Moon debates

gal moon color2Kudos to Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press for catching this excellent religion-beat story on the debate within Muslim communities on when to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Ramadan fast. Zoll avoids using troublesome labels like "traditionalist" and "progressive" as a crutch and allows Muslims' thoughts and beliefs to speak for themselves. Zoll also does well digging into the theological significance of the moon and astronomy in marking the end of Ramadan. But it has one weakness that I'll delve into later. First, here's a summary of the debate:

The date of the Eid is based on the Hadith, traditions taken from the life of the prophet Muhammad. The prophet taught that the holiday marking the end of Ramadan comes the morning after a nighttime sighting of the new moon.

Under the most conservative interpretation, two credible witnesses with expertise in Islamic sharia law have to see the crescent moon with the naked eye before their observations can be accepted, said Sulayman S. Nyang, an expert on Islam at Howard University.

But the Fiqh Council says that the prophet used direct sightings only because no other method was reliable in his lifetime. "Now, we know scientifically whether the moon is there, even if it is not sightable because of the weather conditions," said Muzammil Siddiqi, the council chairman.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the article, it left me with a couple of questions.

First, why the pushback from those who do not want the date decided scientifically? I get the drift that they oppose it because the prophet Muhammad never did it that way, but are there additional reasons? Is it as simple as a group of older men not wanting to give up their stature in the community as the decision-makers of Eid al-Fitr?

This leads to my second question. Where are the voices of those who are supposedly going to resist this change? Were they interviewed and just failed to make the cut? Interview those sources and I'm guessing you'd get more than enough answers for why Muslim communities will struggle in accepting this change.

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