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.
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.