American Muslims are no different than Muslims around the world for centuries- stubborn and never in agreement as to when our holidays are to take place on the calendar.
The Muslim calendar is lunar. And we live in a Gregorian world.
I sometimes feel like Muslims try so hard to do it right, that we are getting it all wrong.
Having a lunar-based calendar means that everything is dependent on the moon sighting. Some Islamic scholars think that the moon must be sighted by the naked eye for it to count. Others think that modern technology and telescopes are perfectly acceptable. The weather can have an effect on whether the moon is sighted or not. Then there is geography. Local cultural traditions play a part too. So what do all of these variances mean?
It means Muslims around the world never celebrate our holidays at the same time. You might have Muslims in the United States, Egypt and the Arab world celebrating Eid on one day while Muslims in India, Indonesia and South Africa celebrating it a different day.
Some scholars want the world to get on board with the idea that if the moon is sighted anywhere on the planet- then it is considered as having been sighted and should be acceptable to everyone. But Muslims are much too stubborn for that.
To the relief of Trump supporters, there is no global Muslim authority figure or modern Caliph in the world. Some countries have a national Islamic body that makes moonsighting decisions and declares them for their country. Even then - you will always have your rogue local groups that will shun authority and do their own thing.
In North America, we have the Fiqh Council, an affiliate of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) who issues their statements as to when holidays should be celebrated. And that's great that an authoritative body steps forward trying to unite us. But it doesn't work. In America, communities still celebrate holidays when they decide to celebrate them - based on a number of logical and illogical arguments and counter-arguments.
As an American Muslim, I find all of this frustrating. The reality in America is that each mosque and each community pretty much wings it and does their own thing. And there is a problem with that.
If we want school calendars and work calendars to include Muslim holidays and even get the days off like we saw successfully happen in New York City - but we can't even agree amongst ourselves when our holidays even are - we look like a bunch of morons.
Sorry. Someone had to say it.
Within communities and even families, there is division. So instead of celebrating our holy days together, people are bickering. People are digging their heels into the ground. People are so worried about getting the date wrong- that we miss the forest for the trees. We end up not even celebrating together as a community or as a family.
We continue on- divided in our ideas and in our celebrations. This is the exact opposite of what the essence of Islam is about.
Islam is about unity. It is about our Ummah (global, Muslim community.) When worrying so much about the semantics of moon sighting causes rifts between brothers, something is not right.
We don't have the luxury in 2016 America of having the moon sighted late at night by the village uncles and having a town crier bang his pots and pans to alert the villagers so we could prepare the celebrations for the next day. We have responsibilities at school and at work in our busy society that runs on a solar calendar. We have to give school administrators a heads up. We have to give bosses a heads up. Some people may have the luxury to be able to drop everything. Not everyone has that luxury. I realize that these struggles are part and parcel to being a minority.
But we can do MUCH better, guys!
This year, Muslim leaders got together in Turkey to come to a consensus on this issue. Leaders from approximately 50 countries met in Istanbul in May 2016 for an International Hijri Calendar Unity Congress. (Yes!) They voted on have a single calendar, dual calendar or to leave the matter undecided. They voted for a single calendar. (Yes again!)
Mehmet Gormez, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate stated that he hoped this "will end a 60-year conflict in the Islamic World."
The congress published the following sentiment, "The basic rule to determine the start of the lunar month is the sighting of the crescent, whether this is done by the naked eye or through modern methods of astronomy. ... If the crescent is sighted in one place it will be accepted as having been seen everywhere."
A list of official proposals was published including the following:
"The congress offers Muslim minorities living in Europe, America and similar regions to work to unite their Eids, symbolic occasions as well as their views and feelings. It also offers the religious administrations of Muslim states to study this calendar and have faith in it as this calendar will achieve goodness and keep away evil and has no aim but to create unity of symbols and emotions."
(Yes, yes and more yes!)
"The congress advices the religious authorities of the Islamic countries and persons and institutions responsible for religious affairs to adopt the calendar and work to create unity to determine the start of the lunar months. "
"The congress invites the calendar makers in the Islamic world to adopt this calendar to unite Muslims around this calendar which is an indicator of the civilization and identity of the Muslims and unites their emotions and thoughts."
"The congress advices Muslims living in non-Muslim countries to apply the calendar and thus create unity among all Muslims. It is not religiously permissible for Muslims who live in the same country to quarrel about the days of Eid and when to start fasting. On the contrary they should adhere to the rulings of religious authorities like the European Research and Fatwa Council or the Office of the President of Diyanet in Turkey as our Prophet has declared: "The day you fast is the day when you all fast, the day you mark Eid is the day when you all celebrate together and the day you sacrifice (animals) is the day when you perform this ritual all together."
C'mon, American Muslims. Islam is about applying logic to our life situations. What would Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, do? Would he want unity with purpose? Or would he prefer division for the sake of extremist application of semantics and preservation of archaic traditions ... and preservation of our egos?