradually grows to a band and grows at the rate of reflecting 1/14th of the Earth side of the Moon every 24 hours. 4. From the dot stage to ‘visible to viewers from Earth stage’ this band has to grow for at least 40 minutes. 5. On some months the Earth and Moon Orbits are such that the Moon does not remain in viewable position for 40 minutes. This means that; On some months, by the time the band of light grows large enough to be viewed from Earth, the Moon has moved away from visible territory. In this case there is a new Moon; this is a fact that we all accept. The Band of light is gradually growing, increasing the visible surface of the Moon. But then, by the time this band has reached the ‘thresh hold of visibility’ the Moon has moved away from visible territory. This means the new Moon has not been sighted, it cannot be sighted. This means that the Month of Ramadan has not been completed. Which also means that the Muslims would have to fast the 30th day of Ramadan and celebrate the Eid Festival after completing 30 Fasts. The role of the Colombo Grand Mosque Now let us describe the interesting part. How systems and procedures are set in place and set in motion. We find this very interesting because the systems and procedures are addressing issues of the practice of the Muslim Religion. It is laying down the rules of Muslim Culture. Fasting and Eid are important landmarks to every Muslim, so these issues if not properly addressed can provoke emotion. Now on the 29th night of the month of Ramadan, if the Crescent Moon is clearly visible to all, then there is no issue. However in some years, this is not so. So if only a few individuals have sighted the New Moon they would obviously convey this news to their local Mosque and from there the happy news
  • 4. would be broadcast to the whole village. However I am sure an urge would have been felt by everyone (in that village) to relay this news to some central location from where the whole country could receive this news. So for some reasons, historically Colombo Grand Mosque had become the Island’s center for receiving, verifying and then broadcasting news of the ‘Moon sighting’ We used to refer to Grand Mosque for all Moon sighting news as well as the Calendar of timings of Prayers, Suhur, and Ifthaar (Break Fast), which was then printed and distributed by the Colombo Grand Mosque. From anywhere in the island, if anyone sighted the crescent Moon the Trustees of his local Mosque would confirm the sighting with the required number of witnesses and then would phone the Grand Mosque (they may even have to ‘book a call’ or trunk call) to convey the news. People from all over the country had developed their lines of communication with the Colombo Grand Mosque to receive this news. Then around 1978, the Government established the Ministry of Muslim Cultural Affairs and the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs too deemed it necessary to be involved so as to render assistance as well to be and observer to this process. Then again, around 1993, The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama too were presenting and persuading their case that their involvement would add credibility to the announcements of the sightings or non-sightings and thus the ACJU too joined the Colombo Grand Mosque at these deliberations. Gradually other factors too began to demand recognition. Everyone knows that the Moon is always up in the sky. Every one also knows that the Moon is born on the 29th night, but many cannot understand the dynamics involved for the Crescent Moon to be visible. Thus the Colombo Grand Mosque and the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama began to obtain vital information from the Meteorological Department and from other reputed Astronomical sources, on the many factors that affect the visibility of the Moon. The ACJU in 2006 deemed it necessary to educate the Muslim public on the many factors that determine the visibility of the Moon and in 2006 they conducted a well-attended Seminar and the outcome of this seminar was a declaration that listed out the criteria for Moon sighting. This is a list of 5 points, all of which are easy to follow, sensible, logical and sequential. Describing what happens at the Colombo Grand Mosque on the night of Moon Sighting So on the eve of the 29th Ramadan there is a gathering at the Hameediya Hall which is situated within the premises of the Colombo Grand Mosque. Immediately after Ifthaar (the breaking of fast) and Maghrib Salah, people gather at the Hameediya Hall. It is a nice sight. Hundreds of Muslims from all over the country get together at this event. There is also that nonstop cacophony of the ringing of Mobile Phones, because people from all over the country are calling their contacts or their representatives requesting for ‘news’ of the Moon sighting. Right in front of the Hall is a long table with seating for ‘the Panel’ or those who are going to answer telephone calls on Moon sighting and then go through the simple and transparent verification process. There are representatives from the Colombo Grand Mosque (who are in charge of arrangements and co-ordination), there are many representatives from the ACJU, from the Department of Muslim Cultural Affairs and from SLBC who are anxious to live broadcast the proceedings. Everything is very transparent and anyone and everyone present can observe without hindrance what is
  • 5. happening. It is this official panel of 10 distinguished persons who would listen to and verify the narratives of the witnesses before they make a joint decision. The Panel consists of 5 reputed scholars nominated by the ACJU and 5 from the Colombo Grand Mosque. The President, Vice President and Office Bearers of the Colombo Grand Mosque are present. The President and Vice President of the ACJU namely Mufti Rizvi and Moulavi Reyal would not be part of the Panel and would be observers like everyone else who is present. The Director of the Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department Ash Sheikh Zameel, was also present. It is a happy occasion, because whilst these calls are coming in people are also re-establishing friendships and connections. However, we must also mention, that even though astronomical data informs us that the new Moon cannot be visible during these 40 minutes, that since 2006 there have been 3 instances where the Moon sighting Committee were satisfied with witness accounts (as per the criteria spelt out) and had declared the Eid Festival for the next day. These instances are: 1. On 23rd of September 2006, according to astronomical data the new Moon would be above the horizon for only 27 minutes, but witness accounts which met the criteria was accepted and the Eid Festival was declared for 24th September 2. On 30th September 2008, according to astronomical data the new Moon would be above the horizon for only 33 minutes, but witness accounts which met the criteria was accepted and the Eid Festival was declared for 1st October. 3. In 2012, according to astronomical data the new Moon would be above the horizon for only 27 minutes, but witness accounts which met the criteria was accepted (there were 3 reliable witnesses from Mattakkuliya and another 3 reliable witnesses from Mannar) Account of what happened at Colombo Grand Mosque on the night of 7th Aug 2013 at the Moon sighting gathering. This year (2013) the eve of 29th Ramadan was on Wed 7th August. It was common knowledge to most of us that according to Astronomical data the new Moon would not be visible in the skies of Sri Lanka on this evening. According to astronomical data the new Moon would be above Sri Lanka horizons only for 15 minutes, which meant that the ‘visibility’ thresh hold of 40 minutes would not be crossed. I should also mention here, that in our experience of the Eid Moon sighting, this 15 minute period of the new Moon is probably the shortest we have ever heard of (that is for the Shawwal Moon). After completing 29 fasts many people had gathered to obtain news as well as to observe the events that led to the declaration of Moon Sighting and thus the Festival, or the declaration of non-Moon sighting and the completion of 30 days of fasting for Ramadan. Something unusual happened this year that did not usually happen. Sunset time was 6:29. However at 6.15 a call was received by one of the scholars who were nominated to the Panel, by a person who said he was from Kinnya (in the Trincomalee District) and that he had just sighted the Crescent Moon. The sun had not even set, and this caller had no witnesses to corroborate his sighting. He did not cite any other witnesses. After Sunset, Ifthaar and Maghrib Salah, at around 6:50 a call was received again from Kinnya. It was from Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) who was a Member of the local Moon sighting committee of the ACJU’s Kinnya branch. So obviously this time the call had to be taken notice of. The Secretary of the Panel Abdul
  • 6. Azeez Moulavi answered the call and in following procedure requested for names and contact details of the witnesses. Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) read out names of 5 witnesses and also read out their contact Mobile Numbers. Again, in following procedure, Abdul Azeez Moulavi tried to call all these 5 witnesses. Four of these phones were ‘off’ and only one person gave witness. Abdul Azeez Moulavi then tried to contact Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) on the number that he had called from. The phone was answered by one of his children who said that his Father had left the phone athome and had gone to Trincomalee. The child gave another Mobile number. When Abdul Azeez Moulavi then called this new number, Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) then answered that he was on his way to Trincomalee and that he was in no position to return to Kinnya and locate the witnesses so that proper witness could be given to the Moon sighting panel. This was a grave shortcoming and the Panel was in no position to accept this reported sighting. Abdul Azeez Moulavi then instructed Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) to immediately write out all details of the Moon sighting and details of the witnesses and to fax the details immediately. However, Ash Sheikh Jabir (Naleemi) did not comply with this instruction. It was then that those in this room began to get news that someone was sending text messages, (by SMS) that the Crescent Moon had been sighted in Kinnya and that the Festival had been declared for the next day. There has been quite a bit of debate and argument that the Moon sighting Committee had neglected or failed in their duties. “What else could this committee do?” The order, the method the agreed criteria had been followed as it had been followed for so many years. This is an attempt to explain the methodology and the orderliness of religious culture. And the Quran does warn us (this is the translation) (2:11) When it is said to them, “Do not spread disorder on the earth”, they say, “We are but reformers.” (2:12) Beware, it is, in fact, they who spread disorder, but they do not appreciate. So leave it to the members of the public to form their opinion: Who is trying to bring in and maintain order? Who is trying to disrupt order or create mischief? The Colombo Grand Mosque has been very accommodating to ensure that all aspects covering the issues arising from Moon sighting has been covered. The ACJU has been involved in educating the Muslims about the issues that could rise. The ACJU has brought about a written declaration outlining the criteria for Moon Sighting. The Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs Department has co-operated and done its part to ensure procedure and credibility. The SLBC broadcasts proceedings live. One person or a group of persons can create dissension through the use of mass SMS and its anonymity. The Importance of an Awareness Program Maybe the Colombo Grand Mosque should conduct an awareness program a week before the Moon sightings of Ramadan and Shawwaal so that Muslims would be aware as well as appreciative of the roles being played by responsible people and also be able to detect the mischief of the ‘Musfsidh’ May Allah guide us all and accept us all. JazakAllah Khairan.

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