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Opinion: American Islam is pulling off this beautiful thing

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This is not to say that we have done everything right, or even achieved the right results for the right reasons, but we have preserved something essential from Islam’s past without which there can be no promising Islam or prosper in the years to come. To explain why, consider Eid al-Fitr, the great holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

It’s soon…ish. I say this only because my Eid and yours may not fall on the same day.

For specifically American reasons, many American Muslims might celebrate the same Eid on a different date. Even between friends and relatives: My immediate family lives in Ohio. But some of my extended family, like my dad, lives in Maryland. (Same time zone, mind.) Of course, I plan to call the Moghuls of Maryland and wish them an Eid Mubarak. I don’t know when their Eid will be.

To the average American, this may seem odd. Before you call your parents to wish them a Merry Christmas, you don’t have to confirm that you all celebrate Christmas on the same day. But consistently, many American Muslims have no idea, until and including the day before, exactly when they will celebrate their holiest holidays.

This is because we follow our religious calendar by the moon. But we disagree on How? ‘Or’ What follow the moon. Some Muslims (say Team A) argue that it is quite sufficient to astronomically calculate the lunar phases in advance, which means they will know how to arrange their sacred obligations years in advance.

Others (say team B) think that astronomical calculation is not enough. They argue that a qualified person must also see the first crescent moon (of course, it must be an astronomically viable sighting by someone who will not confuse the moon with Mars). This is live litigation. Sometimes a minefield. While I’m with Team B, our local mosque is Team A.

Meanwhile, my dad’s mosque is siding with Team B, though he himself thinks the calendar should be anchored in Makkah, no matter where you are (Team C?). For many Muslims, especially outside the United States, this debate is an anachronism at best. A centralized body, often run or supported by the government, decides such things for everyone.

Like a recent findings from Pew analysis, “Islam is the most widespread faith endorsed by the government”, which is held in places as diverse as Southeast Asia and West Africa. Even where there is no state religion, many Muslim-majority countries, from Turkey to Indonesia, have centralized clerical bodies or offer some degree of state protection to designated faiths. .

Of course, at least in calendar terms, there is an advantage to this level of coordination. After all, what’s the logic in not knowing when your most important religious events should begin? Unless you consider this minor obstacle as a symbol condensed, a small thing which replaces a much greater truth, a challenge which is rather an opportunity. As I do.

Because America (fortunately) doesn’t have a single Muslim leadership, nearby mosques, even of the same faiths, might celebrate Eid (or, for that matter, start Ramadan) on different days.

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It is as if some churches celebrated Christmas on December 24 and others in the same city exactly on December 25. Moreover, it is as if many did not know what day it would be before December 23rd. And then the next year it was 11 days (more or less a day) before one of those days. (Because the lunar year is shorter than the solar year, Ramadan reverses the seasons at a 33-year rhythm.) The next time Ramadan straddles the entire month of April, as it did this year, is around 2055.

I hope that even then, in 2055, we will still disagree.

Of course, when I was growing up, a lot of Muslims used to be quite irritated by such disunity (even though we seem to agree that when we start and stop fasting each day differs by geography). Often these frustrated Muslims didn’t like the idea that we couldn’t all agree. Sometimes they saw our divergence as damning evidence of a broader deficiency, with ominous consequences for Muslim cooperation on more pressing issues.

The more I think about it, however, the more I suspect it’s the other way around. Because we have too little experience to accept disagreement, we do not cooperate and collaborate effectively. Perhaps an additional reason why Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, modeled variations in his prayer, Quran recitation and a number of other areas was not just to create flexibility in those specific things.

But it may also have been to empower his followers to live Islam in his absence, as they should one day – a prophet, yes, but also a mortal man. The Lunar Debate reveals what Islam was meant to be and, I pray, what Islam could be again. Orbiting this simple and significant truth: Because Muhammad is the last prophet, there is no revelation after him.

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Maintaining this is one of the two conditions for becoming and remaining a Muslim. (The first is unitary monotheism.) After the death of the Prophet and forever, there will never be anyone who can decide conclusively on any question. This design feature, this essential consequence of Islamic belief, should encourage democrats and discourage despots.

Because that means there is no Islam without each of us having the rights and responsibilities that come with free will. We can and must create communities to translate our strengths and priorities into the world, but none of them should be imposed on others – and all should begin and end with the sacred status of the individual in the world. Islam.

After all, we are individually judged by God. And what God holds each individual responsible for, no one should deny.

Of course they can – practically speaking.

But then they will have to answer for it — theologically speaking. (This is called the afterlife.)

American Islam not only presents a provocative contrast to rigidly hierarchical interpretations of Islam, but also actually – dare I say – comes closer to the founding Islamic spirit. And we will desperately need this egalitarianism, this flexibility and this nuance if we are to thrive in a future that is accelerating towards us.

From climate change to cultural secularization, from rapid population growth to the turbulence introduced by disruptive new technologies, we face too many challenges and too many uncertainties not to invest in self-reliance. A dynamic and flexible ummah – a web of overlapping feelings – would be much more likely to prepare us for a rapidly changing future.

For two years of the pandemic, many Muslims have not been able to practice their religion as they would have liked. But many others cannot – not because of Covid, but because people in power decide what is islam and what is it not. Their Islam or non-Islam. It’s no wonder there’s a rising tide of atheism and cultural secularism so many muslim world.

People do not feel attached to something for which they are not responsible. Or makes it feel like they have the right to do so. What a difference for those of us who have to choose for ourselves – and choose again and again. If you focus on the mess that follows, you’ll miss the point. But if you focus on why there is clutter in the first place?

So, yeah, I’ll be calling the Maryland branch of the family this weekend. I’ll tell them Monday morning we’ll be going to the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati for Eid prayers, but the 10am service, not the 7am service, thank goodness. They will wish me Eid Mubarak. And maybe I’ll wish them Eid Mubarak. Because if Monday will be my Eid, it may not be theirs.

And we will do the exact same thing next year.

And that’s more than just OK. It is really nice.