festival spirit

Why do Muslims around the world not agree on which day Eid is?

Physically sighting the new moon and a bit of earthly politics means deciding when Ramzan ends is always a cliff-hanger.

Every Ramzan is a nail-biting finish for fasting Muslims. As the month draws to a close, the exact date for Eid-ul-Fitr festival, which ends Ramzan, depends on the sighting of the new moon.

For theological matters, Islam follows a lunar calendar. The lunar year, however, adds up to about 354 days. Thus Islamic months are out of step with the solar year and the date of Eid falls back by about 11 days every solar or Gregorian year. As a result, throughout history, while Muslim administrations have conducted religion using the Islamic calendar, other more prosaic matters such as tax collection were usually conducted using solar calendars.

Sticking to tradition

But there’s more confusion still. Traditionally, a lunar Islamic month (29/30 days) starts with the new moon. Here’s what that the months means in lunar terms:

The dashed line shows the position of the moon while the outermost circle shows the phases of the moon, as it would appear from Earth. The entire cycle repeats itself every 29.5 days. Credit: Wikimedia commons
The dashed line shows the position of the moon while the outermost circle shows the phases of the moon, as it would appear from Earth. The entire cycle repeats itself every 29.5 days. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Now, given the state of modern-day astronomy, the date of a new moon can be predicted with pin-point accuracy. However, most Muslims chose not to exercise this new-fangled option. Canonically, the Islamic month always began when the first crescent was spotted in the sky. When Islam started out in the sixth century, this was probably the only way the new moon could be approximated. However, the emphasis on the new moon in the Islamic calendar actually spurred Muslim scholars to study astronomy. One sect, the Ismailis (of which Bohras are a subsect) accepted the use of astronomy. However, most other Muslim sects rejected it in favour of visual sighting.

Confusion

Clambering on to rooftops to peer at the sky at the end of Ramzan might be exciting but it results in a fair bit of confusion given the sheer size and geographical spread of the global Muslim community. Saudi Arabia, for example, often celebrates Eid a day ahead of India. However, in India, Kerala often follows not Delhi but Saudi Arabia, synchronising its Eid with Mecca. In Indonesia, the Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim groups, often fail to agree on one date for Eid. In Lucknow, Eid dates are sometimes split according to Shia and Sunni with some clerics being able to spot the moon and others being bested by a cloudy sky.

India’s Muslim-majority neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh have national moon sighting committees. This makes for less confusion. However, in Pakistan even this centralised approach has regularly been embroiled in controversy. As it so happens, much of this opposition has run along political lines. In 1967, as Pakistan’s largely secular army dictator Ayub Khan, clashed with the Islamic right, matters took a lunar turn. The Jama’at-e-Islami, a far right party, and many other clerics refused to follow a scientifically determined one-nation-one-Eid formula. For his intransigence, Khan had the head of the Jama’at (as it so happenes, a Partition migrant from Aurangabad in current-day Maharashtra) jailed for almost two years. In today’s Pakistan, the province of Khyber-Pakhtunwa regularly disagrees with the Central government’s Eid date.

Pakistan's moon sighting comittee at work in 2005. Credit: AFP/Tariq Mahmood
Pakistan's moon sighting comittee at work in 2005. Credit: AFP/Tariq Mahmood

Minority dissidents

In this, a few bodies and clerics do support using astronomical calculations. One is the Fiqh Council of North America that contends that using using “scientifically authenticated astronomical calculations are a valid Islamic source of confirming or negating an Islamic month”. In India, Lucknow cleric Kalbe Sadiq also supports the use of astronomy to fix dates.

However, both Sadiq and the Fiqh Council of North America are in a minority and most of the word’s Muslims still prefer to stick with eyewitness accounts of the moon’s status before opting to celebrate Eid.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.