Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breaking long fasts too early

The Muslim world is in turmoil, and the minutiae of ritual observances may not be the most important thing on many people's minds. Yet, it is through gradually altering these ritual that a religion is changed and separated from its origins over time. Most noticeably this affects those rituals which are performed jointly, such as the Hajj or fasting in Ramadan. The annual squabble over when to start or end the fasting month has caused confusion and discord within the ranks of believers and made Muslims the ridicule of outsiders who are astonished how Muslims manage to see a new moon crescent at a time when it cannot possibly be there.

I have written about this so many times that I grow tired of driving home the point. Ramadan as a lunar month CANNOT start on the same day everywhere on the globe any more than sunset happens to be at the same time wherever you go. Neither the moon nor the sun will be bent to predetermined conceptions of when they should rise and set. They vary dependent on locality. The obsession of starting and ending the month with Makkah in Saudi-Arabia is as unhelpful as the suggestion that we should follow them in Tarawih prayers every night as it is being broadcast live. They will pray Tarawih when we in Europe haven't even broken fast yet, and likewise, their moon crescent might rise to start the month on a different day to ours. Instant modern communications do not change those facts, leaving aside the other fact, that Saudi Arabia has fixed the starting dates for the months in its Umm ul-Qura calendar well in advance and always manages someone to see the moon to confirm the expected dates, whether it is actually there or not. Thus they always almost are the first to welcome the new moon, and since they pay handsomely for people to tow the line, most mosques around the globe do not take a closer look whether the moon is actually out there or not. It's essentially politics and nothing to do with religion. As a consequence, we miss out on the blessings of Laylat al-Qadr, as we look for it on the wrong day, and we end up fasting on Eid or celebrate Eid when we should be fasting.

But there is another nuisance which has cropped up with easily available technology poorly understood: most of us will these days base our fasting on a mosque timetable which makes us break fast a few minutes too early. In days gone by, mosques in the UK obtained their prayer times from the Royal Observatory who may not have cared much about fasting but at least knew about how to calculate accurate sunrise and sunset times for any given location. Today, most mosques pull those times from the internet based on Google maps by going to an Islamic website where they enter longitude and latitude data but are not given the option to include information about elevation above mean sea level. To Google the earth is flat. This reduces the amount of data required to produce a result, and for location finder or navigation purposes it is entirely adequate. Not, however, for prayer times and fasting. If you were to sit at the foot of a mountain and watched the sun go down and then managed to quickly get to the top of the mountain without having to climb it first, you would see the sun still there waiting to set. Thus your sea level prayer times can be anything from five to ten minutes out if you happen to live at higher altitudes.

We don't need to go to the observatory to compensate for this difference. With IT technology, Muslims with the appropriate knowledge have created calculation formulas doing that job for us and devised computer programs which can accurately calculate the correct times based on correct longitude, latitude and elevation inputs, adjusted for the preferred calculation options of different madhhabs, e.g. whether Asr should start when the shadow of an object has reached its length or double its length or how the time between sunset and sunrise should be allocated in climatic zones where twilight persists through the night, like the northern regions of the UK. Our real problem is not technology but a lack of understanding it coupled with laziness. It's so much easier to just pull those times off the internet, and if they're wrong, well "it isn't my fault, they should have checked before publishing them".

There is a very easy task I would like everybody to do before Ramadan: check the actual sunrise and sunset times for your location in the local newspaper or some other source based on the official almanac and compare them to the sunrise and sunset/mahgrib times provided in your mosque's Ramadan timetable. If they differ by more than a minute or two, ask you mosque how they obtained their data.

We're fasting almost eighteen hours in the UK during the summer, so we shouldn't deprive ourselves of its full blessing by skipping the final few minutes before the sun has actually set.


At 25 June 2014 at 13:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Salaams Sahib
I am so sick of "these" fools
It seems no amount of good sense will make these people pay attention to what is important

Mosques giving into corruption, lies, threats, INSANITY & pure stupidity

It is the same with the subject of Halal meat. We say meat being brought by private cars by non-Muslims being sold as Halal and being charged more

Ahh we do not care what "these" harem boys say

we decide

At 25 June 2014 at 13:50, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir lets be honest - do these
rent-o-kill zionised imperialists care about Islam?

It is a lucrative business for some and power for others
as for the remaining?
each one decides for themselves

At 27 June 2014 at 20:45, Blogger Mustaqim said...

Alhamdulillah, I just learned that Saudi Arabia had the courage to deviate from their own set date and admit that the moon could not be sighted, making the start of Ramadan Sunday. Sadly, Turkey (and those who follow them) are still starting to fast on Saturday based on calculations only and so does North America, following a fatwah by Yusuf Qaradawi.


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