Out of all the symbols that Muslims could have chosen to symbolize the unity of Islam, it is indeed ironic that they chose the crescent, which for many signifies the greatest manifestation of division amongst Muslims, at least in Western lands!
Yes, it’s that time of the year again when brothers and sisters frantically begin calling family and friends, asking, “What did Shaykh so-and-so say?” and “Did they see the moon yet?” and, the single most effective question that seals the fate of one’s own fast, “What are YOU going to do?” In this post, I don’t want to go into a detailed tangent regarding which opinion is ‘correct’ or not, but rather lay out some of the issues surrounding the controversy, and offer some practical advice.
The precise conditions required to sight a credible hilal is just one of the many hundreds and thousands of issues of fiqh that our scholars have differed over, since the time of the Companions. And, in the multi-madhab milieu of North America, we are exposed to many such fiqh differences on a regular basis, to the extent that most of us have come to live with and accept the rich diversity of opinion present in our traditional legal schools of thought. However, what makes the issue of the moon-sighting stand out from the usual run-of-the mill fiqh issues is that it affects a joint and communal festival of the Ummah. Other issues, such as whether zakat should be given on jewelry, or whether the qunut be prayed in witr or Fajr, or the finer details of how one prays, do not affect the Ummah as a whole. Typically, these other differences can be left to one’s individual preference with little or no detrimental effect on fellow Muslims. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the date of the two Eids and the beginning of the month of Ramadan, as this difference will affect entire communities, and form fault lines between two neighboring masjids, or even within the worshippers of the same masjid.