I couldn’t believe my eyes. In fact, it is so incredible, I am going to quote ISNA’s website directly: “According to a decision of the Fiqh Council of North America, Eid ul Adha is to be celebrated in solidarity with pilgrims in Mecca.” This is earth-shattering. I have lost count of the number of years American Muslims celebrated Eid out of sync with the pilgrims in Mecca. How could this be?
I mean, the Eid is the tenth day of Dhul-Hijjah, and Dhul-Hijjah is linked to…the Hajj, which is in Saudi Arabia. Thus, if the Saudis say Tuesday January 11 is the first day of Dhul-Hijjah, then the pilgrims will move to Mina on January 18, to Arafat on January 19, and then Eid will be January 20. “Not so,” American Muslims have said. “We have to base the Eid on the sighting of the moon.” Even if that means we could celebrate Eid after the pilgrims have already stoned the big pillar and are worshipping in Mina at that time? “Yes. The Prophet said: ‘Fast when you see it, and break your fast when you see it.'” But…but…isn’t Eid-ul-Adha intimately connected with the rites and rituals of the Hajj? “The Prophet said,” I am told, “‘Fast when you see it, and break your fast when you see it.’ You are not a scholar.”
No, I’m not, but celebrating Eid-ul-Adha in solidarity with the pilgrims of Mecca plain makes sense. If I was blessed with performing the pilgrimage this year, wouldn’t I perform the Hajj according to the timetable set by the Saudis? Of course. So, how could it be that Muslims here in America, or anywhere else in the Muslim world, celebrate Eid-ul-Adha out of sync with the pilgrims? When I performed the Hajj in 2003, some of my Muslim brothers and sisters in Chicago were fasting for the day of Arafat when I had long left the plain of Arafat. I could not help but chuckle. When I called my mother, I joked with her and said, “So, are you fasting for Arafat today? You know that I’ve already left Arafat, right?” She said, in desperation, “Yes, I know.” Does this make sense?
I do not think that the “moonsighting” issue will ever be resolved in our community in this millennium, let alone my own lifetime. With regard to moonsighting, there are several hadiths in both Bukhari and Muslim, and they are all narrated by Ibn Umar (r). They seem to be bits and pieces of one long statement of the Prophet (pbuh). If you put them together, you get this: “We are an illiterate nation; we neither write, nor know accounts. The month is like this and this (i.e., sometimes of 29 days and sometimes of thirty days). Fast when you see it, and break your fast when you see it, and if the weather is cloudy, calculate it (the months of Sha’ban and Shawwal) as thirty days.”
I heard a brother narrate these hadiths in this way and then mention that Ibn Taymiyah–may God’s mercy be upon him–interpreted this to mean that we, as Muslims, do not use astronomical calculations and doing so is “imitating the infidels.” I hope the brother was mistaken. Yet, if this is true, this interpretation is mind-boggling. I understand the hadith to mean that the Prophet (pbuh) was expressing a statement of fact: the Arabs did not have a calendar. In fact, the year in which the Prophet (pbuh) was born was not 570 C.E., as we know it now, but “The Year of the Elephant” according to the Arabs. Furthermore, because of their moving around the various sacred months (called Al-Nasee’ in the Qur’an)–so that they can raid and pillage each other–the correct order of months was all mixed up.
Thus, to my mind, the Prophet (pbuh) did not mean we should not use astronomical calculations, but that that is the way they did it. Nowadays, with detailed astronomical calculations, it should be easy to determine which day is Eid and therefore know what day to tell my boss I need off for my religious holiday. But…again…I don’t think this issue will be resolved, and I am not a scholar. May Allah (swt) bless the Muslim ummah, wherever it may be and whatever day it celebrates Eid-ul-Adha.