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Friday, October 12, 2007

Eid is in the eye of the beholder...

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First off, Eid Mubarrak - Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri.

And unlike certain zealot mutant mullahs who shall remain unnamed, this wish goes out to ALL. No exclusivist crap in this blog... and the wish goes out regardless of whether you may be celebrating it today (Friday) or tomorrow.

Image hosting by PhotobucketOnce again, when celebrations fall becomes a subject of dispute (via Al-Jazeera)

Now, you may be wondering why the differing dates for this, perhaps one of the important of days for Muslims - the end of "Ramadhan". And yes, there is a reason why Walski has put the name of the holy month in quotes... read on to see why.

But first, a little bit of information about calendars.

Calendars are generally systems to keep track of time, and are either solar, lunar or lunisolar based. Every calendar system uses a reference point, which in the bigger scheme of things, are quite arbitrary points in time. There have been numerous calendar systems in use over the vast history of man, but today the generally accepted standard calendar worldwide is the Gregorian Calendar system, which uses the traditional point in time of what is thought of the birth of Jesus, as a reference point, and uses the cycle during which the Earth orbits the Sun as a measure of years.

The Islamic Calendar, on the other hand, relies solely on the cycles of the Moon, as perceived by man on planet Earth, and disregards the Earth's movement around the Sun altogether. Again, the reference point is arbitrary - the flight (or Hijrah) of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medinah, then back-dated to the traditional (i.e. pre-Islamic) start of the year, which is Muharram, making the actual hijrah approximately 66 days after the first day of that year, 1 AH. Ironically, the name of the months in the Islamic calendar denote seasonal references, which are today totally irrelevant, since the Islamic year prances around the solar year (hence the seasons) lagging by about 11 days per each Earth orbital cycle. There already was a functional lunisolar calendar used by the Arabs, which was in sync with the seasons. What the Arabs of the time did not have, however, was a system of numbering the years, opting instead to name the years according to significant events during that particular span of time (example: Year of the Elephant, during which Prophet Muhammad was born).

So okay, the Hijri (or Islamic) Calendar takes care of numbering the years, based solely on 12 lunar months. But is God's calendar system solar, lunar, or lunisolar? We'll look at this a little later on.

Image taken from, hosting by PhotobucketPhases of the Moon

And then you have the problem of determining the beginning of the month. The traditional method used is to visually detect the new crescent moon, after sunset of the 29th day of the month.

Traditionally, the first day of each month was the day (beginning at sunset) of the first sighting of the lunar crescent (the hilāl) shortly after sunset. If the hilāl was not observed immediately after the 29th day of a month, either because clouds blocked its view or because the western sky was still too bright when the moon set, then the day that began at that sunset was the 30th. Such a sighting had to be made by one or more trustworthy men testifying before a committee of Muslim leaders. Determining the most likely day that the hilāl could be observed was a motivation for Muslim interest in astronomy, which put Islam in the forefront of that science for many centuries.

This traditional practice is still followed in a few parts of the world, like India, Pakistan and Jordan. However, in most Muslim countries astronomical rules are followed which allow the calendar to be determined in advance, which is not the case using the traditional method. Malaysia, Indonesia, and a few others begin each month at sunset on the first day that the moon sets after the sun (moonset after sunset). In Egypt, the month begins at sunset on the first day that the moon sets at least five minutes after the sun.
(source: Wikipedia)

In other words, because the hilal can be obscured by clouds or haze, Eid is literally in the eyes of the beholder. And the folks in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, and Libya have apparently beholden today, as the beginning of Shawwal, hence... Eid Mubarrak to you folks there!
(straying from God's system, and more, in the full post)

Now, here's what the Quran has to say (emphasis by myAsylum):

2:189 They ask you regarding the new moons, say, "They are a timing mechanism for the people as well as for the Pilgrimage." Piety is not that you would enter a home from its back, but piety is whoever is aware and comes to the homes through their main doors. Be conscientious of God that you may succeed.

Now, relating to the phases of the moon (see picture above), which is the "most obvious" phase - one that doesn't require sophisticated optics and can be seen by the naked eye? Keep that thought for a bit while we look at the next question.

Is the year, as far as God's system goes, lunar, solar or lunisolar? Again, we refer to the Quran:

17:12 We made the night and the day as two signs, so We erased the sign of night and We made the sign of day manifest, that you may seek bounty from your Lord, and that you may know the number of the years and the count. Everything We have detailed meticulously.

As is common knowledge today, the phenomenon of night and day has to do with the perceived movement of the Sun across the Earth's sky, and the Moon plays no part. Therefore, the scriptural reference above means that we have to rely on the Sun to count the number of days, which in turn allows us to count the years.

Incidentally, there is a mathematical structure in the Quran, and the frequency of certain references and words are seemingly obvious clues. For instance, the singular noun "day" (yawm in Arabic), occurs 365 times, the plural form (ayyam, yawmayn) occurs 30 times, and the word "month" (shahr) 12 times. Coincidence - or meant to tell us something?

10:5 He is the One who made the sun an illuminator, and the moon a light, and He measured its phases so that you would know the number of the years and the calculation. God has not created this except for truth. He details the signs for a people who know.

9:36 The count of the months with God is twelve months in God's book the day He created the heavens and the earth; four of them are restricted. This is the correct system; so do not wrong yourselves in them. Fight those who set up partners collectively as they fight you collectively. Know that God is with the righteous.

9:37 Know that accelerating the intercalary is an addition in rejection; that those who have rejected may misguide with it. They make it lawful one calendar year, and they forbid it one calendar year, so as to circumvent the count that God has made restricted; thus they make lawful what God made forbidden! Their evil works have been adorned for them, and God does not guide the rejecting people.

Based on the above references, therefore, we can surmise that a year is measured in terms of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, whose span (approximately 365 - 364.25 to be more precise) is then divided into 12 months, each containing 30 days (which is also the mean Lunar cycle), measured starting from the first day after a Full Moon (and not the crescent). In other words, it is lunisolar, using both the Sun and the Moon as guides.

The last scriptural reference above (9:37) prohibits the intercalary month, the practice of adding (or subtracting in the case of the Pre-Islamic Arabs) one month to the lunar year to get back in sync with the solar year - this was done with the Pre-Islamic Arabic calendar, and is practiced today with the Chinese Calendar.

The reason for this prohibition is that with the practice of intercalary months certain periods would be lawful one year, and unlawful within other years. In other words, God's system follows certain preset markers that are observable year after year (like the two solstices and two equinoxes), preordained and orchestrated with the participation of the Sun and the Moon.

So, what have Muslims done instead? We now prance around the solar year using a lunar-only year, which really makes the reason behind the prohibition of the intercalary month seem really trivial. Muslims have, in effect, so wronged themselves, it's not even funny. And for over a millenium, too. No wonder the ummah, at large, is in such a state. And yet, what do we hear the clarion call to be? Islamic state, Islamic laws, God's laws... we can't even get the friggin' calendar right.

The Earth orbits around the Sun, in a predictable manner, according to God's laws - ignoring this is really going against what God has ordained. Blatantly going against it, as we are today... well, you can fill in the blanks...

There is also Quranic evidence to suggest when the actual year should start, when Ramadhan actually is, and how long the fasting period is supposed to be (hint: it's not one month). You can find all this and more in an article found at the website. Much of what has been written in this post is based on the article Walski just mentioned (and also this one, from the same site).

And so, until Muslims get their act together - starting with the calendar, for one thing - we'll continue to see Muslims in different parts of the world celebrating important religious dates on different days. Like obersving Eid ul-Fitr today for most of the Middle East, and tomorrow for most of the rest of the world...

Regardless, Walski once again wishes everyone Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri - Eid Mubarrak - and may your time off with the family be a joyous and safe one... even if we've gotten it wrong - again.