BY: MOHAMED MATOPE
There was confusion on Saturday night over whether the new moon of Shawwal was sighted to mark the end of the Ramadan. This confusion will probably go down in Tanzania history as a tragedy of the Tanzania Muslim Council, (BAKWATA)’s, own making. The controversy first erupted on social media in response to Friday’s announcement by some BAKWATA’s officials declaring Eid al-Fitr to be observed on Monday. In short, the announcement was dumb and lacked logic because the holy month of Ramadan begins and ends by moon sighting.
The debate about Moon sightings has a long historical background in Tanzania. What was unique this year, however, was the inconsistency and lack of clarity on how to arrive at the decision of the Eid festival.
This whole drama started on Saturday evening at about 7pm, when the news of the sighting of the moon came from Saudi Arabia. BAKWATA argued that Saudi Arabia was too far for them to agree with its sighting of the moon. A Few hours later, Mufti of Uganda Sheikh Yahaya Kakungulu announced their sighting of the moon. The council stated that the moon has to be sighted in the coastal area if the sighting has to be appropriate and agreeable. Then news of the moon sighting came almost simultaneously from Mtwara and Mbeya. Even with these two announcements, the council still refused to announce the Eid festival.
There is no doubt that members of the council had good intentions. They all know that one-day they will be standing in front of Allah to answer questions about their decisions. They will be accountable for those decisions. All of them want to unite and not divide the Muslim community. But the division in opinion already exists, therefore, it is their responsibility to find an area of compromise.
Arguably, if you look at the Muslim community right now you will see two factions: One side believes in the local sighting, and the other follows the Saudi sighting. Nevertheless, they both agree it is a greater sin to fast on the Eid day than eating on the Ramadan day. If this were the case, then it would be wise to reach a consensus by determining a geographical area based on the radial distance of the country. This designated area will be used in sighting the moon and thus announcing when it is appropriate to celebrate the Eid for the entire country.
Of course, it is impossible for all Muslims all over the world to celebrate the Eid on the same day as some factions expect. Even Christmas, celebrated on December 25, does not fall on the same day everywhere. Tanzania for instance, celebrates Christmas exactly 12 hours ahead of Hawaii in United States.
However, when neighboring countries announce the sighting of the moon, we should acknowledge their contribution or possibly agree with them. Think about this dilemma, if you live in Kagera region which is about 300 km from Kampala, Uganda and over 1000 km to Dar-es- salaam, the BAKWATA head quarter which country should you observe the Eid with?