Ramadan is here! Or almost here! Or… What?
This is the time of year that Muslims often jokingly (or not) call “Moonfighting”. Some people get intensely involved in the debate over the moonsighting and have very strong opinions about the right way to do it. Some people get very upset about the fact that different communities or countries are starting and ending Ramadan at different times and wish that everyone could start and end on the same day.
Instead of starting Ramadan with stress and anger, I hope to provide a different perspective that will help make this time feel better for us, ease confusion, and actually strengthen our faith.
Let’s imagine for a moment that Ramadan was determined by the Gregorian (solar) calendar and it was always in December, like Christmas. We would always know exactly which day Ramadan was starting and ending. No more disagreements about the moon.
But what else would happen?
Here in North America it would always be in the winter and our days would always be very short and our nights very long. Fasting would be much easier than it is now and we would have long nights to eat and eat… and eat some more. We would never experience the long fasting days of the summer and we would never experience the short nights that force us to be more mindful about our eating. When Ramadan falls in the summer we have to be more careful about healthy eating, and learn to “eat to live” instead of “live to eat.”
The idea of fasting in the short, cool days of winter sounds great, but what would Ramadan be like if it was always during the cold and snowy time of year? Getting to the masjid in some places would always be difficult or impossible due to severe weather, ice, wind, and dangerously cold temperatures. We’d have to shovel snow and struggle to keep warm while fasting. It could get expensive to light and heat buildings during the long nights. This would have been especially true in the days before electricity existed. Think also about trying to get water or take care of your animals when everything is frozen, or have sufficient food for iftar when nothing is growing and food is scarce!
Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, in places like Australia, Ramadan would always be in the summer. They would never get a break from the long summer days of fasting or the rush to eat and pray in the short nights. It would always be hot. Water might be scarce. We know from our recent experience how difficult this is.
There’s more… Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Ramadan would always be during the harvest season. Year after year without a break the people of that country would have to face the burden of bringing in their harvest while fasting.
And in yet another part of the world, Ramadan would always be during a season known for difficult weather such as monsoons or hurricanes. Year after year without a break the people of that land would have to face disasters while fasting, and they would struggle to observe Ramadan and Eid in joyful and spiritually enriching ways because the time would often be cut short by crisis.
Our religion’s observances on the lunar calendar are a very powerful proof of Islam. Allah designed Islam for all times, all people, and all places on a spherical globe with a Northern Hemisphere and a Southern Hemisphere and an immense variety of communities with different climates, lifestyles, needs, and challenges.
The lunar calendar means that our spiritual year (“liturgical calendar” as its called in religious studies) moves backwards by about 11 days each year, and in the span of about 30 years we have experienced our religious observances and our sacred times in every season. Each individual can experience all of the seasonal variations as many as 2 or 3 times if Allah grants us a long life.
Don’t worry about when is the “right time” or the “right way” to start and end Ramadan. It’s okay if people start and end at different times. It’s not our job to determine the right opinion, it’s only our job to follow the local community that we will be praying and fasting with. In fiqh, the principle in this matter is that the leaders of the community take on this responsibility for the congregation and as long as we are following the community our Ramadan is valid and we are rewarded.
Islam is the Truth. Islam is the final revelation given to the world, and everyone in it until the end of time. This is what we should understand from the moonsighting and the lunar calendar. Every aspect of our religion, with its points of ease and points of challenge, are signs and opportunities for us.
So relax, enjoy this time, and reflect on its incredible blessings. Ramadan Mubarak!