Background : The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, unlike the Gregorian calendar that follows the sun. So for Muslims the beginning of the next day actually starts at sunset and not at 12 am midnight.Also since it’s a lunar calendar, each month of the Islamic calendar is of 29/30 days as opposed to 30/31 days.
Ramadan this year was quite uneventful. By uneventful I don’t mean that it wasn’t very spiritually enlightening, rather the Imam of my mosque slammed down all the commotion that occurs every year of when the Eid* will be by asking the mosque- goers that there wouldn’t be a single question or discussion on it. I came to Australia 5 years ago and there hasn’t been a single Ramadan that wasn’t fraught with debates on moon sighting and occurrence of Eid. People wish to know before-hand which day the festival falls on so they can take the day off work and kids can quit school for the day. By before-hand I mean like a month earlier. Now Eid and moon-sighting go hand in hand.If one can sight a sliver of the crescent moon on the 29th or 30th night of Ramadan,then Eid is declared the next day. How can anyone know when the moon will be spotted a month before-hand?
Now get this : The board of Imams declared Eid to be on Friday, the 17th of July, 2015. They declared it on Tuesday the 16th of June ,2015, almost a month early to hush the persistent questioning of people whining about Eid, holidays, and problematic bosses. And thus Ramadan was quite peaceful.
On the 29th night, after breaking the fast, my older brother Khalid and me (and later the whole family) went out to sight the moon with our naked eye. It had always been the tradition of mum and me to eat Iftar** as quickly as we could and go for moon-sighting. Usually Melbourne sky is enveloped with clouds but that evening the sky was as clear as could be. And despite efforts put in by the whole family, the moon couldn’t be sighted. Next option : to rely on sighting from Hilal committee (Moon Sighting Committee), the experts with the big telescopes. And by Isha*** , it was declared that the moon was not sighted anywhere in Australia. The board of Imams, on the other hand, stuck to their decision of celebrating on Friday. Maybe it hurt their ego or maybe the wrath of thousands of Melburnians who had taken leave according to schedule would be overwhelming. My family decided to stick to moon-sighting and hence we would celebrate Eid on Saturday after observing the whole 30 day fast. We were in the minority but we were adamant. The majority were feeling a bit apprehensive but they justified with the hadeeth of following the Imam.
We fasted the next day while our friends celebrated Eid. Eid was also declared in Saudi Arabia and so people celebrating got to validate their Eid. Of course we attended the parties throughout the day which were full of debates and exchange of views on who is right and who is not. We neither condoned nor condemned anyone. But all this left me feeling a bit nonplussed.
Two days ago, the Saudi government announced that the moon sighted on the Thursday evening was in fact incorrect as it was not the moon that was sighted, rather the planet Saturn. And hence Eid was actually meant to be on the Saturday.
*The Islamic festival of celebration that happens at the end of Ramadan.
**Breaking of fast.
*** The night prayer.
^The crescent image is via Freeimage while the Eid celebration is from Google Search