Why is Eid-ul-Fitr celebrated on two different days?

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Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar (the most sacred month in Islamic culture) is making its departure, and Muslims all over the globe are enthusiastically waiting to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the ‘Festival of Breaking Fast’.

Nonetheless, here we are, yet again, musing on why Muslims in Sri Lanka celebrate their festivals on two different days. To make it simple, in Sri Lanka, there are two ways Muslims decide on their sacred day of observance. They either follow the sighting of the local moon or follow Makkah and celebrate Eid on the same day as Saudi Arabia.

Why don’t Sri Lankan Muslims celebrate their festival on the same day by following the local sighting of the moon? Is it because this practice goes against the teachings of the religion? When it comes to the celebration, which party is right, and which party is not?

Before getting under way with that, let me explain the two types of Eid Muslims celebrate; Eid-ul-Fitr (festival of breaking the fast) and Eid-Al-Adha (feast of sacrifice). Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated during the first three days of Shawwal (the 10th month of the Islamic calendar) which ushers in with the sighting of the new moon, while Eid-Al-Adha is celebrated in the final month of the Islamic calendar/last day of Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.

Why is Eid-ul-Fitr celebrated?

The Holy Qur’an was revealed during the month of Ramadan and hence, Muslims fast from the time of sunrise to the time of sunset, and devote much of their time learning the Qur’an in hopes of strengthening their spiritual connection with their God. The sacrifice, and self-control to refrain from not just drinking and eating, but from the worldly pleasures, takes much devotion. Muslims engage in this in order to worship and as a prayer to commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an. 

This comes to a close with Eid-ul-Fitr, as a way to celebrate to commemorate the month’s success.

With that said, either of the festivals, according to Islamic religion and teachings, should be celebrated with the sighting of the new moon (locally or pursuant to Mecca).

The confusion rises when one set of Muslims celebrate Eid on one day and the rest celebrate it on the previous day.

Ceylon Today spoke to Umar Yousuf, a leading Islamic scholar, to ask his view on this.

The astronomy sciences, particularly moon sighting, are addressed in Islam. Muslims follow the lunar calendar, which is based solely on moon sightings. The moon is sighted at the beginning of every lunar month, including Ramadan, in which Muslims use to determine whether the month has 29 or 30 days. The commandant is that if you see the moon, you may fast, and when the new moon for the next month is sighted, it’s time for a feast. Furthermore, as Muslims use the lunar calendar, the Gregorian date of Eid-ul-Fitr changes yearly, with Eid being eleven days earlier each year.

So why is there a difference in days of celebration among Muslims in Sri Lanka?

A never ending debate

People who follow Makkah, believes it is the centre of Islamic world. They believe that they should follow the pattern of the moon sighted there and that it is more reliable.

‘Shafi’ and ‘Hanafi’ having impact on these beliefs is a misconception, while, this set of people who follow Makkah could perhaps be a part of any major Muslim sub sect in the global spectrum.

Having a different point of view is not unlawful or Islamically wrong. However, how the difference of opinion emerges in this scenario is perplexing as we think why Muslims in Sri Lanka cannot abide to the local sighting of the moon.

“Back in the time of the prophet, communication from one city to another took days, so people didn’t have a difference of view; they only had one option,” explains Umar when asked how the process works and how the difference in day of celebration sprang up among people in Sri Lanka and other countries, “people used to fast or celebrate Eid based on local moon sightings. For a long time, this was how it worked. When we gained access to knowledge and became a global village, the difference became a serious concern.”

To make matter more complicated, some scholars have started having their own definitions and interpretations according to their understanding, as to when to celebrate and which way to follow. These scholars have started calling for moon to be just cited at Makkah to make it easy for everyone around the world. “So this difference has persisted and now it’s a never ending debate,” Umar states.

In conclusion…

Just like how Muslims celebrate Eid on different days, people not just in Sri Lanka but globally as well are broken apart, because of differences of opinion on how a particular piece of law is interpreted. However, it should be mentioned that just because their day of celebration contradicts, it doesn’t make much of a difference between the two parties, their traditions of Eid, or their faith in religion.

It also cannot be a barrier to people’s unity as long as Muslims in a certain locality celebrates Eid on the same day, according to Umar. And, while this method of observance is not inherently wrong, Muslims who belong to a specific country are accountable for remaining unified and obeying the leadership on this matter, concludes Umar.

By Khalidha Naushad