“Muslims Should Not Adopt Moon sighting to Establish Ramadan”: The Goatmilk Debates
“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, irreverent manner.
Each debater makes their opening argument. They can elect to post a rebuttal.
The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of their argument.
The motion: “Muslims Should Adopt Moon sighting to Establish Ramadan”
For the motion: Irfan Rydhan
Against the motion: Aziz Poonawalla
My brother Irfan Rydhan makes a compelling case in defense of moonsighting for Ramadan, and I think it is important to assert here that I do not intend to attempt to refute his case. The motion under debate is whether all muslims should adopt moonsighting, not the validity of moonsighting per se. My intention in this debate is to emphasize that there IS a valid debate about whether moonsighting is the sole method of establishing Ramadan, and to question the assumption that my brother makes, that there is some inherent value in all muslims adopting an identical practice rather than embracing the diversity of valid interpretation and traditions we have inherited as a truly global Ummah.Irfan begins his case with the Qur’an, so let’s revisit ayat 2:185, using Quran.com:
Pickthall: And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days.
Yusuf Ali: So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later.
Shakir: therefore whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days;
Irfan also invokes a hadith to support his view. However, that hadith explains how someone may use the moon to establish Ramadan if they are trying to determine when to fast; it does not define moonsighting as the sole normative method to do so! And there are plenty of other hadith that support the use of calculation as well. Since hadith are even more contentious than translations, I don’t think there’s much point in using them to refute, only to justify.
Ultimately, trying to make a theological case for moonsighting alone is a futile excercise, because there is no consensus – in 2006 the Fiqh Council of North America adopted the compromise position that astronomical calculations were indeed valid, especially as a means for ruling out physically-impossible moonsighting reports. Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah wrote a lengthy rebuttal to Shaykh Yusuf, pointing out that the act of witnessing the new moon itself is not an act of worship in and of itself, and is merely a means of telling time. Another thorough and scholarly essay by Dr. Louay Safi notes that the choice is not between moonsighting and calculation, but rather personal testimony and calculation. Further essays and reading material on the debate are available at the Fiqh Council’s website.
The irony is that as the Fiqh Council noted, even moonsighters rely on calculation to vet the sightings, using sophisticated lunar visibility maps such as this one:
But lets also note that these maps tell you the visibility of the moon from Earth, and do not comment on the actual phase of the moon itself. In fact, the actual phase of the moon is completely independent of observers on earth – it is defined by the geometry of the Sun, Earth and Moon system in space. The date of the crescent moon can therefore be precisely calculated as an objective truth, independent of flawed human reasoning and observation and geography. As the Qur’an says, “the sun and the moon follow courses [exactly] computed” by Allah (55:5). To argue otherwise is to say that if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, it did not even fall!
And if we are to celebrate unity, as I agree we should, then let us note that there is also unity for those who observe the calendar. Those of us who abide by the calendar begin and end Ramadan worldwide in unison, akin to the unity of praying salaat behind an imam. With all due respect to Brother Irfan, it is not about getting a day off of work or Eid-day sales at the mall, but about a sincere action of faith. It is distressing that the motives of those who disagree must be impugned in such a way – I believe that causes far more disunity than the moonsighting debate itself. Let us be united – by celebrating our diversity of tradition.
Last night was the first full moon of Ramadan – and by the calendar, the 14th of Ramadan as well. What better affirmation of the majesty and perfection of creation, than this?