by SHAIKH EDWIN SALIM SAIDOO
IT is my humble opinion that the politically constructed scholar councils in the Southern African region really enjoy the differences they see every Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha.
We tend to be reactionary only at the time close to Eid, usually a day or two before Eid, and once all is done and everyone has had their separate Eids, we forget about the issue and wait for it to re-appear the following year.
Year in and year out, this has been the tradition as long as I have been a Muslim.
I have written to a few of those I believed could have an influential voice within these scholar councils, both here in Botswana and around the SADC regions, imploring them to seek out a collective forum which could lead to a regional forum where this issue can be regionally discussed.
The aim is for such a forum to come out with a verdict as close as possible to the thawaab (spiritual merit) but, to this day, it appears to have fallen on deaf ears, for reasons best known to those with whom I have communicated.
It is an unfortunate reality that whenever a question is raised regarding the issue of moon sighting, the word ‘fitna’ is always thrown around, as if to say it’s an abomination to question the elite scholars on the issue.
Last year, 2019, I decided that I would no longer take part in the ‘Annual Eid Moon Debates’ on the different WhatsApp groups.
I did this firstly for my own sanity and peace of mind but mostly because I believe I have tried my best within my immediate community in the last five years to sensitise as many as I could, and to bring forth the proofs advanced by scholars regarding the mas’ala of moon sighting from the perspective of scholarly contexts, as opposed to the annual debate that has no academic basis.
In all honesty, the debate is exhausting. It is even more exhausting when it’s a situation like that of this year, 2020, where we had very clear news of a regional sighting that was ignored by the ‘scholarly elite’ of South Africa, which then trickled to Botswana and Zambia.
It appears that these three countries have signed some unknown pact that they will forever remain intertwined in thought, no matter the odds and no matter what other regional bodies say. Botswana and Zambia seem to have adopted the South African bodies as the big brothers who can never err.
If history is anything to go by, had the news of the sighting come from Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg, I doubt that Botswana would have held a different opinion.
What difference there is between South Africa and Mozambique in as far as the Islamic opinions of these two are concerned as well as the regional geographic placements of the two, only the elite scholars would know!
I must put it on record that it has become clear to me, as a mere student of knowledge, after reading through as many verdicts from different councils of scholars around the world, that the opinion close to the thawaab (spiritual merit) is that of regional sighting, as opposed to the opinion of one common global sighting, worldwide. But to even differ inter-regionally is another level of scholarship!
If I, a mere non-elite student of knowledge, could read through as many verdicts on the issue as possible to look at the views offered by these scholars, what is it that a collective of such ‘elite brains’ from the many councils of ulama in the region are failing to see within the abundant proofs?
This is why I say that this difference is an issue purposefully perpetuated by our ‘scholarly elite’ who have their own criterion of qualifying who is a scholar and who is not, and therefore would only allow within their midst and thoughts one in concert with their views.
It would appear that to this scholarly elite, especially in the context of Botswana, a scholar is one who is in congruence with a certain group of the society or, deeper yet, of a certain eye colour – a painful reality which the accused will most definitely be very quick to denounce and deny, and would in a very slick manner point a finger of ‘fitna’ to the questioner.
In my opinion, all that is needed in this issue is for this elitist group of scholars to get off their high horses, fear Allah (in the true sense of taqwa), and place the interest of their communities above all their interests.
If they did this, they would see the necessity of calling all those regarded to have a voice within their different communities, no matter their eye colour or school of thought, to sit down and sincerely deliberate on this issue in a scholarly manner.
They can then come out with a ‘once-and-for-all’ decision that is based on sincere Islamic academic debates that are in touch with the meteorological and astronomical realities, and publicise such a decision in an equally consultative manner, such that the views of the whole community are unified.
It is a fact that should be known by all who profess scholarship in the Islamic fields that the debate of the difference in moon births per different regions is a very old debate dating back to the times of the Sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them), and there are very elaborate scholarly publications and debates already in existence.
Different councils of ulama in mainland Muslim states have also long issued verdicts on this matter, verdicts which were reached after several years of thorough academic assignments from scholars all around the world.
As an example, The Majma Al-Fuqahaa, based in Saudi Arabia, which consists of the most qualified fuqahaa from different parts of the world, have long ago issued a collective verdict on the matter where they cited regional sighting as the opinion closest to the thawaab, in their view.
Likewise, the Darul Uloom Deoband, in India, and Jamia Darul Uloom Karachi, in Pakistan, issued the same verdicts, citing regional sighting as opposed to global sighting, and they all make it unequivocally clear in their verdicts that where a hilaal body in a certain country fails to cite the moon themselves, they should consult those countries near it, regionally, for a sighting.
These bodies and many others hold a similar view, which I consider to be the closest to the thawaab from proofs cited by all. So, it is really mindboggling that Mozambique is not regarded close to us and therefore their sighting of the moon not to be trusted, as per the verdicts issued by all these bodies.
If our so-called ulama councils in SADC were sincerely concerned about the unity of our communities, they could, without much effort, facilitate meetings/ forums to come out with a verdict that will settle this matter once and for all.
If our ulama councils were genuinely concerned about the disunity in our midst and stopped being political and elitist for just a minute, they would realise that it is their fault that communities continue to be plunged in disunity, yearly, and therefore take the responsibility to correct this.
May Allah open our hearts and make us see truth as truth and help us implement it in our lives, and falsehood as falsehood and help us steer as far away as possible from it.
Shaikh Edwin Salim Saidoo, based in Botswana, is a BA Islamic Law graduate from Islamic University of Madina and has an MPhil in Theology and Religious Studies from University of Botswana.
This article was first published in the July 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.
CAPTION: In this file photograph from 2015, members of the Crescent Observers Society scan the skies across Three Anchor Bay, in Cape Town, for the new moon. The writer poses the question: why would the ulama in Botswana accept news of the sighting of the moon from Cape Town but not Maputo, Mozambique? (File Photo SHAFIQ MORTON)