How Should Your Masjid Determine Its Moonsighting Policy? And the Imam’s Role?

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With ‘Eid on the horizon, we thought what good is this site if we can’t tackle the talk of every masjid iftar around the country – moonsighting policy. There’s essentially two facets to this issue:

  1. The legal verdict, Islamically speaking (i.e. the fiqh)
  2. A practical implementation of a moonsighting policy within your local masjid or Islamic center.

There were essentially 2 opinions on this issue for the last 1400 years – global sighting vs. local sighting. Within the past 5 years, one certain organization decided that the best way to unite people split into 2 camps was by introducing a third, and completely new [ie. never advocated by any Muslim scholar for over 1,400 years], one.

Here’s what’s important to keep in mind:

  1. Community unity trumps your personal fiqh opinion.
  2. The fiqh stance of a community is not like a person’s personal decision to eat zabihah meat or not, it is a decision that affects other people, families, communities, and in some instances even multiple communities.
There is a wealth of literature available covering this issue, and I’m going to take a second to put some comprehensive links (the reason why will become apparent shortly). I have only included resources pertaining to the calculations issue since this is the issue sparking debate in most communities.

One important point made in those links is that the sighting of the moon for Ramadan/Eid is an act of worship. This distinction is important because it puts the analysis of the issue back on the religious end instead of the secular end. If that doesn’t make sense, think of it this way: When it comes time to figure out how to sight the moon, it is closer to figuring out how to pay your zakat than it is to deciding to go with tile or marble flooring in your masjid.

Most of the time, the masjid imam has authority on religious affairs. The board is there for managing masjid operations and administrative issues. Recently, however, boards have grown dissatisfied with the opinions of their imams on moonsighting. This has led them to break tradition and take control of a religious issue away from the imam. Or in many cases, a masjid may not have an imam, so the board is forced to.

With that in mind, how should a board decide?

If you are on a masjid board, and making this decision, remember that your position is one of an amānah (a trust). You have to decide according to what is not only correct, but what is best for the community. Your personal feelings must be put aside.

That means that all the articles and videos on the above two links should be mandatory reading for a board member before deciding or voting a certain way on the masjid moonsighting policy. Not doing so means that you have not fulfilled your duty of ascertaining all the possible information before making a decision. You signed up to be in leadership, this is what comes with the territory.

Transparency is of the utmost importance. Even if people do not agree with your stance, you still need to keep them abreast of your decision making progress. I have more respect for a board that shows an effort at researching and arriving at a correct solution than one who just goes by their whims – even if that means their conclusion is different from mine. The worst thing I have seen is when people lie. They will, for example, decide to follow calculations but wait until one day before to announce the date to make it look like they weren’t. Don’t get involved in masjid work if you are going to be deceptive.

Ideally, I feel that this decision should fall onto the shoulders of the Imam. The imam will usually be sensible enough to make a decision that promotes community unity. If not, then present your concerns to him in a proper manner and go from there. I feel that we trust the imam with decisions far greater than this (such as counseling, and the weekly khutbah), so this should not be an issue. If it is, then make this question part of your interview process. But once it is determined that it is a religious issue, then respect those boundaries. A masjid board overriding an Imam on a religious issue though, is a dangerous precedent.

If you do not have an imam, then do your best to determine which opinion is correct and follow that. Of course, if the majority of your city is following one day, then it is usually best to preserve unity and just go with that. Making your congregation celebrate Ramadan and ‘Eid on a different day from their family and friends is not the best way to prove your correctness on a fiqh issue.

This is one of those issues where it is impossible to make everyone happy. Keep the overriding goals (unity) in mind, but at the same time know your role and don’t take the burden of a decision you will regret later.

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Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow him on Google+ or on Twitter @ibnabeeomar.

Omar UsmanHow Should Your Masjid Determine Its Moonsighting Policy? And the Imam’s Role?

2 Comments on “How Should Your Masjid Determine Its Moonsighting Policy? And the Imam’s Role?”

  1. Pingback: Decision-Making Framework: Why Most Masjids Get Their Moonsighting Policy Wrong - Muslim Strategic Initiative

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