The end of Islam as we know it
The fasting month of Ramadan has come to an end and, along with other Muslims, I should be celebrating. But as every year, at least in Europe, the celebratory spirit is dampened by the confusion as to when it is time to stop fasting and when the day of Eid celebrations begins. Islam follows the lunar calendar in which months can be 29 or 30 days long. Traditionally, if the moon was not sighted physically with the naked eye, thirty days had to be completed. Thus, one could never be quite sure when important occasions, such as the start of end of fasting, would begin, until the evening before. Whilst adding to the excitement of key Islamic events throughout the year, this "unpredictability" is not very welcome in the modern industrial society where everything wants to be planned.
There is the added problem that the lunar cycle will not be the same for every place on earth, yet information travels instantly. It would be quite wrong, if relying on moon sightings, for Muslims on one side of the globe to start the month at the same time as those on the opposite side, but this is what often happens due to telephone and satellite TV communications. As a consequence, some countries have started to fix the calender rather than relying on moon sightings.
One such country is Saudi Arabia, the British-enthroned dynasty currently ruling over the two holy places of Makkah and Madinah. However, since the self-styled custodians of the holy places wish to be seen as strict adherents of traditional Islam, they are not honest about having fixed their dates in advance and pretend each year, that somebody has actually seen the moon. Since, when fixing the dates somebody must have confused the day the new moon is born with the day the nascent crescent can be seen, those Saudi moon sightings have consistently been too early and often at a time when it was physically as impossible to see the moon as it would be to watch the sun rise at midnight. This year, for example, the moon set well before sunrise on the day Saudi moon sighting reports after sunrise were announced.
Sadly, Muslims the world over have bought into the branding of Saudi Arabia as the custodians of the holy places and safeguards of traditional Islam, and thus follow them blindly. Many, of course, also go with where the money is, given that Saudi petrol dollars have paid for many a mosque around the world, strings attached, of course. A closer look at the political reality or a visit to US army bases in Saudi Arabia would quickly present a different picture: that of Saudi-America, the occupier of the holy places and instigator of distortion and corruption of the religion of Islam.
This corruption of traditional Islam goes a lot further than merely lying about the moon. It involves the banning of all Muslim cultural and poetic expressions as innovations, reducing Islam to a set of heartless rules Taliban-style, it includes fuelling the "clash of civilisations" between Islam and the West, and it features the subversion of Islam through so-called Islamic banking ventures in which forbidden interest and usury are renamed in order to make them palatable to an unsuspecting Muslim populace. In addition to halal banking, regulated by the Bank of England to which those banks guarantee to charge at least the base rate of interest, we now also have, regulated by the Financial Services Authority, halal mortgages at higher rates than from high street lenders and halal insurance products, with many such enterprises being run as side-lines by non-Muslim commercial banks or insurances paying a so-called Shariah Board to issue them with a certification of compliance with Islamic law.
Critical voices are few and have no forum, since all the major Muslim events and media are by now sponsored by one or the other bank or insurance company. Being a Muslim today simply means paying a little more for your mortgage, banking and insurance needs in order to placate your conscience, eating pre-stunned "halal" meat and poultry, buying Islamic designer wear and fashion goods and keeping out of politics lest you are accused of terrorist sympathis. And whilst new editions of the Qur'an with all references to Jihad removed would not be received with much accolade by Muslims for whom at least the Arabic text of the scripture is sacred, much of the same is achieved by new interpretations which reduce Jihad to a mere struggle against the evil inclinations of one's own sole.
Forget about the liberation of Palestine or the resistance in Iraq, the moderate modern Muslim keeps his faith private and obeys his government. Hence Hazel Blears, the secretary of state for Communities and Local Goverment, announced the British governments intention to set up a Muslim theology board in order to promote a "peaceful form of British Islam". Maybe, like the Sharia boards of the banks, they can turn the illegal occupation of Iraq and the British intervention in Afghanistan (and soon Pakistan) into a religious virtue for Muslims. And maybe they will have the authority to excommunicate unrepentant critics of this new form of Islam, like myself. So I better do celebrate the fact that for now I can still live Islam without first requiring a government certificate to practice, never mind what day the month will actually start.