Moon Madness

Last Monday I celebrated Eid ul Fitr. I knew it would be Eid on that day because I took a look at my diary and saw that the new moon was falling on Sunday.

Meanwhile for my family and friends in Pakistan, Eid was delayed until Tuesday. It’s a peculiar phenomenon, one that I didn’t realize the strangeness of until my husband pointed it out in one of our early conversations together.

I was telling him that Eid that year would fall on one of two days. “How’s that possible?” he asked. I, in all honesty and ignorance, answered that it was because the new moon was visible on different days in different parts of the world, and until the imams saw it, it wasn’t Eid. On hearing this delightful nugget of misinformation, he justifiably fell about laughing. I’m embarrassed myself to even share the story.

My husband’s reaction, though, is the right one. In Pakistan, like so many countries, the start of Ramadan and Eid are not declared until the new moon has been officially sighted by the religious authorities. Following this system, the imams have been known to board flights (at whose expense?) to rise above the cloud cover and see if they have spotted the new moon or not.

If they have, good for you, one less day of fasting and time for a well-earned feast. If they don’t, tough luck. They put the faithful of their countries through one more needless fast just so that they can hold on to their own short-sighted beliefs and the mystical sense of power that comes with it.

Every single year, the situation is the same. Half the Muslim world celebrates Eid on one day, the other half on another, all because the imams couldn’t get their timing right (it’s true that the thin sliver of a new moon is not visible for very long or easy to pick out in the twilight) or, more simply, didn’t just confront a lunar calendar.

Thanks to science, we know exactly when Eid falls every year forecast into an infinite future. At any single moment in time, we can pull up lunar charts online and know well in advance when every major event connected to the lunar calendar falls. And yet, the religious authorities refuse to make use of this readily available resource and put their flocks through needless trials for no reason.

This is not just an inconvenience. The majority of the Muslim world is poor. People work exceedingly hard, not letting up pace even when going without food and water for 18 hours in some parts. For them, Eid is a much needed break from the daily grind, one of the very few days they get off in the year and an even rarer chance to indulge in some festivities and time with loved ones.

Why put them through the extra trial of not knowing, for example, when they can travel to visit their loved ones? What, really, is there to be gained from delaying these small joys for one more day?

I suppose it once again comes down to these very people. That lunar calendars stretching into the distant future are something that even exists is not information that everyone is privy to. It’s through these people that the imams hold on their power. They know that to these people, their ability to declare the most important dates of the Muslim year has a magical power, making them appear somewhat superhuman. What good is it being the authority figure in a religion if anyone can go and find out on their own when Ramadan, Hajj or Eid is every year?

I for one think it’s about time that this system changed.

Islam is the religion that was once respected the world over for its medical and scientific advancements. Muslim scientists and astrologists were among the most advanced and respected in the world. How then, when we have the gift of science that is ingrained in the makeup of the religion, has this situation remained?

It’s a rule of life that those who don’t adapt and evolve are doomed to suffer the consequences. We live in the 21st century. It’s time the imams caught on to this.

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