Saturn – the new new moon?

Saturn – the new new moon?

Every year it is the same. In the UK there is a split in the community and the joyous occasion that is Eid descends into argument with the announcement of Eid on two different days. This year, everyone started Ramadan together and we were confident that perhaps this year we would complete the holy month as one community and celebrate Eid in unison. Unfortunately, the customary Saudi spanner (monkey wrench)  was cast into the machinery of Ramadan and they announced Eid a day early for the 29th of Ramadan. Once the dust of confusion had settled it became clear, more so this year than in previous, that the Saudis got is wrong yet again. The first issue is that the Saudis use a preset calendar called the Umm al-Qurra calendar and it seems that the authorities are reluctant to deviate from it and often conjure up bogus or mistaken moonsightings to bolster the calendar. The calendar is based on a calculated birth of the new moon and not the actual moon sighting which is contrary to the Sunnah of the Prophet of “sight the moon and start Ramadan, sight the moon and do eid, if sighting is not possible then complete the 30 days of Ramadan”. The irony here is that the sect represented by the Saudis and their religious scholars make a song and dance about “Quran and Sunnah” it is a mantra that has been used by them as a stick to beat other Muslims with, and yet here we see them dispense with the Sunnah in favour of something else. The position they have taken is clearly a bid’ah (a religious innovation) and for the Wahhabi sect ALL bid’ahs are a misguidance since they do not have a “hasan” (good) category of bid’ah.

This year, two things utterly exposed the Saudi position beyond any doubt. Firstly, the Jeddah based Astronomical Society of Saudi Arabia, clearly informed their government that it is most likely to be a 30 day Ramadan and that moonsighting was NOT possible on Monday 28th Ramadan (28th August 2011) anywhere in the Kingdom therefore Eid al-Fitr is likely to be on Wednesday – see http://www.arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article494126.ece. This fact is borne out by the various websites publishing moonsigthing data, in fact the only place that the new moon could be sighted clearly was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and pretty much nowhere else. Despite this evidence, magically, reports of moonsightings came from Saudi Arabia and thus the day of Eid was confirmed for the what in reality was the 30th of Ramadan.

So what did they see? Well, again, the Jeddah based Astronomical Society of Saudi Arabia said it was the planet Saturn and observers most likely mistook it for the new moon, http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/491496:

Based on Thursday’s headlines, it seems the biggest news story on the third day of Eid concerns the question of whether or not it really is the third day of Eid. Making the front pages of independent dailies Al-Shorouk, Al-Dostour, and Al-Tahrir are reporting claiming that millions of Muslims around the world have “broken their fast early by an entire day, based on a sighting of Saturn.” Traditionally, the holy month of Ramadan ends at the sighting of a new moon; a role that, this year, might have gone to Saturn instead.

“The sighting of a new moon last Monday would have been simply impossible,” Maged Abou Zahra, president of the Jeddah Astronomical Society, states in Al-Shorouk. “Saturn is visible this time of year, and can be easily observed with the naked eye. Either way, the new moon could not have been visible under Monday’s circumstances because the glare from the sun was too strong to observe the moon at that particular moment… this has been confirmed by the most prominent astronomers in the region.”

Based on all the clear cut and indisputable evidence available to any semi-literate person with internet access, it is easy to see the mistake of Saudi Arabia who chose to ignore their own experts the Astronomical Society and go with a 29 day Ramadan based on the sighting of the planet Saturn.

Having said all that, the blame for the Eid fiasco in the UK (and elsewhere), lie squarely with those who choose and chose to blindly follow the announcements of Saudi Arabia. To be fair to Saudi Arabia, they have said, on many occasions, that no one is obliged to follow them and that people should go by moon sighting in their locality. In this YouTube videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUde4eLey6M&feature=player_embedded we have Iqbal Sacraine of the MCB, who traditionally follow the Saudi announcement, stating that we should not do this and tells us that, aside from the concern a lot of Saudi ulama have over the Saudi moonsighting, that Saudi do not expect non-Saudis to follow them. He also mentions that he spoke to a mufti in Saudi who, along with other Saudi ulama, are concerned about this issue too.

The Fatwa of Sheikh Abdal Aziz bin Baz http://www.hilalcommittee.com/fatwas/binbazfatwa.html

The Fatwa of Sheikh Saleh bin Uthaymeen http://www.hilalcommittee.com/fatwas/fatwa2.html

both of these scholars clearly state that a Saudi moonsighting is not binding on other countries, in fact they go so far as to say that each country to establish a local sighting.

So why do we have communities here in the UK who decide to suspend the Sunnah along with intelligence and commonsense and just follow Saudi when they are under no obligation to do so, against the advice and legal rulings of their own scholars and against the findings of expert astronomers?

Usually, there are two groups who tend to blindly follow the Saudi decision. The first group is the “Salafis” (aka Wahhabis, Ahl-e-hadith, Ikhwani types and the other variants). This is pretty much the state sect of Saudi Arabia, so you can perhaps understand the sense of allegiance they have to the House of Saud who are the main source of finance and exporters of this ideology. The irony and hypocrisy here is that, as I mentioned above, their repetition of phrases like  “Quran and Sunnah” and “we are not blind followers” and “taqlid is haram” and “we base our practice on Quran and Sunnah” so on and so forth, why is it that the have dispensed with the Sunnah here and fallen in to religious innovation (bid’ah)?

The second group who blindly and inexplicably follow Saudi are the Tablighi Jamaat. Tablighi Jamaat are an evangelical offshoot of the School of Deoband (who are Hanafi in their fiqh and very staunch proponents of this jurisprudential methodology).  The Ulama of Deoband worldwide issued a fatwa, as far back as 1987, telling people not to follow the Saudi calendar due to its many mistakes, see the English translation of the fatwa here http://www.central-mosque.com/fiqh/fatagsaud.htm and yet, the Tablighi Jamaat have consistently ignored the ruling of their own senior and expert scholars on this matter. It makes no sense and people should be taking the decision makers to task over this.  This issue has become such a point of contention that the Ulama of Deoband have dispatched scholars to give presentations in mosques on this issue, these scholars have also presented in Barelwi mosques (Barelwis and Deobandis don’t normally get on and the relationship is highly acrimonious). The Tablighi Jamat, time and again, consistently ignore the advice and rulings of their top scholars and experts on this issue and like sheep, the followers of this jamaat follow them blindly and in error – for what reason? God only knows. I know there are mumblings of discontent being heard within this jamaat but the mumblings need to be turned into voices.

What is irksome to me, is the fact that well educated, computer literate, internet savvy, intelligent and influential people remain silent knowing full well that the position of those who make the mistaken announcements are wrong. This is not an issue where silence averts fitna, rather, in this case silence is the cause of on going fitna.

I urge everyone to perhaps ask their leaders – imams, mosque committees and emirs, who are responsible for Eid announcements, on what basis did they declare Eid on Tuesday 29th Ramadan and why they feel obliged to follow Saudi even when they are in clear and manifest error? The upshot is that even in one family people have two eids and, more seriously, a fardh fast of Ramadan has been dispensed with requiring people to give kaffara and make up the missed fast.

I am not opposed to using calculation to facilitate the sighting of the new moon, but to base the announcement of the new moon on a calculation of the birth of the new moon and not the potential sighting is problematic not least due to dispensing with a confirmed Sunnah but it causes deep division, argument and fitna in the community. One suggestion has been for the Saudis to convert their calendar to a moon sighting possibility based calendar which would, at least, increase the probability of coincidental Eids across the ummah.

UPDATE

Well surprise, surprise, the Saudis are bullying the astronomers . . .

Saudi astronomer threatened with lawsuit for doubting Eid moon sighting http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article497239.ece

May Allah protect him and reward him for his bravery and for speaking the truth.

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20 thoughts on “Saturn – the new new moon?

  1. Can you please clarify the scenario where you yourself want to follow the sunnah of sighting the moon but the community insist on celebrating Eid the day before. Which sunnah takes precedence? The need to follow the community or the need to sight the moon? In the case that you go with the latter where should you go for Eid prayers? Surely that causes fitnah within a community. JazakAllah Khairan.

  2. I’m not sure what your level of familiarity is with the Tablighi Jamat, or what their practices in the UK entail, but not a single Tablighi organization in The US and Canada endorsed the Saudi “moon sighting” that declared Eid on Tuesday. Since it is a semi-formal organization with various levels of influence in different regions around the world, it is irresponsible to say that all Tablighis blindly follow the Saudi decision based on the observations of some masjids in the UK. Please conduct proper research before arriving to such conclusions. JazakAllah khair.

  3. It would be the latter. Actions are built on certainty. Doubting about an act of worship necessitates repetition of the doubted act. The Prophet, peace be upon him, called the 29th the Day of Doubt.

  4. NOTE ON THE FOLLOWING COMMENT: When people don’t have enough intelligence to read and evaluate, they descend into idiotic and imbecilic rants such as the one below. The person making the comment seems to be upset at my criticism of Tablighi Jamat, my comments are not unfair or rude so I am unsure why this person is upset, the TJ are not masoom from error. I wouldn’t normally dignify such a pathetic comment with a response, I am approving this only to show the mentality of some of the people out there. I hope this person repents from these disgusting words and cleans his vile tongue with the dhikr of Allah and purifies his heart with the love of the Prophet. Amin :

    —————

    leave the tablighi’s alone you Rumi-raped, fiddled like a tasbeeh, pir-licking, sheep minded, folkloric, mofo!

    go spin yourself to death and than ask your shaykh for some intercession biyatch!

    Captain Anti-Bidah

    Call of Duty: Sufi Warfare.

  5. SZZ – if you had read my blog post correctly you’d see that I have used the UK as my frame of reference and the criticism was leveled at the UK Tablighis. It is not a case of a “few mosques” but the TJ mosques in their entirety with an edict coming down from head office, the Markaz in Dewsbury. General Deobandi mosques did Eid on Wednesday.

  6. Ismail, very good point! I shall remember that for next year. Now I will sit in a corner and do touba because I did Eid on 29th.

  7. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    In south London, the main Deobandi mosques (particularly Balham, Tooting “Bank of Baroda” and Croydon) firmly oppose following the Saudi calendar, and the Croydon mosque website published an article saying it was haraam to do so as it was so unreliable. A few years ago they did tend to issue Eid or Ramadan announcements in line with Saudi, but this changed when they were told to stop by their sheikhs in India and Pakistan who are independent of Saudi. I used to pray in Croydon and they received Tablighi Jama’ats regularly (in fact, they were present at my Shahada in 1998).

  8. I think one of the main reasons why TJs tend to follow Saudi, is possibly because they prefer to keep in line with London Central Mosque, for the sake of “community cohesion”. The ‘ulema of LCM I believe are predominantly al-Azhar educated Shafi’is, and the Shafi’i school permits global moonsighting to be acceptable, which is probably why they go with Saudi every year, as they would like to hope they are making their announcement correctly.

    I think if the LCM in unison with the East London Mosque were to step up and say something about this issue together this whole moonsighting fiasco would come to a complete halt, as most Mosques in the country see either of these two as the “main” mosque or centre for the UK.

  9. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum:

    May Allah reward you for bringing an important issue. I myself want to follow the local sighting as there is no doudt in it. Following Saudi is not wrong either, but we don’t know for sure if they goes by actual sighting or any other method they follow. Since, there is a doudt, and Hadith said it clearly about moon sighting, why not follow that and get a reward of following the Sunnah. Countries like India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other world largest muslim countries goes by local sighting (there may be a small sect who follows Saudi as well).

    Problem is: though I want to follow local sighting by heart, my local mosque announces with Saudi, even one mosque in our locality declared it on 28th Ramadan at 10am local time (how sad!). So, I did not have any choice to follow local as I would be isolated from the society (and it can cause fitna, confusion)… Allah SWT knows our hearts and will judge accordingly by our intentions. May Allah guide us to follow His Quran and Sunnah according.

    However, I disagree with one thing with you that Tableeg-e brother follow Saudi — I could have joined a mosque which is little far from my home and they are in another neighborhood who followed local moonsighting (i.e. Eid was on Wednesday) and they are Tableegh-e brother. They are trying heart and soul to establish the Sunnnah of moon sighting and they go by chicagohilal.org (who follow local moon sighting in U.S.). I don’t know the case in UK, but I know (best of my knowledege) all the tableegh-e brother go by local moon sighting. I live in GA, and I have friends and families in other states and according to the report I got from them, tableegh brothers did follow the local sighting.

    While Saudi is not commanding us to follow them and the Mufti’s are not saying to follow them, so why to follow them. I don’t mind to follow Saudi if Saudi follow authentic and reliable moon sighting report. People who follow Saudi, can you please provide me any proof from Quran and Hadith where it is mentioned to follow Saudi. I have not heard anything from any Muftis (I follows and verify any question regarding following Deen)..

    ZS

  10. A distinction should be made between the new moon and the crescent moon. They are not one and the same and the terms should not be used interchangeably. The crescent occurs after the birth of the new moon. The crescent cannot be calculated due to many factors, while the birth of the new moon can be.

  11. Slaam,
    the problem is that sadly, we can rant and rave all we want, the heads of certain sects of the different Islamic groups in the UK will ONLY follow Saudi. Period.
    The UK muslims should celebrate Eid as 1 nation, not follow what another country has declared thereby splitting muslims across cities and towns, and as pointed out, even in households.
    But changing leaders wont eradicate the problem because every leader will have their own ‘chosen’ successor who will have the same thought, and the problem will just go on.
    It is sad to say, but so true, that we have now become a nation of not following Islam in its pure and simplistic form, but of following an individual who we think represents Islam.
    we all pray for the ummah to unite on at least the Eid issue, but i dont think this will happen, at least not in my lifetime, and im only 34!

  12. Brother Masud you’re right. Apparently in the UK, the Tablighis follow the Saudi sighting. This is surprisingly inconsistent with the practices of their fellow members around the world.
    The only reason I felt I had to clarify the issue was because the I only saw the paragraph without reading the prior context about Eid decisions specifically in the UK.

    Thank you and jazakallah khair for your response.

  13. You say on the one hand that quote “observers most likely mistook it for the new moon”

    How can you then carry on and get you readers to suddenly think this as definetly certain and fact ?

    please stop your unjust pens and foul tongues that cast doubt on our religion.

  14. salams

    My mosque follows Saudi and I have never been able to get an explanation out of them. It seems that the committees have all the power and influence and, from my perspective, the scholars just follow.

    I did Eid on the Wednesday and the brothers at my mosque think I’m some sort of deviant. When I question them as why they follow Saudi, in return i get back nonsense such as “ah, well, Mecca is a blessed and sacred land…” whilst that maybe true, the fiqh of moonsighting doesn’t use this as a basis for deciding the beginning of Ramadhan in the UK.

    We live in an upside down world and until the scholars sort themselves out and be the leaders they should be our situation won’t change and we will remain divided

    It shows a real lack of leadership by the scholars in the UK. Apart from the brilliant alims at WifaqulUlema.com there are no voices to be heard from the Deoband / tablighi brothers

  15. What is certain is they did not see the crescent moon, what is debatable is what they saw and the top of the list is Saturn which was visible in the same area of he sky where the new moon would have been if visible.

  16. Who is right? Astronomers or those who sighted the moon visually. Shariah-wise, no doubt it is latter.

    Please Scientists dont belittle ordinary people not knowing the difference between a planet and the moon!

    Read about the Danjon Limit used by astronomers to determine when the crescent would first become visible. You can probably do a wikipedia check to see what it is all about. Basically it talks about the minimum separation between sun and moon before the crescent can become visible, around 7 or 8 degrees. This separation has been contended by more and more scientists over the years (note: not desert dwelling Bedouins 🙂 because they have seen the crescent much earlier than this limit would predict, on occasion when the separation was only 2 degrees.

    So… just follow the simple method that the Shar’iah prescribes for us; it is safest, best and soundest. Leave the debating and specious arguments to those who have nothing better to do.

  17. I am trusting Muslim astronomers whose profession is studying the astral bodies, they are paid to know what is what in the sky instead of anonymous Bedouins who may or may not know what they are looking at. The chances of the Bedouins making a mistake is far higher than the astronomers making a mistake. I suppose, in some ways, this is the same as the Wahhabi sect dispensing with the experts of the deen and opting for pale imitations of our scholarly heritage and thereby spreading confusion and fitna in the ranks of the ummah.

  18. Time and time again I come across proponents of local sighting bullying and disparaging Saudi followers. To the point where one person told us “laanat (curse) upon you all” for following Saudi. Is this how we’re going to resolve this issue? Like middle schoolers after school arguing? The name calling has always started on the local sighting’s side. My local masjid endured anonymous phone calls the day before Eid bothering us for simply following Saudi. Subhanallah the sheer immaturity that comes from the local sighter’s side is outstanding. And this is coming from a person who just recently started following local sighting.

  19. Assalaam alaykum,

    I think these two links will be very beneficial:

    1) When is Ramadan? A talk by Al-Hajj Abu Ja’far Al-Hanbali: http://mahdinnm.blogspot.com/2011/07/when-is-ramadan.html

    2)Moon Sighting: The Evidence from Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim with commentary by Sheikh al-Islam Yaḥyā An-Nawawī: http://mahdinnm.blogspot.com/2011/06/moon-sighting-evidence-from-sahih.html

    The fiqh ruling on astronomy is that it cannot be used to affirm that a month has begun. In other words, stating that it is possible to see the crescent in a certain locality is not the same as the crescent actually being seen, with the naked eye, in that locality. However, astronomy can be used to negate an erroneous sighting. For example, if all the astronomers agree (e.g. HMNAO, Moonsighting.com etc) that it is impossible for the cresent to be seen in a certain locality then any claimed sighting from that locality is rejected.

    I hope that helps, and with Allah alone is every success.

    Assalaam alaykum,

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