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Sunday, January 14, 2007

An American Islamic Tradition

An American Islamic tradition takes roots.
Mike Ghouse October 19, 2006


What has not happened in 1427 years of Islamic History has happened now. The American Islamic tradition has taken roots and the Muslim community is as excited about it as it is divided. There is joy and commitment to nourish this new American Islamic tradition, and sorrow and determination to keep the age old tradition.

The foremost reform that has taken roots is a predetermined date for the beginning of the month of Ramadan, as well as the proposed date to celebrate the festival. This has never happened in the history of Islam, it was always based on sighting of the moon.

As with most religious traditions, the religious festivals are determined by the Lunar Calendar. The entire Islamic system is based on sighting of the moon. The Islamic Calendar is based on 12 Lunar months, and each month is either 29 or 30 days, it averages to 29 and a half days/month for a total of 354 days in a typical lunar calendar.

Four out of the 12 new moons are critical to the Muslim community. The first one is sighting the moon for the commencement of the 9th month of Ramadan where Muslims fast from moon to moon, the second sighting falls at the end of 29th or 30th day, which concludes fasting segueing into celebration of the Eid (Festival). The third one determines the beginning of the 12th Month - Dhul-Hajj leading to the decision of the day of Hajj being 10th day of the month. Hajj is a world wide congregation of nearly 2.5 Million Muslims praying together in one single space, Mecca, a tradition begun by Abraham. The last one is sighting of moon for commemorating Muharram, the first month of lunar calendar, and solemnly observing the 10th day, as a critical day in the History of Islam.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) suggested that upon the witnessing of the first moon, begin the fasting and end the fasting upon seeing the next moon, and reward yourselves for your will power, forgive each other and celebrate.

The Islamic world has witnessed controversy for the last 1427 years as to what constitutes witnessing the moon. The debate has always been those who see the essence of the words of the Prophet, and those who give full value to the literal words.

Traditionally, this simple saying had been interpreted to mean: 1) That one has to physically see the moon 2) that it will be acceptable, at least if some one else has seen it. Over the years these two have gone liberal and rigid, due to weather conditions some stick to the words that if Moon wasn't seen, Ramadan won't begin, and to some, if some one has seen the moon somewhere else on the planet, it is fine with them.

Here comes NASA, the precision witness machine, which has made a significant dent this year. The Islamic Society of North America, the largest representative organization of Muslim organizations in America, after consulting several experts has opined to follow the NASA calculation. Thus the beginning of Ramadan was pre-determined to commence on September 23rd and the Festival "Eid" was determined to be on Monday, the 23rd of October. There was a great dissent on the subject, however it turned out that the moon was sighted as predicted. Now, there are several who disagree with the decision to celebrate the Eid on 23rd, their point is, how can you decide without witnessing the moon?

The American Muslims have been exceptionally accommodating to this new idea, and are indeed making a genuine effort to respect each group’s decision to celebrate the festival on 23rd , 24th or even 25th. The most beautiful part of this development is that no one is calling the other’s decision as thoughtless. In fact many of them are praying “ Let not arrogance creep into us that one interpretation is better than the other”. A sense of pluralism has taken ground.

However, the spirit of Celebrating Ramadan on one single day is immeasurable. A pre-determined day helps secure a day off from work for many a people, a day off from school for our kids and also secure (rent) the place of worship for large gatherings. Insha Allah, it may take a few more generations for all of us to be on the same page. Let it happen with free will.

The year 2006 heralds a new era for Islam in America. The positive reformist developments in the Islamic World must be noted, it is a major reform:

1) Election of Ms. Ingrid Mattson as the first woman president of Islamic Society of North America, one of the largest Islamic Organizations in the United States. Although Muslim women have been elected as heads of the states, history has not given that aspect a prominent place and instead highlights about Muslim women being suppressed Right here at home In the USA, Muslim women have headed many a National Professional and civic organizations. Muslim women have their own Mosque in Chennai, South India, Muslim women have thier own personal law board in India.

2) American Muslims have led the Islamic World in reform. Now for the first time in history of Islam, a pre-determined date for the celebrations of Ramadan is tested and a majority of the American Muslims has followed it for the first half, the second half is awaited till the 22nd of this month.

3) Muslims around the world are treading on revolutionary trends. While re-affirming faith in God and divinity in the word of God, the Qur'aan, Muslims have understand with clarity that hitherto, the "translations" of Qur'aan were un-just to the word of God, creator of all beings. One of the most critical and important miss-understandings of Qur'aan has emanated from the translations of Qur'aan itself. Much of the pain to Jews and Christians comes from the Al-Hilali translation, the chances that you possess this book is 2 to 1, as it is distributed freely. The movement is gaining momentum to remove the Hilali translations from the market.

For the first time in history, Muslims have recognized this incursion by self-interest group. They are enlightened and delighted to see the 14 translations available to them now, as they can see the wrong translation from the right, an opportunity Muslims never had before.

May this festival be a happy occasion whether we celebrate on 23rd , 24th or 25th. May this Ramadan be meaningful to us and infuse the sense of caring for the world and work for peace, prosperity and security of the humankind.
Eid Mubarak, May Allah bless us all. Amen.

Mike Ghouse is a Muslim free thinker, a pluralist and a writer. The idea of pluralism has come and the Foundation for Pluralism has been his vehicle. And now the World Muslim Congress is stepping up with a slogan : good for Muslims and good for the world. He can be reached at
MikeGhouse@gmail.com

PERSONAL NOTES:

Alhamdu Lillah, a good attempt is made this year to have the Eid on the same day, grounded in the laws of universe and our ability to understand (science) Allah's hikmah. Let this Eid be a happy occasion whether we celebrate on 23rd, 24th or 25th... ( ISNA has announced the date to be Monday, October 23rd -
http://www.isna.net/index.php?id=35&backPID=1&tt_news=784 )

Let us avoid the temptation to be scientific fanatics to push what we accept, onto others. There is no compulsion in Islam. Islam is consensus, Islam is democratic and Islam is Ijtihad. Forced things will always backfire.

Let's give room to those who want to follow what has been a tradition to them, let them take the time and make the choice to be or not to be. Gradual changes usually stick - meaning; sustainable. Allahu Akbar! not us. We should not let arrogance creep into us that one interpretation is better than the other.

However, the spirit of Ummah Celebrating Ramadan on one single day is immeasurable. A pre-determined day helps secure a day off from work for many a people, a day off from school for our kids and also secure (rent) the place of worship for large gatherings. Insha Allah, it may take a few more generations for all of us to be on the same page. Let it happen with free will.

A humble request :
Let's take the positive step and congratulate every one, regardless of when they celebrate. Let's congratulate with our hearts (without any keena) to every Muslim who is blessed with life to celebrate this Eid. Let's believe in verse 1:4 and 1:5 of Al-Fatihah and let Allah remain the judge.

May Allah bless us all.
Duwa
Let this Eid be a happy occasion whether we celebrate on 23rd, 24th or 25th...
May Allah help us not to mess other's joys of Eid with our prejudices
May Allah help us prevent saying ill-things about any one
May Allah make this Ramadan meaningful to us,
May our Soom do what it intended to...
May our soom give us the will power to abstain from food,
May our soom restrain us from evil deeds,
May our soom refrain us from evil thoughts and ill-talk,
May this Ramadan turn us around to be a good being to all of Allah's creation.
Amen.
Eid Mubarak, May God bless us all. Amen
Mike GhouseSpeak up! silent no more.

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