Agreeing to disagree in Ramadan
Friday, June 24th, 2016
Agreeing to disagree is not as difficult as we sometimes might make it out to be. Having said that, let me inform you that you are not allowed to disagree with this article!
Now, this year, in the month of Ramadan, as in the last few years, we might become more hardline than we need to. Let us take a few quick common contentious issues and see if we can come to some form of agreement.
To start off, the word ‘Ramadan’ is mentioned only once in the entire Qur’an (2:185), even though references to it are made numerous times. This single mention should help us understand that it is not the name – which is solely for identification purposes – that is important but the thirty, or twenty-nine, days it contains within itself.
This one-off month among the twelve lunar months is rendered specific by Allah (Most High) for one particular reason: the Qur’an was revealed in it. At times, we might feel ourselves straying away from the primary objectives of this holiest of months, by drifting into contentious, and often fruitless, debates with those who might not agree with us or with whom we might not agree on certain issues that only seem holy and worthy enough to be discussed in the month of Ramadan. Let us take, for instance, the word ‘Ramadan’. Some would argue that it must be pronounced ‘Ramadaan’, ‘Ramzan’, or ‘Romjon’. Other more serious issues include the unending debate on local or global moonsighting and sahur timings get more confusing year after year. And then there’s the perpetual argument on Tarawih units (rak‘ahs) at this time of the lunar year. Some Muslims and even non-Muslims, have raised questions on these issues, and quite rightly so.
Moonsighting for the Beginning of Ramadan
Though we do not, on an individual basis, take moonsighting seriously for most of the other lunar months, Ramadan however makes it quite worthy; we cannot begin Tarawih prayers, fasting or celebrate Eid al-Fitr without it, and thus those who are generally not-so-concerned become ever-so-concerned. This issue even brings into the masjid those who had forgotten such a religious centre ever existed in our midst to give advice on this issue. Showing concern for the din and fellow Muslims is from among the essential tenets of faith, and then to have it addressed inside the masjid … well that is what a masjid is for. However, there are many who like to take the arguments from inside the masjid and on to the streets, and even into our own homes; father and son, and siblings at opposing ends of the argument. When it comes to the arguments of moonsighting for the beginning and ending of the month of Ramadan, there are many who might be unaware of the dynamics of the lunar cycle. It makes it even more difficult to come to a common conclusion when neither side is willing to compromise, and I am not saying that I would either. However, it would make things a lot easier for us laymen to leave such decisions to those entrusted with them so as to dispel any misunderstandings among ourselves. The masjid imam and committee have a role and responsibility to fulfil. Let us make it easier for them and for ourselves to accept their decision on moonsighting. They are there to decide; it is their job and role; they are responsible for the decisions they make for us.
We also have a problem when accepting the sahur timetables of others when fixed on our own Ramadan timetables to begin our ritual fast. The sahur (or sehri/predawn) timings tend to cause a lot of difficulty when both the red twilight and also the white twilight remain on the western horizon throughout the night until dawn. This is a real case of “midsummer madness”, to say the least. It confuses the already confused masses. Technically, there is no departure of the maghrib prayer timing, which means there is no beginning of ‘isha prayer timing, which means there is no real fajr timing, which altogether does away with sahur timing. What, then, is the solution? Well, many scholars throughout the length and breadth of the UK have provided us with one method of how we may calculate and fix the timings for what is technically not there, i.e. ‘isha prayer, sahur and fajr prayer. Wait-a-minute! There are two methods? Two methods. No, three! What? Another?! Stop! There are now as many methods in determining such timings as there are disagreeing masjids on the same street. It is obvious that these timings vary, and at times quite drastically, each proponent claiming to be correct, which does not help to remove the confusion in the minds of the common masses. I, for one, have had to explain such issues to some concerned brothers and sisters, who, like many, seemed to have themselves become experts in astronomy overnight. It is another matter that almost all of them failed to differentiate between astronomy and stargazing, or merely ‘gazing’.
Issues as such cannot be agreed upon by the stroke of a pen, or as a poet would put it ‘in the flick of a brow’. Let us take all these differences as correct, as the experts in Islamic jurisprudence would do, and attach ourselves to that which is the most appropriate for us to follow. Rest assured, those responsible for making the timings are in effect taking responsibility for us in the Hereafter.
Twenty or Eight?
When it comes to arguing whether we should offer twenty units (rak‘ahs) or eight units in Tarawih prayers, we can take ourselves back in history and still disagree to agree. Even though I personally go for the longer shot of twenty units, those preferring to end at the shorter post of eight units ought not be frowned upon nor treated as the hateful eight[ers]! The Tarawih prayer is neither fard (obligatory) nor wajib (incumbent); it is a sunnah. If one was to entirely skip the Tarawih prayers, we would not unfriend him as long as he is performing his fard and wajib prayers regularly. Thus, praying eight units as Tarawih prayer in addition – yes, addition – to the fard and wajib prayers, especially after an almost 21-hour fast (according to the earlier sahur timing of 1am and iftar at almost 10pm) is remarkable indeed. Allahu Akbar! What an achievement for someone who does likewise. Remember, we do not know what jobs some of these “eighters” do; working in a hot restaurant or takeaway all day; working on the roads in the hot sun all day where thirst is the biggest enemy; on building construction sites; teaching – constantly having to speak etc., and then they come home, all tired and worn out, a little rest, iftar, maghrib prayer, a little more rest, ‘isha prayer, and boom! Tarawih prayer! It hits you pretty hard. To be honest, in days like these, one would rather offer eight units in Tarawih prayer than none at all, and let Allah (Most High) be the Judge. These eight units will be deemed supererogatory (nafl) units and not the emphasised Sunnah (sunnah mu’akkadah) Tarawih prayer.
Moonsighting for Eid al-Fitr
The Jones’s next door do not see us fasting, whether it is on the same day or on a day earlier or later than our neighbours who choose to follow the moonsighting announcement of a distant land; fasting is the most secret form of worship; it cannot be seen, and thus the rewards for it from Allah (Most Allah) are immeasurable. However, the Jones’s do see us celebrating Eid – in our flashy cars with alloy replicas, all the bling and ting-a-ling, henna and high heels, bangles and biriyanis, Guccis, Armanis and hanging out with the Kianis – they see it all, and they see it even more when our neighbours choose, yet again, to follow the moonsighting announcement of a distant land. As always, we go over to the Jones’s and share some of our desi fry-ups with them, expecting the oft-repeated question from the annual Muslim quiz book: “Why are you celebrating Eid today when your neighbours did so yesterday?” That is when it hits us. And boy does it hurt! The local school has the same question, as do our children’s friends at school, as do our own colleagues at work, as does the postman, the local bobby, the regular stray dog, the pair of robins from the nest in the back yard! It seems they all have the same annual Muslim quiz book, and they all know the same unanswerable question: “Why two Eids?”
It is not as easy to answer as it is to compromise on. However, Islam, being a religion of ease and not difficulty, gives us much dispensation in a multitude of issues: travel, prayers, ablution (wudu), fasting, etc., It also gives us the dispensation of compromise on Eid, such that where one might be fasting and another might be celebrating Eid on the same day. Such dispensation is based on the compromise of where in the world the moon is seen, in which case we accept the decision of our local imam if he were to accept global moonsighting or local moonsighting, just as we would accept the decision of our local government.
Islam is very much a code of conduct to help us diversify our talents, skills, cultures, features, to a very small extent our beliefs and to a very large extent our laws (such as those between the schools of law). Indeed, the Prophetic Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) differed over many legal issues and rulings, and so did many scholars after them, yet they did not fall out with each other but rather respected one another’s academic positions and religious edicts. We, on the other hand, are not of any such status where we may consider a disagreement worth expressing to our local masjid committee or to our imam (which incidentally means ‘leader; one whose example is to be followed’) whom we have accepted to be our leaders and representatives in the affairs and welfare of the masjid and community.
There are many such differences within us that need highlighting, and that, when studied in true light, are not as serious nor as hostile as they sometimes appear to be. However, those in political authority are politically answerable, and those in religious authority have a responsibility towards the masses and also to Allah (Most High). We follow their instructions as we have been commanded to (4:59), and we accept their decisions to be correct, be they related to moonsighting, sahur timings, number of units in Tarawih prayers, etc., even if they change their decisions again and again – as long as they do not transgress the limits set by Allah (Most High). However, we do not consider genuine decisions, that are based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah, to be incorrect, though we might disagree with them in the favour of other decided options, as such efforts made to assist the Muslims in their daily affairs are efforts deserving reward.
Let us not forget the objectives of fasting, of reconnecting with the Qur’an, of loving the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and of the purpose of our life on earth.
We must agree to disagree, and this Ramadan:
- we must concentrate on the serious issues of meaningful fasting:
of the limbs,
ii. of the mind,
iii. of the soul
- we must remain wary of Allah’s commands and prohibitions all the time
- we must strive to reconnect with the Qur’an, for which we are celebrating this month with fasting
- we must perform our regular fard and wajib prayers, and all other acts of obedience, to the best of our ability, throughout this month and throughout our lives
- we must submit ourselves to our superiors – our imams – and let them decide for us, just as we have chosen them to be our leaders in such decisions
- we must strive to complete our faith and our actions, to enter into Islam completely
- we must avoid futile arguing and unnecessary debate that may be a loss of time for us
- we must consider the decisions of our superiors to be correct, as per sahur timings and lunar moonsighting, and NOT deem the decisions of other qualified leaders to be incorrect
- we must believe our superiors to be responsible for their decisions they make for our ease and out of the sincerity and goodness of intention for the sake of Allah (Most High)
- we must utilise our time in the obedience of Allah (Most High), in practising the Sunnah of His Beloved (Allah bless him and grant him peace)
- we must be good to those whom we know or do not know, who are our friends, strangers and even our enemies
- we must leave debates and discussions to those qualified to partake in such debates and discussions
- we must ask Allah (Most High) to forgive our shortcomings and help us become better people.
Allah (Most High) make it easy for us and accept it from us. Amin.
Tahir Mahmood Kiani