By Ameer Ali –
As usual the Muslim world is split in celebrating the Eid, one quarter feasted on Friday and the other is feasting on Saturday. This is a perennial problem that is creating unwanted disunity within the so called umma, only because of the inconsistency of the mullahs in accepting science.
Regarding the beginning and end of the fasting month there is the saying of the Prophet, “do not start fasting until you see the moon and do not end fasting until you see it. If the weather is cloudy then calculate when it should appear.” As for starting the fast each day the Quran has the following instruction: “And eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread” (Quran, 2: 187). These two instructions, are impeccably consistent in the context of the scientific knowledge available at that time. When there was no clock or calendar to determine time and date, it was the signs of nature such as the movement of moon, placement of stars and the sun that determined human activities like eating, sleeping, travelling and so on .
As science developed inconsistency set in. Today, there is hardly any Muslim who follows the instruction of the Quran, (a book in which there is no doubt) standing with a white and black thread each day of Ramadhan to see that they are indistinguishable to start his or her fasting. The mullah in this case has accepted the clock, a product of science. He has also accepted the clock in fixing the prayer times. In starting and ending the fasting month however, he is not willing to accept the astronomical calendar. Why is this inconsistency?
It is a strange irony in the history of Islam that Muslims, who were at the cutting edge of science and technology in the 9th and 10th centuries, and discovered the astrolabe, meaning “the one that catches the heavenly bodies”, which was the forerunner of the mariner’s compass is now rejecting astronomy in determining the fasting month. How does one explain this rejection and the consequent inconsistency?
From the ninth century a group philosophers, intellectuals and scientists known as the Mu’tazilites started secularising knowledge and started questioning what at that time was believed to be the truth. This secularisation led them to question the very foundation on which the Islamic religion was based, and allowed them to explore the secrets of nature to produce new knowledge. Received wisdom was challenged at every corner. Alarmed by this development orthodoxy started a counter revolution and from the 11th century the Mu’tazilite school was in retreat and it was eventually killed at the altar of taqlid or imitation. The doors of ijtihad or individual effort to produce knowledge was closed. Thus began the process of questioning and rejecting scientific proofs. To be a pious Muslim it was told that one should follow what the Prophet has taught as found in the hadiths, sayings and actions of the Prophet. Even in that mullahs were picking and choosing. For example, why pick only the Prophet’s dress and appearance and not his mode of transport, the camel? Hence, the inconsistency.
Scientific truths bring in certainty and that is essential to manage anything. Planning and policy making is difficult in an environment of uncertainly. A government should know when a certain event will take place so that it can plan its actions accordingly. Mullahs are a community who has never governed a country or polity. They do not realise how their inconsistency is disrupting a governing body. If we accept astronomical calculations, fasting and festivals can be fixed at the beginning of the year. If that is not accepted, then let us go back to the white and black thread to start the daily fast. Be consistent and unite the community or be inconsistent and create disunity. This is the choice facing Muslims today.