Moon Sighting and The Qur’an (Part-6)
The Calendar Controlling Injunction 9.36
9.36: إِنَّ عِدَّةَ الشُّهُورِ عِندَ اللَّـهِ اثْنَا عَشَرَ شَهْرًا فِي كِتَابِ اللَّـهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ مِنْهَا أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ ۚ فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ أَنفُسَكُمْ
Translation: Verily the count of all months [in a year] to God is 12 in the Law of God [since] the day He created the heavens and the earth. Of them, four are sacred. This is the upright way [of following the calendar]. Therefore, do not wrong your selves in the affairs of these [all] months.
This verse is very conspicuously making out that God began a calendar just after creating the heavens and earth, while we know today that humans were created thousands or millions or billions of years thereafter. So the questions are: For whom was that calendar started? Why has God told us of that old calendar which sounds to be of the unseen world?
It is no mystery to the believers (other than Quranists) that God gets His maintenance works done in the universe by His angels. So God started an earthly calendar right after its creation to give assignments to the angels posted on the earth. However, after He created humans, He taught them the same calendar through His prophets, and made it binding in the religious realm. Why?
Take an example. When pilgrims are in Arafat Plain during Hajj, angels are bound to at least make the record. Though God is all-knowing, He shall judge on the Day of Judgment based on the evidence, therefore, the records of deeds are essential to prepare. Now in case the dates are different in the Angels’ and humans’ calendars: when the angels would be there, the pilgrims would not be there. And thus it would be on record that those pilgrims did not visit Arafat Plain on the right day.
In other words, for proper discharge of dates-specific religious observances it is necessary that humans’ calendar should be in step with that of God’s calendar which He started on the first day after the creation of heavens and earth. This is why the Calendric Injunction is first referring to the Original Calendar and then asking the believers to follow the same in the religious realm (indicated by فِي كِتَابِ اللَّـهِ i.e. in the affairs associated with God’s sharia).
Now the question arises how we can know the dates in that divine calendar. God set the mechanism that He would convey it to His prophets and they would do it to the believers. Consistent to this line of communication, the Prophet (PBUH) during his Last Hajj said in a sermon at Mina:
.,.أَلَا إِنَّ الزَّمَانَ قَدِ اسْتَدَارَ كَهَيْئَتِهِ يَوْمَ خَلَقَ اللهُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ
Translation: Beware! verily the [calendric] time has come round to the like state of it [what is in line with] the day God created the heavens and the earth …
That is: because of the polytheists intercalations the calendric dates, after taking a round course, at the time of the Prophet’s last Hajj, had returned to the original order of dates.
Therefore, it is binding on Muslims that they must not change that order of dates that God put in place through His last prophet, Muhammad (PBUH). If we do, our calendar will not be in step with the calendar God started right after creating the heavens and earth. And thus we would discharge the date-specific observances on wrong days.
If calculated sighting, telescopic sighting, global sighting, or sighting by only two out of hundreds or thousands of moon-watchers at the same location changes the order of dates that God restored through His last prophet, it is partially undoing His work, and thus is an affront to God.
However, God is independent of our help. We can wrong our calendar, not His. This is why the verse is saying لَا تَظْلِمُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ = do not wrong your selves. That is, it is humans who will loose their benefits by messing with the calendar. For example:
If we start the month of Hajj one day earlier, the pilgrims will go to Arafat Plain one day earlier compared to the actual day for going there. Then, who will loose? God or the pilgrims?
Make no mistake an authority always asks to be present on a date according to its own calendar, and it never says: come according to your calendar.
Even if those who do not believe in the Sunnah or Angels, if they correctly read the verse, it is not only talking of 12 total and 4 sacred months but also disclosing that:
(i) Just after creating the heavens and earth, God put in place a lunar calendar (indicated by أَرْبَعَةٌ حُرُمٌ , four sacred months, which are lunar).
(ii) Only above mentioned calendar is acceptable in the eye of God (indicated by عِندَ اللَّـهِ)
(iii) The faithful are required to uphold the same calendar (indicated by ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ and فَلَا تَظْلِمُوا فِيهِنَّ).
(iv) That calendar is binding in the religious realm (indicated by فِي كِتَابِ اللَّـهِ).
In face of today’s calculation-based calendar or global moon-sighting in which a new month is more often than not start one day earlier than that by conventional local unaided moon-sighting. It raises the question:
Which of the two methods is truly Islamic?
Does Islam allow, in the Age of Science, to change the calendric criterion?
Keeping the above questions in mind, let us reflect on the Calendric Injunction to get the answer:
Common sense tells us that whenever a Lunar Calendric System is put in place, there is always a criterion to start/end the months . And the presence of this start-end criterion is regardless whether the calendar is of 12 months or 10 months (the first Roman Calendar) or 13 months (some years in lunisolar calendar) or whatever. I am emphasizing this point because a reader usually perceives that the verse is only talking of 8 regular and 4 sacred months. Even if they are taken to be right for the sake of argument, they have to acknowledge: when God started the calendar, He started it with a “set criterion” to start/end the months.
Then, the next question is: As there is only one calendar that is acceptable in the eye of God, did He teach the criterion of the same calendar [for changing months] to Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc.? Or, did He teach them the criterion of some other calendar which is not acceptable in His eye? ……. The answer is obviously the former.
This way we come to know for sure that the only criterion possible at the time of Adam (PBUH) or Noah (PBUH) is the right criterion for changing months in Islam. From this exposition, even Quranists can judge whether calculated or global moon-sighting (that often brings dates one day earlier) is in line with the guidance encoded in the above verse.
Also, as the injunction is saying that there is only one calendar acceptable in God’s eye, it is giving us no freedom to change the calendar (i.e. any of its criteria) in the age of Science or whatever. Rather, the faithful are bound to go with unaided local moon-sightings as the believers from the time of Adam to that of Muhammad (PBUH) did.
This point is further substantiated as the verse is asking the believers to not wrong in the matters of all the months God started in the first place.
The Underlying Cause of Modern Innovation
The Qur’an says that humans play down God’s messages because they substantially underestimate God’s abilities — مَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ in verse 22.74 for instance.
Today a great many Muslims firmly believe that due to the lack of scientific knowledge and its means at the time of Muhammad (PBUH), God had to leave some of His rules at substandard levels. Therefore, Muslims should raise them to the Standards of Knowledge as they advance in knowing. This is an insult to the all-knowing and all-powerful God!
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