The opinions are aplenty, the intentions noble, yet the results remain unsatisfactory. What makes the Ramadan moon sighting such a polarizing affair for the entire nation? There are those who believe the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committe should be the ultimate judge of whether the moon was sighted over Pakistan. Proponents of this belief state that being one nation, a country should begin the fasting together, and also celebrate Eid together. If we cannot stand as one while observing such important religious occasions, how then can we ever hope to stand united when dealing with other more pressing issues.
Another group of people believe that it’s better to follow Saudi Arabia to decide about the new moon sighting. Communication now-a-days is so reliable that the message from Saudi Arabia can be conveyed to all over the world in mere seconds. With this power in hand, what better way to unite and stand together as an Ummah, than to follow the moon sighting as observed at the birthplace of Islam.
Some quote the old Islamic practice backed by hadith for each region to observe it’s own moon and decide upon the outcome. This group of people just follow their local sighting and don’t worry much about what others are doing in remote locations. The argument given here is that even the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم used to begin fasting when he had not personally seen the moon but a Muslim had informed him that they had seen it. Ibn Umar (ra) reported, “During the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, the companions went looking for the new crescent. So I told the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم that I saw it. So he fasted and told the companions to fast.” [Abu Dawud & Hakim].
Yet others use the technology and the astronomical calculations to precisely determine the position of the moon. For this group the climatic and visual conditions are not an issue. Although the visual conditions may have been an issue in the past it is not the case any more. The calculations are so accurate that using naked eye to locate the moon pales in comparison. If the calculations say the moon is going to be there then it’s going to be there, and there is no other way about it. The calculations do make it very precise and accurate to determine in advance the dates and times of any future moon sightings. This helps in accurately planning any upcoming events, even those in the distant future. The Quran in Surah Yunus authenticates calendar based upon such precise astronomical calculations. “It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory and the moon to be a light, and measured out stages for it (moon); that you might know the number of years and the calculations.” (10:5) This group states that there is absolutely nothing in the Quran which categorically mandates actual moon sighting for confirmation or negation of Ramadan.
It could be argued that in the past just as now, multiple regions have followed their own schedule, and as such it wasn’t considered a big deal. What was considered more important was to focus on Allah and the edicts of Islam. The question then becomes what is more important to the people. Is it necessary that one version be imposed upon all, despite their reluctance, or is it better to let people freely decide their own destiny. What then is the result of trying to force one version of what is right and what is not onto all? The use of force though may appear to bring about uniformity, it would in practice cause more divisions and resentment. Using the kind of flexibility and freedom Islam gives to Muslims it’s not too outrageous to believe that the freedom of the Ummah is more important than the exact method used to determine the moon sighting.
The attempt of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committethat to try and enforce its version of authentic judgement, irrespective of what the people might believe, is likely to causes more harm than good. Not only does it imply and push for people to submit to the dictate of a governmental judgement, but it also presumes that the people are incapable of making decisions without the help of the government. Unlike Christianity, where there’s a Pope; Islam doesn’t have any central authority. This decentralization leaves the management of Islam in the hands of individuals who can cooperate to form communities and follow best practices. If Islam, for something as important as a prayer gathering, allows the people to make up their own minds regarding who can lead, then what sense is there in forcing the same people to follow the orders of a central committee?
The government is made up of a few people who happen to be in power. This temporary power does not give the few the right to decide for the diverse many how they should practice their own religion. It is the opinion of the author that the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committe needs to be dissolved and the funds channeled for better use. People can voluntarily follow religious institutions of their liking to make decisions pertaining to religion, and the involvement of the government only makes matters worse.