Waiting for the moon to shine
Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee.
People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him.
“Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha."
(He is the one because of whom the Eid moon is sighted at eleven in the night.)
"Inn ka jab dil chahta hai Eid kar dete hain, aur jub dil chahta hai tees rozay karwa dete hain"
(Whenever he wants, it’s Eid and whenever he wants, there are 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan).
And these were some of the more polite comments.
It seemed strange to me that the gentleman was being blamed for something he had no control over - and for a decision that is not unilaterally made by him. The decision is made by respected and renowned Islamic scholars, media personnel, meteorologists and telescopes on board.
But this happens every year, doesn’t it?
We dispute on dinner tables and we argue at work places over this issue. It’s ironic how, Ramazan, the month of peace and tolerance and serenity, begins with relentless bickering over the issue of whether the entire Muslim Ummah should “unite” by celebrating the advent of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and then Zul-Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha on the same days as Saudi Arabia or not.
Then there is the issue of whether scientific equipment should be relied upon, and the question of whether moon sighting should totally be done away with or not. And then follows the mockery of how the moon’s been sighted in Peshawar and that discussions on how a nation can ever progress if they don’t even celebrate Eid on the same day.
This issue (or non-issue) is a classic example of how the gulf between extremes is widening.
Fundamentalism and liberalism, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin and are coming from the same place. This widening gulf results in polarization where no single group or party is willing to listen, understand and tolerate the opinion of the other.
Those who follow the moon sighting ritual are upset at the “modern” citizens who have given it up. The other side is forever squabbling about how this ritual is responsible for pushing back the Muslims in time by about 1400 years.
Why, simply, can both views not co-exist in harmony?
Opening Facebook at the advent of Ramazan is interesting to say the least. An assortment of sarcastic retorts awaits in the form of status updates.
While they start with Ramazan Mubarak wishes, they inevitably end up commenting on this issue. I am concerned about the motive behind these comments.
What leads to the derision of each other’s viewpoint?
Is it a simple difference of opinion, which would be completely understandable? Or the inconvenience of not knowing it is Eid till the last moment?
Or is it peer pressure from the rest of the world which makes Muslims a tad bit apologetic (as usual) and wonder why their religious festivals are devoid of a semblance of discipline and is celebrated on not one but different days?
The latter two, to me, are not good reasons.
As a boring pacifist, my take on the issue is pretty simple. I am happy for both groups so long as they don’t disrespect the other’s viewpoint and don’t display a lack of tolerance. That does not mean I don't have a very clear viewpoint of my own.
I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.
I would not give up for anything the joy of rushing to the roof with my daughter, in anticipation and excitement, and reciting the supplication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite when he saw the moon. The sliver-like crescent that flashes a smile, informs us that it’s time to gear up for the spiritual detox month, and vanishes.
To me, this is actually a ritual that unites followers of a single faith beyond political boundaries. When a Muslim in Indian Punjab and a Muslim in Pakistan’s Punjab fast and celebrate Eid on the same day. But if some of my friends subscribe to another viewpoint, I will wish them a blessed Ramazan sans sarcasm and judgment. A Ramazan of worship, connection with Allah, forgiveness, mercy, sharing, charity and joy.
Enjoy Ramazan. Peace be upon you.