Saturday, November 05, 2005

Eid Mubarak, Maybe


The holy month of Ramadan is now officially over. During the past month, I've been fasting from sunrise to sunset. Now that it is over, Muslims all across the world are celebrating Eid--well--sort of.

The Islamic calendar, like the Jewish calendar, is a lunar calendar (and not a solar calendar). We have been able to gauge the moon's different phases with pinpoint accuracy for probably more than 1000 years. In fact, there were a number of Muslim astronomers and scientists who have had access to the relatively simple technology. But somehow, we can't agree on what day it is . . .

People insist on being traditional and waiting for some yahoo to tell us that he "sighted" the moon before we're willing to say that the month of Ramadan is over. So if someone actually sees the moon (and this person has to have certain credentials), then we know whether the date has changed. The end result, different types of Muslims (sect, nationality, congregation) have different sources and Muslims end up celebrating Eid on different days. For example, most Sunni Muslims celebrated on Thursday and many Shia Muslims celebrated on Friday.

This is the dumbest controversy in the history of religion. Are you telling me that we can figure out how a calendar works and all celebrate on the same day? I can't tell you how uncomfortable it is going over my friend's house while they are celebrating Eid and I am still fasting (because I will be celebrating Eid the following day). This isn't necessarily a Sunni/Shia issue either, though I will mention that Sunnis generally appear to have their shit together.

Time is an essential unifying element and one of the most powerful forces that gives a group a sense of common living and common history. In fact the Muslim calendar began when the Prophet fled a town because of persecution. We have, over time, developed a calendar based on a single event and used the event to locate ourselves. So you can see why it is imporant to maintain that unity.

This is not to say that some disunity might be beneficial. Muslims all over the world also use the standard solar calendar. I celebrate my birthday every solar year, not every lunar year (which is shorter). We need the solar calendar to viably function in the world's political and economic spaces. Having multiple "times" allow me to exist on two separate trajectories, living multiple lives simultaenously, slipping in and out of one dimension seamlessly. But the philosophical impact of this kind of postmodern argument has its limits, especially when the Muslim calendar itself is fragmenting itself.

We've allowed something simple--sighting the moon--to remain a divisive issue for practically no reason at all except pride. Certain denominations will only listen to reporters of that denomination. Others will do whatever the people in a home country will do. It breeds distrust of the other group. There's only one moon, how can we manage to fuck this up?

The tricky part of this debate is that it has small elements of, but is not predicated upon a "Faith versus Science" theme. When we say that modern science can determine if the moon is actually visible, it is partially an attack on the clergy's unwillingness to believe that the moon is actually there if they can't see it themselves (due to cloud cover or other atmospheric conditions). The last I checked, wasn't believing something you can't necessarily see with your own eyes a basic prerequisite for all of the world's religions?

There are practical considerations too. If you have no idea whether tomorrow will be Eid, you can't give advance notice to your employer if you want to take off from work.

But then there's the simultaneous debate over tradition itself. We keep on perpetuating this ridiculous practice because, well, that's how it was done in the past. But our insistence on having some Muslims verify that the moon has been sighted is not only hyper-technical, but exclusionary. The greater good (unifying the Muslim calendar) far outweighs any benefits.

2 comments:

Mad.J.D. said...

Just wanted to let you know I really like this post. I'm always interested to learn more about things foreign to me. Now, about women's rights in Pakistan...

Global News Media said...

The moron who said sunnis have their shit together obviously eats shit for breakfast. Incompetant illiterate lacks common simple sense to realize all these countrries live in a primitive society after 1500 years who killed haasan and hussein the prophets grand children!

Stupidity is an understatement still covering their woman in black cloths from head to toe and coming to america and behaving like goats. If you donkeys learn to advance with the times then maybe the people like your wives and daughters dont look like clowns when coming to western society