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It’s Not My Fault

Mirza Yawar Baig

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On April 13, 1919, the 9th Gurkhas, 54th Sikhs & 59th Sind Rifles, on the orders of Col. Dyer, fired on an unarmed, peaceful crowd gathered to celebrate Besakhi at the Jalianwala Bagh in Amritsar. As a result, 1000 people died and perhaps three times that number were injured. Even though, the crowd was overwhelmingly Sikh, one of the platoons firing on them was the 54th Sikhs. The interesting thing is that Col. Dyer himself didn’t fire a single round. An even more interesting thing is that if one were to ask each of those soldiers why he fired, he would have given the same answer, “It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.”

The same thing happened to the Germans that led to the deaths of 6 million Jews and others on the orders of Hitler who personally perhaps never killed even a chicken. Stalin’s orders resulted in the deaths of 20 million Russians, not one of whom had the honor of meeting his Maker at the hands of Stalin. Today, as we watch in shameful silence, thousands of Rohingya Muslims are the victims of a genocide which is the latest in the long list of genocides with which the human race visits itself. Poor lemmings get the rap for being suicidal. Nobody is more suicidal than human beings. We are constantly engaged in attempting to send each other into the pages of history and so should be renamed from Human Beings, to Human-Were. That would also explain our inherent brutality and barbarism, which we have been taught to believe is an animal tendency and not worthy of humans. Mercifully no animals went to my school and so no loud protests were heard at this singularly blatant lie.

It is humans and only humans that kill for no reason, torture, rape and devise ever more innovative ways of causing harm to each other. I don’t think we should so easily give up this differentiator of our species to mere animals. No wonder that Hitler apart we have always glorified the perpetrators of genocide, like Alexander the Great (why The Great?) who slaughtered his way all the way from Macedonia to India. Julius Caesar who slaughtered a million Gauls fighting for their land, trying to keep it from being civilized by Rome and said, “Today was a good day.” Or Genghis Khan who did far more than these two genocidal maniacs put together, just for fun. Then we talk about the importance of peace.

To return to my theme, ask any of those who actually do the killing and you will get the same answer, ‘It’s not my fault. I was only following orders.’

You can observe the same attitude of ‘learned helplessness’, with those who fall into negative patterns in life, alcohol, smoking, narcotics or other addictions. They all have the same refrain, ‘It’s not my fault.’ But ask them who is suffering? Who is getting cancer and worse? Who is paying for it from his pocket as well as in more painful ways and you get reactions ranging from the sheepish look to anger directed at you, not recognizing that it is really directed at themselves. This is what leads to my hypothesis, which is that people don’t like to grow up.

We all follow the same life cycle. We are born, naked and helpless. If we were to be abandoned at that stage, we would certainly be dead in a few hours at the most. There is nothing we can do to help, defend or support ourselves. We are a piece of living meat. Nothing more. It is our external environment which protects us, sustains us, takes care of our every need and does so at its own cost. We learn to simply take it all as our birthright (sic!) without a word of thanks; firstly, because we are too little to say it and then later, because, well, it is my birthright, right? Our job as babies is to feel sad, glad, bad, mad and yell like hell if we don’t like it, content in the knowledge that someone will come to our aid. The fact that you are reading this is proof that they did. At this stage in life, that is the best strategy and frankly the only one as you are truly helpless. We also learn another lesson; that the external environment determines my happiness and so if I am not happy, it must have to do with the external environment. Also since the external environment is so critically important to my survival, I must obey, or I will perish. These are the lessons of childhood that we all learn.

I am reminded of the time when I went to an elephant training camp deep in the forest in the Indira Gandhi National Park in the Anamallais. There I saw an enormous bull elephant, tethered with a coconut fiber rope, to a stake driven into the ground. What I noticed about this animal, apart from his huge size and very dark color (I have never seen a bigger Asian elephant and he was almost completely black) was not only that it was tethered by this ridiculous rope which couldn’t possibly hold him, even if he simply decided to start walking away, but that the leg with which it was tethered didn’t move at all. It was as if it was paralyzed. The elephant, like all elephants, rocked back and forth as he stood, swaying to a tune only he could hear in his heart. In that process, he lifted his other feet. But the foot which was tethered stayed in the same place.

I knew the answer, but decided to check with the keeper, his Mahawat. I asked him if the elephant couldn’t rip out the stake or snap the rope and walk away if he wanted. The Mahawat laughed and said, ‘Of course Dorai. That silly rope can’t hold him.’

‘Why doesn’t he do it then?’ I asked.

‘Because he believes that he can’t. He believes that the rope is too strong for him to break.’

‘Why is that?’ I asked.

‘You see, when he was a young calf, we would tether him to the same stake with the same rope. At that time, he would fight with all his strength against the rope and squeal with rage when it wouldn’t snap and the stake wouldn’t yield. He was too small to break the rope then. Gradually over a few weeks, he learned a very valuable lesson. Valuable for us, otherwise we would never be able to train him. The lesson he learned was the rope is too strong to break and that we are stronger than he is. That lesson remains with him all life long, even when he is not a calf anymore. As I said, that is a very good thing for us. The day he realizes that his strength, which he uses to push down a full-grown tree to get at a succulent bunch of leaves on top can also be used against this rope and us, he will be free and we will have to run for our lives. But not to worry, he will never realize that. He will always be our slave.’

In the same way, it would have been no problem if our condition remained the same and we continued to remain one-year old all through life. But we don’t. We grow up physically, our environment changes, we change physically but the problem is that many, if not most of us, don’t change mentally and emotionally. So, we have forty-year-old bodies with four-year-old minds. That is why they say, ‘The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.’ This is where the problem begins, not at forty years of age, but because we don’t learn the lesson that with a change in environment, new skills must be learnt, if you want to survive and grow. But our conditioning of decades comes in the way because we have learned to like this dependence on the external environment, the fact that we can blame everything on it, feel free to do whatever we like without taking responsibility for it and go through life imagining that as long as we have someone to point a finger at, we are not accountable.

Emotional maturity is the process whereby we break the cycle of infancy and accept the fact that we are adults. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. This means that we accept responsibility for ourselves and our well-being as well as the responsibility for those whose lives we touch. We are aware of our strengths and of the fact that we are a fractal, the coming together of which, with others makes society whole.

To do this there is a critical step that one needs to take which is to understand his/her autonomy i.e. freedom to act according to our will. Simply put, that is not such a big deal. We are all happy to consider ourselves free to act according to our will. What some of us have trouble with, is to recognize that we are free to choose but every choice has a price tag. If we make a choice, we automatically pay the price. In the Vietnam war, American soldiers committed all kinds of horrific atrocities, napalmed entire villages and burned the inhabitants alive, dropped bombs like confetti at a party and did other things, too horrible to be written about here. All following orders. But the tragic fact is that it was not only the Vietnamese who suffered, but that after safely returning home, almost the same number of American Vietnam War Veterans died of PTSD, Agent Orange and other war stress related problems and suicide, as the number killed in Vietnam. The Vietcong didn’t kill them. They paid the price of obeying orders in Vietnam. A price which they didn’t consider when obeying those orders. But a price that was rung up at the till nevertheless. We must pay for what we buy. Always.

Autonomy is to understand this and to be very careful about what you buy, because sometimes the price is far higher than we can afford.

Truly it is said that all wars are the poor of one country killing the poor of another for the benefit of the rich of both. Only when soldiers understand this, will we have a world without war. The ‘excuse’ I am usually given when I say these things is, “Well if they shoot you and use their army to kill you, what choice do the poor people have?” I say that poor people, including you and me still have the choice of standing up and dying. Not lying down and dying. For dying, we will all do one day. The choice is how. It is not important whether you win or lose a battle. What is important is which side you fought on. The reality is that if enough of us choose to take positive, courageous stances this world will change. Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can. Even one person standing up for justice inspires a million others. Recall the iconic pictures of the one person standing before the tank in the long-forgotten Tiananmen Square. Yes, that still didn’t stop the massacre which the US, UN, U&Me have all chosen to forget. Yet that image lives on and inspires me at least. And I am sure many more. It is a tribute to people of courage that this was not the only such instance, photographed or not. So, to repeat myself, ‘Oppressors can’t function without supporters. Those fighting oppression, can.’

Autonomy is to understand that we, each one of us individually, is incredibly powerful. That all change begins with the individual person, man or woman. It is only when one person stands up, that others join. As in the case of Spartacus the Hollywood movie about the slave who fought the Roman Empire and eventually lost. When the slave army was defeated and surrounded, the Roman Commander announced, ‘If you give up Spartacus, your lives will be spared and you can go back to your former jobs (as slaves). If not, every one of you will be crucified.’ There was silence.

Then one man stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’

Then another stood up and said, ‘I am Spartacus.’

Then a third and a fourth until the entire slave army stood up together and proudly shouted, ‘I am Spartacus.’

That is because Spartacus had changed, from being a person, to being an ideal, a goal worth dying for, a legacy worth leaving behind.

That is the power of autonomy.

I know that what I described above is Hollywood’s rendering and a liberal dose of imagination, but nevertheless it makes the point of what I am saying here, that when people choose to exercise their autonomy, good things happen, change happens, human dignity is restored and the world is a better place to live in.

And the alternative?

Keep blaming the world for your failures, your laziness and your inertia. Keep watching as someone just like you, is dragged off a United Airlines flight and tell yourself, ‘It’s not my fault. I am helpless. It is not the fault of those dragging him off either. They are only following orders. Nothing will change even if I stand up and walk out. Nobody will stand up with me. I will only miss my flight. Etc. etc.’

And United is not the only one. Other airlines are not to be left behind in ensuring the best customer service. https://tgam.ca/2fDfnAz

Stand in a queue at a bank in India and watch as an old man standing in the same queue ahead of you, falls dead. As they take the body away, move one place ahead. Do it quietly as if nothing happened. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Just move forward. After all, what can you do if someone just drops dead? What can you do when you also need to get into the bank to get your money out because your government decided to play games with your life’s savings? What can you do when you finally do reach the teller, he tells you, ‘Sorry we have no cash. We have run out of notes.’ It is not his fault, is it? It is certainly not yours. So, whose fault, is it?’ Stop asking stupid questions. Go home and come earlier tomorrow. After all you can’t rely on someone to conveniently die every day to give you a place ahead, can you?

Sit on your sit-upon, in your nice seat in the UN General Assembly and listen to the soul stirring speech of the President of the United States (no less) declaring that he is prepared to evaporate North Korea and wipe it off the face of the map. Try to imagine what the world map will look like with a blank space where North Korea used to be. Try to imagine what the world map looks like today with North Korea where it is. North who? Try to imagine the effect of nuclear weapons today that make the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, look like party crackers. Remember that they were dropped also on the orders of another President of the United States of America – not ISIS. Try to imagine what will happen to Japan and China and Russia if North Korea is the target of a nuclear strike.

Ignore the voice which is whispering in your ear, “What do you think you should do now?”

“Who? Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“I have no orders from my government to do anything. Do you know who this is? This is the President of the United States of America. Even more importantly, it is Donald Trump, Esq. What will I do? Nothing. It is not my fault. I have to follow orders. I need my job. I am not here to change the world.”

“Then why are you in the United Nations General Assembly?”

Ignore it. Say nothing. Do nothing. Gradually it fades away. Gradually it dies. You will feel it in your heart. You will feel the dead weight. But not to worry. You will get used to it.

Just like those who sent children to gas chambers in Nazi Germany got used to it. Just like those who shoot a pregnant Palestinian mother in the belly and say, ‘Two in one’, got used to it. Just as those who are raping pregnant Rohingya women, then ripping open their bellies and throwing their unborn children into the fire, got used to it. Just like those police officers in India who shoot under-trial prisoners and call it an ‘Encounter Killing’ and are extolled in the Indian press and media as ‘Encounter Specialist’, got used to it.

That killing an innocent person is murder according to the IPC and CrPC which the same police officers are sworn to uphold, is a mere detail, best ignored. More important to ‘solve’ cases and save the State time and money which otherwise would be spent in tedious investigation, collecting evidence, producing it before the judge, arguing the case and waiting for the judgment; anxious all the while that it may go against you because your evidence was manufactured and not discovered. Meanwhile, the State pays for the prisoner’s housing and food (so what if that is in prison?). So much easier and cheaper to use one single bullet in the back of the head. And announce the next day to the ever-ready press, ‘Prisoner was killed in an encounter.’

After all, just like you, Mr/Ms. UN Delegate, all these people are also following orders. They also need their jobs. Strange, that they also have their own wives who they love very much. They also have children they dote on. Yet they don’t see the faces of those they love in those they oppress, rape and murder. To them, it is only their own flesh and blood who have names. Others are merely numbers, labels and objects of hate. If you don’t believe me, raise a chicken as a pet, give it a name that it responds to and then one day, try to slaughter it for dinner.

The very meaning of autonomy is to take a stand. To stand up and say, ‘No matter what orders, no matter that I need the job, no matter what anyone says, I will not be a part of injustice.’

It is to stand up and say, ‘There is a price to pay for standing up and a price to pay for keeping silent. I will stand up because I know that the price to pay for remaining silent is far higher.’

Remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller (14, January, 1892-6 March 1984)

“First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Living is about choosing. To take a stand is a choice. To do nothing is also a choice. And all choices have price tags.

That is why I ask myself, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?

Mirza Yawar Baig is the Founder & President of Yawar Baig & Associates. He is an international speaker, coach, trainer and facilitator, specializing in leadership in family businesses.

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Mass Shootings in America: All of the Above

Imam Zaid Shakir

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We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have perished in the latest instances of mass slaughter in our public square, this time in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. We further pray that all of those wounded recover from their injuries. This violence, which can increasingly be described as American as apple pie, is a tragic example of a society wrestling with a debilitating spiritual disease.

Just as tragic as the violence are the narrow, mutually exclusive frames that seem to trap our pundits, polemicists, and politicians when attempting to meaningfully analyze what is happening. Liberals declare the problem is rooted in racism, aided and abetted in part by the President’s rhetoric and actions, along with a lack of any meaningful gun control. Conservatives say it is an issue whose root cause is found in mental health, video games, and the erosion of the family. Each side dismisses the arguments of the other. If we are fair, we must admit that all of the above-mentioned factors, and perhaps others, contribute to the problem.

Anyone who dismisses the rhetoric and actions of President Trump as a factor contributing to the climate of racial and anti-immigrant animosity growing in this country cannot be taken seriously. Certainly, not all of the now 251 mass shootings that have occurred in the country this year were racially motivated. For those that were, it is clear from the screeds left by the perpetrators of these atrocities, their online activity, the groups and individuals they identify with, as well as the warped ideology they espouse that there is an overlap between their words and ideas and many of those expressed by the President. That overlap is owed to a conscious policy pursued by President Trump.

The President understands that there are large numbers of radical White nationalists who, like many on the extreme left, have become disenchanted with mainstream politics as well as the two mainstream parties. He knows that they can be encouraged to become supporters of the Republican Party if the Republican Party supports them. Encouraged by the likes of Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, Trump sends messages to this growing constituency to ensure that issues concerning them will be represented by his administration. Hence, rhetoric and policy prescriptions formerly confined to the dark dungeons of the internet have become mainstreamed under the current administration.

It is not the least ironic that the very day of the El Paso shooting, President Trump retweeted a message from the fear-mongering, hate-inspiring, British anti-Muslim bigot, Katie Hopkins. Among other things, Hopkins, has called for a “final solution” for Muslims in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of a Manchester pop concert in 2017. This past May, when an audience member at one of his rallies shouted, “shoot them” in response to Trump’s question as to how to stop migrants from entering the country, the President joked approvingly. His effort to end birth right citizenship and his staunch support of voter suppression, both designed to undermine the growing political strength of expanding minority populations, can only be described as racially motivated.

Such actions, coupled with the President’s words decrying immigrant populations as rapists, murderers, and invaders, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, his praise and support for white nationalists, both nationally and globally, his describing countries the US has historically helped to under-develop, such as Haiti, as s—t hole countries and a long list of other open and “dog-whistle” racist statements send a clear message to racists that bigoted hatred is not only fine, it has an ally in the White House.

Many failed to grasp Trump’s racism because they do not fully realize its nature. The brilliant African American novelist, Toni Morrison, who passed away earlier this week, captured the essence of racism when she said, “Racism is not a goal it is a path, a path to power and money, a manipulation and a tool…” Throughout his career and now as President this is exactly what Trump’s racism is and has been.

While it would certainly be a stretch to claim that Trump’s words are directly responsible for the actions of white supremacist terrorists, it is increasingly incredulous to claim that the President’s rhetoric is not a factor in massacres such as the recent one in El Paso. Words convey meanings and those meanings matter. Consider this recent excerpt from a letter penned by the leaders of the National Cathedral:

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous. These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

It is similarly incredulous to claim that significantly tighter gun control policies, such as strict background checks, bans on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, would do nothing to stem the growing frequency of deadly mass shootings in America. In response to a shooting that left 35 people dead in Tasmania in 1996, Australia overhauled its gun laws, significantly tightening them. Since then, there has only been one mass shooting in that country, in June of this year. That incident resulted in four fatalities.

Critics of more stringent gun laws will argue that states here in America with tight gun laws do not necessarily experience fewer gun-related fatalities than those with lax laws. I would counter that a uniform national plan would yield significantly different results. What does it mean for California to have tough gun laws when a potential killer can go to Nevada and purchase a weapon banned in California–as happened last month with the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter.

A seldom-discussed issue is the fact that there was an assault rifle ban in the United States for ten years, from 1994-2004. During that period, overall gun-related homicides were not significantly reduced; however, a recent study (DiMaggio, et al. 2019) concludes that mass shooting fatalities, 86% of which involve assault rifles, were down 70%. That percentage would likely have been much higher had it been accompanied by an effort to get rifles purchased before the ban off the street. It is time for more conservatives to listen to the voices of those on the left who advocate such policies.

So too would those on the left do well to listen to conservatives who are arguing that video games are a major factor in desensitizing young people to killing. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read Lt. David Grossman’s insightful book, On Killing. During World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers engaged in combat would fire their weapons at the enemy. Grossman shows how insights from behavioral psychology, derived primarily from the work of B. F. Skinner and I.P. Pavlov, were employed by the military to raise the firing rate to over 90% in Vietnam. Video game manufacturers employ those same techniques to create in our children the potential to likewise become desensitized killers.

Grossman writes these chilling words, words which should cause us to drop our polarizing political posturing and come together for the sake of our children:

Through operative conditioning B.F. Skinner held that he could turn any child into anything he wanted to. In Vietnam the U.S. armed forces demonstrated that Skinner was at least partially correct by successfully using operant conditioning to turn adolescents into the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. And America seems intent on using Skinner’s methodology to turn us into an extraordinarily violent society (Grossman, On Killing, p. 316).

We should note that the same psychological techniques employed by the military to turn passive civilians into mindless killers are employed by the makers of video games. While it is certainly true that not all video gamers become mass murderers many if not most of our recent mass shooters have been video game addicts. More research has to been done to establish if there is a direct causal link between video games and mass killings, however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is an issue not to be glibly dismissed when we examine the causes of the epidemic of mass killings sweeping this nation.

As for mental illness, studies show that the majority of mass shooters, for a wide variety of reasons, suffer from some form of mental illness, the most common being depression, suicidality, and various thought disorders. This is a sensitive issue; however, it is one that must be actively countenanced for this is the area where we find the most easily detectible “red flags” which alert us to the descent of a person into the dark states that give birth to the kinds of atrocities we have been witnessing all too often. Saying this is not to deny the fact that a person suffering from a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator.

Concerning the breakdown of the family, this factor is oftentimes neglected in the intensifying debate around mass shootings. The most worrying consequence of that breakdown is the eradication of the societal forces that civilize males. Those forces are eroding in the face of a withering assault on the traditional family. One of the justifications for that assault is that the traditional family is currently being blamed for fostering the qualities associated with “toxic masculinity.” Therefore, it has to be destroyed. In fact, masculine toxicity, as defined by those advocating its eradication, can be viewed as a direct result of the unrelenting assault on the traditional family.

That assault is being pushed by those whose stated goal is the destruction of society as we know it. Consider these words by the pioneering feminist activist, Betty Friedan:

The changes necessary to bring about equality were, and still are, very revolutionary indeed. They involve a sex-role revolution for men and women which will restructure all our institutions: child rearing, education, marriage, the family, medicine, work, politics, the economy, religion, psychological theory, human sexuality, morality and the very evolution of the race. (quoted from, New York Times Magazine, March 4, 1973)

In the almost forty years since Friedan issued this declaration of war on the traditional family and society, the forces she helped to lead have wreaked havoc in all of the areas she identified. Perhaps the most worrying reality concerning the war she declared is that those who have assumed leadership after her generation ceded command are exponentially more radical and reckless in their vision for society and gender relations.

The greatest casualty in this war, by design, has been the properly socialized male. By removing the male from his traditional role of a protector and maintainer of women, a role codified in the Qur’an (4:34), we open the door to the uncivilized, barbaric, “toxic” male, adding another factor to the many conditions which make mass shootings possible.

In the prescient words of George Gilder:

Such single males–and married ones whose socialization fails–constitute our major social problem. They are the murderers, the rapists, the burglars, the suicides, the assailants, the psychopaths…         (George Gilder, Sexual Suicide, p. 105)

Hence, we find that virtually all of our recent mass shooters have been males who were unable to affirm their sexuality in normal ways through normal relationships. Like all of the other factors mentioned above, as a society, we will have to address this factor also, no matter how unpopular or controversial.

In conclusion, let me repeat, all of the above factors contribute to the uniquely American problem of mass shootings. To effectively begin to work towards eliminating them, we will need to remove ourselves from the left/right false dichotomy that limits our creativity, civility, and intellectual honesty. That should be easy for members of the “Middle Community.” Our primary objective in how we approach the vexing issues of today should be finding credible solutions and not confirming dead end political orthodoxies. Those solutions do not belong exclusively to the political party advocating them. Let us put aside the stultifying partisan nonsense tearing us apart, claim what is rightfully ours, and put it to work for the betterment of our society.

“The word of truth, wisdom, is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds them he has more right to them.”

Prophet Muhammad

Imam Zaid Shakir

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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video

Dr Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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Kaaba

Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.

Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.

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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

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Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.

References:

[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (http://www.anwarcenter.com/fatwa/معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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