Moon Sighting vs Calculation: is Eid August 8 or 9?

Moon Sighting vs Calculation: EID August 8 or 9?
M.Akhtar Ph.D

With so many other critical issues that face Muslims today, we still quarrel about moon sighting for determining the start of Ramadan or Eid. It should not be that way. Muslims are divided – possibly 40 for moon sighting and 60 not. They disagree on so many other things and for so many reasons – legitimate or power driven - yet all Muslims are unanimous on the need to have one and the same day for Eid. Observing it collectively by thousands and millions of people the same day and sharing the joys or spirituality of the experience together enhances the impact manifold. This is established as a socio - psychological fact. So is the general requirement in Islam of praying together, and doing pilgrimage and other practices of religion together. This clear emphasis on collective and organized performance is rather unique to Islam. If all of this is true, why Muslims cannot come to a consensus? This is curious. But what I find enigmatic is to find Muslims of America out of the whole world, to be so divided. Personally I favor the calculation. Reasons are given below. but for the sake of unanimity if moon sighting can deliver it, for God’s sake let us all yield for it. But facts concerning moon sighting are negative and point out in the other direction (elaborated shortly after)
Personal Experiences are given to back it up. I came to America many decades ago and lived in Pittsburgh. For a couple of decades, it did not matter, fasting or celebrating Eid was pretty much your own and individual matter. Collective concerns with Islamic practices started appearing in 1980s when mosques, and Muslim organizations made their presence known. Soon thereafter, Muslims began to find it as an issue if moon was sighted or not. In early 1990s, the Pittsburgh Muslim Center was started. - I was part of it in founding it and construction , while the Oakland mosque- a major mosque — was functioning in full swing. For years, I kept hearing about differences and disputes when moon was sighted or not sighted across cities of America. That was fine. But differences were occurring in the same city. I found it disturbing. Some mosques were privately sold on following the Saudi model even when they were supposed to moon sight in their own city.
There were issues that are power related to my mosque vs your mosque, and ethnicity orientation, etc. But here is a brief list of systematic problems inherent in the process of moon sighting : 1) If the day is cloudy,what can you do 2) The crescent is so small that it makes it difficult to locate and then it it appears very briefly and can be sighted only for a few minutes 3) Even when not sighted, it could be mistaken as seen when it is only one’s figment of imagination 4) The requirement is ANY TWO male adults who are considered pious and reliable if they report the sighting of the moon from where ever they are (even on the top of a mountain, aeroplane- using a telescope, and searching anyplace in the world etc. This is not well defined), and care to appear as witnesses to be scrutinized and accepted by religious authorities. Nowhere does the religious system, I know of, recognizes it or tests one’s suggestibility – the Psychological ability of a person who is involved in hypnosis when he takes the suggested event for reality). 5) In any event, even if things work normally, waiting for any 2 witnesses from anywhere and putting them to inquisition and then decision making on the part of religious authorities always takes time. Often it is close to midnight when the decision reaches the anxious Muslims waiting to find out if the next morning was going to be the EID or not. I followed this confusion year after year while living in America for at least last 10 years. Almost invariably the outcome was disturbing: one mosque differed from another mosque in its decision or the decision came pretty late in the night and so on. I waited all this time hoping it will improve, it did not. I searched for religious sources that were advocating calculation as the way to go. I found some, they were few but they were very authentic just the same. I’d like to mention Jabir Taha Alwani- Chair of Fiqha Council of North America nearly for a decade, professor of Fiqha at Alazhar and in Saudi Arabia, and author of numerous scholarly booklets. When I became President of the Muslim Center in Pittsburgh, I took upon myself to campaign for this: made copies of the 2 authentic articles, distributed them, presented the gist of the reasons for Calculation as Juma Khutbas in the 2 major mosques of Pittsburgh and sat down with their leaders to decide the date of Ramdan and EID in a planned way. The whole Pittsburgh agreed to have Eid prayer one and the same day in 1994.It went fine the following year. But the year after- I was gone overseas for my Sabbatical leave, Pittsburgh regressed back to the old ways. After couple of years, we had to renew our struggle there and succeeded in a few years later in getting it right. About that time, I remember one of the most senior leaders of ISNA around 2002 who was visiting Pittsburgh I requested him if he could speak in favor of calculation when he delivers his speech to Pittsburgh, he wisely declined and said to the effect that you guys have to first educate people more before we nationally publicize ISNA’s position. Of course, afterwards Pittsburgh went on its own with Calculation successively for several years in a row –without my involvement, and was happy to support the ISNA’s decision that came around 2008-I believe. ICNA has become public in joining that decision – if I am not mistaken, only 2012. In several cities of America- perhaps 40 %, there is still substantial resistance or reluctance to go Calculation way. Perhaps, I should briefly list the reasons for Calculation as follows.
Calculation Method. Is 2013 Eid in USA on August 8 or 9? The answer is both. Those who follow Calculation and the way they calculate, like ISNA, August 8 is correct. Those who follow moon sighting and need the 2 witnesses, it is almost certain that Eid throughout USA is bound to be none other than August 9. When calculating, the question is what it is that we are calculating? If we are talking of the sheer birth of moon, that is calculable with perfect accuracy for hundreds of years and is also labeled as Astronomical Moon for which charts are easily available everywhere. It is the visible moon that poses questions and can involve some degree of error –that is the one ISNA is using for calculation. The moon would be sightable clealy in Chile and for a brief time in Sothern California August 7,so August 8 is declared as Eid and it is correct
Reasons in favor of Calculation
There are at least half a dozen Ahadith which clearly urge us to sight the moon to start the month –Ramadan. There are no clear cut urgings by the prophet nor by Quran for Calculation. Moon sighting was the easiest and most practical method to communicate to the whole city at once and to involve all of them together. It stayed that way for thousands of years except lately the world has advanced and Muslims may need to catch up.
1. Quran is very clear in emphasizing that moon and sun are ordained to follow the system and path that is invariable, completely fixed ( refer to 55:05, 39.5,35:13 ) and therefore are fully calculable if we can only figure it out. Now we have figured it out. Astronomers have been striving in charting out since ancient times_ see Hindu system, for instance. By now we have calculations of moon’ path and its birth perfect and available to anyone who can read newspaper, for instance. There is, however, a small degree of inaccuracy- practically of no consequence if one were to predict the path of the sightable moon. For one thing, in order to be sight able, it has to be shortly after sunset. Moon cannot be seen when there is daylight. For that the sun and moon have to be in certain phases in relation to each other. Most of the time it means that the moon has to be older by several hours as opposed to its birth in order to be sight able; secondly it will be sight able selectively at certain places and not be sight able at all places of the world. To conclude, calculating birth of moon, if Muslims were to opt for that, is absolutely flawless. Charts of moon (its birth) are available for hundreds of years in advance The story is a bit more involved for a “sight able” moon. This year Moon at Mecca is born August 6 but cannot be seen. It is predicted to be clearly visible on August 7 in Chili and only for short few minutes in Southern California . That is the firm basis for ISNA to announce August 8 as Eid. For those cities which are opting for sighting the moon the evening before Eid and call for witnesses to confirm, it is certain that Eid is bound to be August 9, as nowhere in America, moon will be sight able on August 8.

1. Islamic justification. Scholars of Fiqha, Alwani, for instance, reads the role of moon only as the means and not the goal. Moon is not to be glorified to the end of worshipping or any sanctity.. It is the means to determine collectively the beginning of the month- which is the goal. If sighting the moon works better or calculation serves the goal better is a simple rational decision. Using the sighting for thousands of years was the best method rightly emphasized in several Ahadiths for Muslims to follow to communicate the beginning of the month to all Muslims located in far off places Now, we undoubtedly have calculation as a better method to achieve the goal: to communicate
2. Allow me to add, if PERFECT unanimity and unity in observing Eid across the world is the goal, it is impossible to achieve via calculation of a sight able moon, it has to be calculation of the birth of moon, for which Muslims are undoubtedly far from ready
3. Calculation of moon in essence is exactly like calculation of the times when to Pray. Muslims are unanimous in praying for many decades according to the clock and the specific times predetermined and charted for the path of sun. There is no direct mention of praying in Quran, for example, according to the time clock. Instead it refers to the sun and to measure its shadow to pray for Zuhar and pray Maghrib similarly along the same lines. When neither Quran or Hadith has any direct sanction of the time clock as the basis for prayer, presumably because clocks became available only in the last century Muslims shifted wisely their early practices in favor of the time. Now there is no single Muslim on the earth who objects to it. Exactly the same thing is involved in the case of moon. Prophet of Islam ordained to sight the moon because that was most practical to use for centuries and calculated dates were not available then. Now they are and their use should be completely justifiable on the grounds of logically consistency.
4. Societal Context and American living: If a Muslim lives in Pakistan or in the context of the Middle East it is O.K for you to decide the night before and tell your workplace that you would not come because tomorrow it is EiD. America is a structured and planned society. Imagine you are surgeon and scheduled to do the procedure the next morning for various imminent reasons, then you call it off because it is your EID. Would it not be wonderful for you to know several months in advance and show yourself as responsible Muslims and announce several months in advance when you have Eid. This way being responsible you reap collective benefits as well as individual advantages which occur only by fitting in the given society where you live. Above all, dutiful Muslims feel good about meeting their religious obligations equally well.
5.In case of discordance in your religious practices and the societal system, when you can do only one way, the priority is to be given for the society where you live according to Fiqha rules. Laws of America are binding upon us even as Muslims. If it came to shove and push you could do only one thing: keep fast or have no job in absolute terms, a Muslim may have to starve or keep no fast. Conceptually, Islam allows to forego fasting and live. Thank God, by means of availability of calculation and planning ahead Muslims can live respectably and be responsible citizen of America and be happy individuals at the same time

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