The reckoning of time has ever been very essential fabric of human life. Recall just one example: After a baby was born, its parents ever in history kept counting how many weeks, months, years passed. At what age the baby was to be weaned. At what age he/she should have been trained to avoid soiling. What things he/she was expected to perform at age 5, 10, 15, for instance. And so on and so forth.
Other than worldly affairs, a calendric system has also been of crucial importance in religion. The most popular Gregorian Calendar has been LARGELY developed at the hands of, first, pagan Roman and, then, Christian priests in more than 16 centuries (at least: from 46 BC to 1582 AD). If counted from the first meeting of the Council of Nicaea in ad325 — about which Encyclopedia Britannica says, “The council also attempted but failed to establish a uniform date for Easter” — Christian priests worked time after time for 12 and 1/2 centuries to fix the date of Easter that was moving forward in every few centuries. Why? Because, in religion, performance on EXACT dates is very essential. So much so that it is not so perfectly required in other spheres of life. For instance: If you miss going to Arafat Plain on the 9th Zilhijjah, there is no way to make up your Hajj. Nor can you petition in advance to allow you some other date.
In short, human living indispensably needs, other than time-reckoning system for worldly affairs, a meticulous system for the upcoming religious observances. Therefore, it is unthinkable that God has not guided in this essential matter in His final guidance, the Qur’an, and left the believers at the mercy of traditions. Even, there is no Hadith available that clarifies whether the prophet’s method is for all the time to come, or it may be upgraded in time when humanity acquires considerable knowledge about the working of natural world or means of distant communication. This very point has become the root cause of the calendrical disputes today.
However, Muslim scholars and intellectuals of today do not realize that this missing would undermine God’s complete book of guidance, the Qur’an. They quite comfortably say, as express or implied, that there is no meaningful guidance in the Qur’an concerning how to run Islamic calendar. This is pathetic!
The Background Of Calendrical Revelations
Before Islam, Arab’s calendar was lunar which was based on local moon-sighting. However, it was regulated by the Meccan chieftains who had forged two corruptions in it.
One was كبيثه (Kʌbiːsɑː = Intercalation). They would add a month in some year so as to keep the lunar calendar in step with that of the solar/seasonal one. This was in their economic interest. When the pilgrims would go there in a comfortable season and after harvesting, they would put more money and stuff before their god-idols in devotion, as well as would spend more money in staying, shopping, watching fun-sports, and the like.
Another was نسى (Nʌsi = Postponement). Whenever they wanted, Meccan chieftains would displace Muharram, the sacred and first month of the incoming year, to the second place so that they could do wars or plunder activities right after the Month of Hajj (the last month of a year).
The announcement for the كبيثه and/or نسى was made at the occasion of Hajj by the Meccan chieftains. As people from all the tribes of Arabia were present in Hajj, the news would go with them to all over Arabia. It was the form of mass communication there.
Under this state of affair, reforming the calendar was not possible without getting hold of Mecca City or the whole of Arabia. Understandably, this is why God sent down the Calendar Controlling Injunction and His judgment on Nʌsi near the end of the 9th Hijri (in Qur’anic Chapter 9, verses 36 and 37 respectively) when Mecca and the whole Arabian Peninsula had come under the full control of the last prophet, Muhammad (PBUH). This plainly means that during the period in Mecca or early period in Medina, Qur’anic verses having a bearing on calendar were not meant to make or reform the calendar.
However, these verses describe the working of Moon in Nature in terms of its calendrical functionality. As a result, their study gives us insight into the natural calendrical technicalities for ever.
On Today’s Disputes Concerning Moon Sighting
In this 21st century, a great many Muslims have adopted new positions on Moon Sighting and have said good-bye to the calendrical System that the Prophet (PBUH) had established.
These people think: In former times, since scientific means and knowledge were not available, God put in place a SUBSTANDARD, WRONG method of running the calendar. This argument does not match with God who is ALMIGHTY nor does it match with God who asks people to quit wrong actions and guides them to the UPRIGHT way of working.
Below are recorded those new positions. However, one gross impropriety at the level of common intellect is being attached with each of them:
(1) It is not necessary, in Islam, to physically see the first crescent moon. Only viewing it through the eye of mathematics is good enough, even much better and accurate. A PhD doctor, Muzammil Siddiqi, the chairperson of Fiqh Council of North America (a platform of Arab American Muslims) says: Eyes make mistakes, mathematics does not.
According to this stand, it is clear that God guided humanity to the faulty track of sighting the new crescent moon from the time of Adam until the postmodern era. As a result, how can He be counted as the promoter of uprightness, and also that He is almighty?
(2) It is not necessary for the first crescent moon to show up in the local sky; it is global moon that counts in Islam.
If it is true, God has based His calendar NOT on a fixed criterion BUT month-to-month changing criterion — one month Moon of Pakistan, other month Moon of Saudi Arabia, then Moon of Turkey, then Moon of Morocco, and so on and so forth. It is so out of way that no human civilization ever adopted such a criterion.
It also changes the duration of months from number of whole days into whole days plus part of a day, while a calendric month has to have full days only.
(3) Telescopic moon is valid in Islam.
This position obliquely blames God that He has established His calendar NOT on a fix criterion BUT the criterion changes abruptlyas it is in the case of global moon sightings.Plus, God put humanity to go wrong time after time until the telescope was invented and came into use for moon sighting.
(4) Moon of Mecca is for all Muslims across the world.
A little thinking reveals that this position levels allegation on God that He has not based His Calendar on the facts of natural world but on LIES. Isn’t it true that the Sun and the Moon let all people avail them equally, and they do not differentiate in terms of their working between Muslims and non-Muslims, Hindus and non-Hindus, or Christians and non-Christians?
Is it right to invent a principle repugnant to the facts of Nature, and then ascribe this “contrary to fact” principle to God? Also, isn’t this principle parallel to that of Jews who take the Moon of Jerusalem for their religious observances?
(5) The visibility of the first crescent moon occurs in a way that it may appear to only one or two persons out of tens or hundreds or thousands of moon-watchers at a place.
All those who hold this position do not explain: (i) Why cannot most of these watchers, at the same location, observe the moon? (ii) Is it fault of their eyesight or of the Almighty’s design? (iii) What are the parameters to avoid if such two persons err or make mischief? (iv) If the developing perception is that these two persons maybe right, maybe wrong; what is the way out? Which way has God taught us to risk? And where is that guidance?
This position is of the orthodox scholars too. It is sad that Muslim Muftis (jurists) do not realize the strength of God and Prophet’s guidance to turn first to the Qur’an, then to the Sunnah, and then to human intellect. They start with human intellect in the first place, such as, the intellect of Imam Shafa’ee or Imam Ibn Tamiya or a so-called grand Mufti of today. They have no idea what is a proof from the first principle (ab initio), and what is its strength. They derive a conclusion a. Then, they derive another conclusion b from a. Then, they derive still another conclusion c from b. And so on and so forth. They do not understand that this way of continued derivations, more often than not, brings in errors. This is why proving ab initio is must in Logic and Mathematics.
To ease out reading the detailed discussion, these positions are going to be weighed in light of the relevant Qur’anic verses in a few numbered articles, or say, instalments.