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Ali is an economist and political analyst, working at a private UK-based company. He worked previously at the World Health Organisation and has an MSc in Development Studies from SOAS. You can follow him on Twitter (@alialsaffar).

Lentil soup for breakfast

Not all the writers on this blog come from ancient scholarly families and have the word ”Sayyid” posted as our first name on our Iranian passports. I am a layperson when it comes to jurisprudential issues, but would like to raise one peculiarity with you guys.

Ramadhan has either ended, or is coming to an end, depending on who you ask. And it is that confusion that confuses me. Ramadhan is a month, not a concept. It has finite boundries and, being a lunar month, its start and end are determined by the birth of the new moon. So…if the moon is born, and we know it is born because 21st century science tells us it has been born, why can we not just take that for granted and use this to start/end our fast? Perhaps I am being simplistic, but in an age where we can tell for certain when our lunar month is supposed to start, why must we rely on the naked eye?

We use these measurements to determine the time for prayer. Heck, I would love to use the naked eye for that, it was so gloomy last week that I could have been having my shoorbat addass for breakfast. So why do we change the goal-posts when it comes to determining the new month?

These are not rhetorical questions I am asking, but would sincerely like to hear your views.

And…Eid mubarak to all of you!

6 Comments on “Lentil soup for breakfast”

  1. Shkara September 10, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    I’d like to think that there is wisdom in emphasising the sighting of the new moon with the naked eye as opposed to relying on modern science and technology. I believe there is a very real and profound relationship between man and nature (simply considering how the Qur’an refers to nature in all its forms as ‘signs’ of God is one way of looking at it), unfortunately many of us are not conscious of it. This qualitative relationship is very significant to the spiritual and religious wellbeing of man. By emphasising the sighting of the new moon using the naked eye this important relationship is maintained, reminding Muslims of the importance and relevance of using nature in our lives.

    I think that modern science (as opposed to science itself as a discipline) has succeeded in advancing tremendously in the quantitative dimension of nature but has, as a result, almost suffocated and severed its qualitative dimension, and has been the main vehicle for the idea of using nature “as a tool for domination” (Francis Bacon). The main product in the advancements of modern science has been technology, whose impact on our lives in the modern world is profound but has also led, amongst other things, to a form of disenchantment with nature (which, again, is very significant to our lives spiritually and therefore religiously).

    I would rather use a ‘natural’ method in establishing something that is religiously very significant than depend on modern technology which is so empty. It can at least be a lifeline to that other aspect of life that is so important yet so little considered in our hectic and busy lives.

    Of course, I’m not advocating going back to the stone age 🙂 So much can be said on this subject, however this comment is not the place to discuss it.

    • Yasser Alaskary September 11, 2010 at 10:59 am #

      Habeebee Shkara – that’s beautiful. However, all maraji’ that I am aware of (e.g. Sayyid al-Khoei, Sayyid Sitani) say in their risala that if one can be certain, i.e. by science, of the moon becoming visible then that can be relied upon. The point is that only Sayyid Fadlullah acted on that clause, probably because he became convinced that it science was that accurate and reliable.

  2. Hayder al-Khoei September 10, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    I would love to know what Satan thinks. He’s supposed to be locked up all month long and comes out to play on Eid day – but something tells me he’s just as baffled as the rest of us.

  3. Ali D September 11, 2010 at 3:36 am #

    I think that the issue is that logic precedes religion and not vice-versa. If we are indeed to accept that the concept of the lunar month and the methods of ascertaining its boundaries are topics of a jurisprudential nature, and if we are agreed as to the principles and methodologies of jurisprudence, then personal opinion necessarily takes second place.

    Personally, I’m with you- why can’t we just fast according to the correct and scientifically induced parameters of the lunar month? But I do think we must pay heed to the assumed limitations of our knowledge/opinions in the face of established systems. (That is not to say that we cannot ourselves be of positions of ‘decision-makers’. But as long as we don’t take these positions, we can’t complain too much). Indeed we utilise logic to conclude which sources of religion are to be taken and which are to be left, but then our opinions on subsequent rulings and matters take a back seat. It is, ultimately, faith- not blind, but informed faith.

    If you take dispute with the principles of the systems that we use themselves, then that’s a whole other ballpark.

    And Hayder al-Khoei, that’s a good point. I think you’d just need to find out who he ‘follows’.

    Eid Mubarak to you all!

  4. Yasser Alaskary September 11, 2010 at 10:51 am #

    Eid Mubarak to all.

    This is a topic which I interests me and one which I have delved quite deeply over the years. I agree and practice, as per rulings by my marji’, what you call scientific lunar months.

    However, I would like to point out some key points you article fails to appreciate:

    1. The solar month is defined by a set number of solar days. The lunar month is defined by the new moon first becoming visible.

    2. The solar day is defined by an arbitrary line in the Pacific Ocean – the International Date Line. Daylight on the eastern side of that line is considered one day, and the same daylight on the western side of that line are considered the following day. So that is why Australia starts its day before we do, and why the USA starts its day after us. If, just for the sake of argument, we imagine the International Date Line ran down the middle of central London, then for those in East London it would be, for example, Monday, whereas for those in West London it would be Tuesday.

    3. (are you still with me?) – Ok this is where it gets a bit more confusing. There are essentially 2 different opinions on what the sighting of the new moon actually means:

    – The first opinion, that of “wihadat al-ufuq”, says that when the new moon becomes visible then it applies to the entire world.

    – The second opinion says that it only applies to the local area.

    4. Taking the first opinion – then if you rely on science and technology and say that at such and such a time the new moon is theoretically visible and thus applies to the whole world, then you will still have a difference of a day as to when the first day is of the new month. The reason for this is the International Date Line – if for example the new moon becomes visible somewhere near South America at about 00:30 GMT on Thursday, then for London (which is currently GMT +1) this corresponds to 01:30 on Thursday. Fajr, which is the Islamic definition of the start of a day, has not yet come to pass and so London’s first day after the sighting is Thursday. However, in Sydney the time there is GMT +10, so when the moon first became visible it was 10:30 Thursday morning – several hours after fajr. So their next fajr is Friday’s, so the first day of the month for them is Friday.

    In other words, it will take 24 hours for the world to celebrate the new month. However, this 24 hours will usually cross over the International Date Line and so will be called “Thursday” in some parts of the world, and “Friday” in other parts.

    5. Taking the second opinion into account, it takes 36 hours for the moon, from when the it first becomes visible, to become visible in all parts of the world. So depending where in the world the moon first becomes visible, this 36 hour window can cross over the International Date Line either once (making it span over “2 days”) or twice (making it span over “3 days”).

  5. Ja'far September 13, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Ali, it is funny what you write in the opening to your post. I guess 2 words come to mind:

    Jealous much?

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