This year, like most of the 1,400 years in the past, Ramadan will be celebrated on three different days. Ramadan Mubarak -- Happy Ramadan!
How does it work?
Everything begins with moon sighting, and once you see the pencil thin first moon on the horizon, a declaration is made to end the month long fasting followed by an announcement of Eid festivity the next morning.
Politics plays a crucial role in our temples, synagogues, churches, and mosques. A few scientifically-inclined-Muslims have adopted NASA's calculations believed to be precise. However, four different traditions operate concurrently in deciding the festival, aka Eid. i) Seeing the moon with bare eyes; ii) following others who have seen it with their bare eyes; iii) following the calendar cycle, and iv) NASA calculations.
The story is same with the Jewish and some of the Hindu festivities that follow the lunar calendar. Rosh Hashanah, like Ramadan, comes 11 or 12 days earlier each succeeding year. The lunar calendar has 354 and 1/3 days, whereas the solar has 365 days in a year with an adjustment for the leap year.
The Dawoodi Bohra Shia Muslim community is celebrating on Wednesday the 7th, a special occasion for them as it coincides with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Imamat of their spiritual leader, his highness Dr. Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the 52nd Dā'ī l-Muṭlaq ( Missionary) of the Dawoodi Bohra Muslims. He was born in 1915.
The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims are celebrating it on Thursday, where as the mainstream Shia Muslims will announce it based on the moon sighting. The Ahmadiyya Muslims are celebrating it on Friday per their calendar. The Warith Deen Muhammad tradition will be celebrating on Thursday as well.
The Islamic Society of North America and the Fiqh council have announced the Eid festivities to be held on Thursday, August 8th and a majority of Sunni Muslims will follow that date, however some will wait for the moon, if they don't see it on Wednesday, it will be Friday for them, and many nations are doing it on Saturday.
Pluralism is live among Muslims, a majority of them have learned to respect the otherness of others, and accept different practices within the range of Islam. In the spirit of Ramadan, I urge Muslims to hold the temptation to denigrate, diminish and devalue other practices.
Since the beginning of Islam, there have been debates as to what constitutes moon sighting. Some interpret that there has got to be a minion to declare that they have seen it themselves with their own eyes, and some do not accept it unless they have seen it themselves. It is also acceptable if the moon is sighted elsewhere, but now, each group has their own moon sighting plans.
The NASA-oriented and the Calendar-group misses out the fun, joy and exhilaration of waiting and watching the pencil thin moon on the horizon. The whole family gets out on the roof tops, or higher grounds, some even climb electric poles, and a few will drive out where they can see the sky without obstacles, kids would climb on parent's shoulders, and a few run from place to place shouting in excitement, did you see it? In Pakistan, they fly the Imams in a plane to see the moon.
Each tradition fulfills one's emotional needs and everyone become sentimental. It is like the belief in Santa Claus, angels and other myths. After all, if celebration does not have the excitement, it takes away something from the festivity.
America's spirit of freedom touches every soul, no matter what religion or tradition they follow. American Muslims are no different; they prefer to have a pre-set date to start fasting and the celebration called Eid. The idea is to take a day off from work or get an optional day off for their children from the schools. Always, the joy multiplies when the family and friends celebrate it together.
The conflicts are the same everywhere on the earth. Each group subscribes to one of the four systems mentioned above.
The consensus in smaller denominations may be attributable to having central spiritual leadership in all groups except the Sunni groups. However like the American Public wishes to see the Republicans and Democrats drop the party lines and focus on what is good for America, the Muslims also collectively wish they could celebrate the Eid on one single day. It ain't going to happen, it is human to differ.
The essence of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness and hate. Let's fill our hearts with goodwill and honor Ramadan by saying "Eid Mubarak" or Happy Eid to everyone who celebrates on a different day in the same town. The essence of Ramadan is joy and let's not prick any one's bubble; God has not signed a pact with any one behind others back, let's rejoice the differences of interpretations. If you want to celebrate every day, go to every celebration.
In the spirit of Ramadan, I pray that Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and make us embrace all factions of Muslims without undermining their tradition and further pray that we treat every human on the earth with dignity, respect and care.
That is indeed the wisdom expressed in Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: "O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of God, is the best in conduct. God Knows and is Aware of everything you do."
Mike Ghouse heads the think tank World Muslim Congress, and is committed to nurturing the pluralistic values embedded in Islam. He offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day.