Eid days are meant to be occasions when the Muslims of an entire town join together in prayer and in thanking Allah for His blessings, in rejoicing at the great religious traditions of Islam and in forgiving one another for any personal excesses we may have committed towards one another. But, alas, over the past many years these occasions have been marred by differences among our organizations over when should Eids be celebrated.
Many brothers and sisters in many communities have become greatly disturbed at these differences and quite rightly so; for, if we cannot join together twice a year in celebrating our holy days, there can be hardly anything which we can do together.
Some of the brothers and sisters have become weary of the differences about Eid days and abandoned all hope that they may ever be resolved. But we must never abandon hope, for the Holy Qur'an says that only those abandon hope who have gone astray. (15:56)
With faith in God's power, hope in His mercy and right course of action we can Inshah Allah solve all our problems, including the problem of Eid days.
The right course of action needed to solve the problem of Eid days has the following four steps. If we take these steps we will Inshah Allah be able to celebrate each Eid on the same day.
1) We should develop the will to solve the problem
God sometimes grants us with favours without our trying or asking for them, but as a rule He requires that communities and nations should strive for what they are granted. The Qur'an says:
So the first step toward solving the problem of Eid days is that we should have the will to solve it.
Now an overwhelming majority of our community members do desire to have Eid on the same day. But they are naturally dependent in this regard on the decisions taken by the officials of various organizations in the community. Consequently, we should expect that it is these officials who have to show a will to solve the problem under consideration. However, it seems that the will of these "officials" is hampered by at least two factors:
a) Mutual jealousy: The Holy Qur'an says that people have often differed among each other because of mutual jealousy, baghyam baynahum. It seems that at least part of the reason that our organizations and mosque committees fail to agree about Eid days is this baghyam baynahum.
b) Influence of foreign funds: Some of the organizations in our midst are almost totally dependent on funds from outside sources such as the Saudi government. This makes them keener to heed to the wishes of their funds than to the needs and wishes of the community they are supposed to serve. And, unfortunately, the wishes of most outside sources of big money are to divide and control the Muslims and not to unite them.
What our community needs to do is to try to remove the above two factors, so that officials of our organizations and members of our mosque committees will develop a will to solve the problem of Eid days and other problems facing our community. The best way to achieve this is to make sure that:
2) Our affairs are entrusted to persons elected by the entire community
At present the affairs of our community (managing our mosques, deciding about Eid days, etc.) are conducted by persons who are either self-appointed or friends-appointed. Hadith teaches us that in this situation, divine help does not come to the help of the community. In a tradition agreed upon by both Bukhari and Muslim the Prophet is reported to have said:
"Do not seek any position, for if it is given to you for the asking, you will be left to your own resources, while, if it is given to you without asking, you will be aided (by God) therein."
Thus self-appointed, or what is almost the same thing, friends-appointed, public officials do not get God's help and consequently if in a community like ours decisions are made by such officials then it will not be aided by Allah in its affairs. And can a community get anywhere without Allah's help?
So an important step towards the solution of our various problems is that our affairs be managed by persons elected by the entire community or appointed by such elected persons.
3) Examination of the religious questions concerning Eid days
Once we have entrusted our affairs to elected persons, we must find answers to some religious questions concerning the Eid days. This will not be hard, since for people willing to live by the divine guidance, Allah and His messenger have for every question either given an answer or shown the way how to arrive at that answer ourselves.
Since many brothers and sisters are not clear about the religious questions underlying the problem of Eid days, let me briefly outline here these questions. In this outline I restrict myself to Eid al-Fitr. The questions about Eid al-Adha are similar.
The Holy Qur'an enjoins upon us fasting during the month of Ramadan (2:185). This month, like all others mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, existed in pre-Islamic times in the Arabic system of reckoning dates. In that system, a month started and ended with the successive appearances of the crescent and it is clear that the Holy Qur'an is using the same system (since it does not give any new definition of Ramadan). Hadith makes the point more explicit and gives some additional guidance on the matter. The contents of those Ahadith on which there has been a universal agreement among Muslims of all ages and places may be summarized as follows:
"Start fasting when you see the crescent for the month of Ramadan and end it when you see the next crescent. If because of clouds you cannot see any of the crescents, complete 30 days for that month (Sha'ban or Ramadan, as the case may be). Everyone does not have to personally see the crescents. The fasting may be started or ended on the testimony of any number of reliable witnesses who have seen the crescent.
There are also other traditions bearing on the question but their authenticity or authoritativeness is not universally accepted by Muslims or they are understood differently by different sections of the Ummah.
The guidance outlined above on the basis of the Holy Qur'an and Hadith was quite sufficient in the days of the Prophet, since in those days almost all Muslims lived in Arabia where the sky was almost always clear. Crescent, if it appeared in one place in the land, was also visible in other places. The character of the Muslims was generally very high, so that no one will untruthfully say for personal or political reasons that he had seen the crescent without having actually seen it. Everything went smoothly as far as the start or end of the holy months was concerned.
However, when the Muslim world expanded over vast areas of the globe and more recently with the development of science, a development that in large measure started under the influence of Islam and Muslims, some new questions about lunar months arose. For example: How far from one's place must the crescent be visible before we can start or end fasting? Can we start or end the fast in Morocco, for example, if the crescent has been sighted in China? Can we see the crescent with the help of some visual aid such as a telescope or must we use the naked eye? Is "seeing" significant in itself or is its purpose to provide a sure standard for starting or ending a month? If "seeing" is merely a way of defining a lunar month, then can we use some other predictable way based on mathematical calculations?
God did, of course, know that one day the Muslim world would expand to vast areas of the world and indeed it is His will that one day Islam should prevail over the whole world. (9:33) He also knew that one day man would make great scientific and technological advances and indeed it is His will that man should ponder over the world around him and control the forces of nature for his benefit. (2:164, 3:190-191, etc.) So if He had willed He would have answered all these questions for us. But life is a complex phenomenon. No matter how many questions are answered there still arise some new ones to be answered. It would have been confusing for the people if God would have answered questions before they arose. Moreover, to contain answers to all these questions we would need books after books which no one could master. So, for these reasons God and His messenger gave us a few manageable volumes of guidance containing basic principles and some specific injunctions, too. Along with these He ingrained within us a permanent source of guidance: our intelligence and other faculties of discernment. After learning what God and His messenger have given us we should make use of these faculties to answer any new questions that arise in our individual or collective lives. This is, in fact, how everything else works in life. Teachers, for example, guide the students up to a suitable point and then leave them to do their own research into new questions. Directors of companies and presidents of countries give general guidelines to their subordinates and then leave them to work out the details. Likewise God and His messenger have given us some basic guidance and then left us to find our own answers to new questions that we may face from time to time.
In regard to questions concerning the Eid days this is exactly what some of our scholars have been doing. On the basis of their ijtihad (mental exertion) they have offered their different answers to these questions and discussed and debated them among themselves.
However, our scholars have not done one needful thing and that is to reach a conclusion on the basis of their ijtihad, discussions and debates. Yet, Hadith does teach us the way for this discussion and debate to end in a decision instead of going on and on endlessly.
4) Reaching a decision
This way to reach a decision in matters not clearly settled by God and His messenger is the principle of majority. In one Hadith, the Prophet (may God bless him evermore) is reported to have said:
"Follow the largest group" (Ibn Majah, on the authority of 'Abd Allah ibn 'Umar)
and "It is your duty to be with the community and the majority" (Ahmad ibn Hambal, on the authority of Mu'ad ibn Jabal)
Thus on questions relating to Eid days we should first determine the views held by a majority of (knowledgeable) persons in the community and then all of us should follow those views.
It should be at once emphasized here that this principle of majority is valid only in matters where the Holy Qur'an and authentic Traditions of the Prophet do not give clear guidance. In matters which have been settled by God Most High and His messenger or which are questions of haq (truth) and batil (false), good and evil a Muslim need not follow the majority; indeed, in such matters he should take a stand even if he is a minority of one, as is illustrated by the conduct of Hadrat Abu Bakr when some new converts to Islam refused to pay zakat despite clear commandments of God in the Holy Qur'an.
The questions raised above regarding Eid days, however, are admittedly among those that have not been clearly decided by God and His messenger. They are also not questions of good and evil, haq and batil. They are like the question of qibla about which the Qur'an says that having this or that qibla is not what determines good or evil.(1) Consequently, questions concerning Eid days should be decided by the majority principle.
We can apply this principle locally as follows: When a city-wide council or majlis ash-shura (board of directors) has been elected to run our affairs it should bring together knowledgeable persons in the community, belonging to various religious groups and schools of fiqh (Islamic Law and Jurisprudence), to discuss the question of Eid days and whatever the majority of these persons decides should be accepted by the entire community.
The decision reached in this way for the problem of Eid days will Inshah Allah be acceptable in the sight of Allah. For, after all it is He Himself who has left various questions about Eid days for the Ummah to decide and it is His messenger who has instructed us to follow the largest group in such matters.
To summarize: although God and His messenger have not given us answers to all the questions about the determination of Eid days, they have given us clear guidance as to how we can arrive at those answers. Let us therefore follow that guidance and not dispute in the matter, lest we become like the people of the book about whom God says:
The Holy Qur'an warns us:
So let us follow the straight and clear way of deciding the question of Eid days suggested above, on the basis of Hadith, and in this way ensure what Eid days will be celebrated by the entire Muslim community on the same day.
(1)In Surah al-Baqarah God says:
First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1983. Copyright © Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.