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‘Id-ul-Fitr Khutba, November 2004
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‘Id-ul-Fitr Khutba (Sermon)

Delivered at London, 14 November 2004

1. Holy Quran’s verdict on some approaches to determining the new moon

2. Fasting teaches holding the Holy Quran as supreme guidance

3. Prayer must lead to practical nearness of man to Allah

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

2:185: The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the Criterion. So whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. Allah desires ease for you, and He desires not hardship for you, and (He desires) that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for having guided you and that you may give thanks.
2:186: And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.
2:189: They ask thee of the new moons. Say: They are times appointed for men, and (for) the pilgrimage. And it is not righteousness that you enter the houses by their backs, but he is righteous who keeps his duty. And go into the houses by their doors; and keep your duty to Allah, that you may be successful.

Entering houses by their doors, not by back

Immediately after the section in the Holy Quran dealing with fasting, this verse 2:189 occurs. Its opening seems appropriate because people ask about the new moon in connection with Ramadan, both at its beginning and its end. This verse says that the new moons are the means of indicating and fixing times. Then it says: “And it is not righteousness that you enter the houses by their backs ­…”. What has that to do with the new moon? It is said by commentators of the Quran that there was a custom among pre-Islamic Arabs that if one of them went out of his house for some important purpose and failed to achieve it, then when he returned back home he would not enter it through the door, but by going around the back. If these words are directed only against this superstitious custom, then they don’t have any meaning for us today, as no Muslim is involved in this practice today. The classical commentators of the Quran also say that the words “go into the houses by their doors” mean in a more general sense that you should adopt the proper method for doing something, and not a perverse, ridiculous and laughable method. Taking this as the meaning, we can certainly connect it to the subject of the new moon because the way that is being generally used for determining that the new moon has appeared is, indeed, like entering a house by ignoring its direct front door and jumping over its back wall, and moreover, believing that what you are doing constitutes righteousness. This verse instructs us to use the direct, obvious, straightforward method, not take a convoluted, tortuous route.

Let me explain briefly. A long time ago, the only way of determining that the moon was new, and thus that the new month had begun, was by someone sighting it with the human eye at sunset (which is when the new moon is about to set). But for many decades now, probably more than a century, published tables have been available showing the precise dates and times of the birth of the new moon, its setting times and position in the sky. There are even websites run by Muslim specialists in astronomy where these dates and times are published for the coming months and years.[1] Yet these specialists, and the Muslim organizations whom they advise, still wait to receive reports of the new moon being sighted by at least two Muslim eye-witnesses in order to announce the start of the new month. They claim that this is required by Islamic law; or in other words it is “righteousness” (to use the term in the above verse). They ask people to look out for the new moon and report whether they sight it or not. When the experts and their committees receive a report of a sighting, they compare it with the scientific figures about the position, shape and movement of the moon, and if the report conflicts with this data they reject the report as mistaken; they know it must be wrong.[2] They only accept a report of a sighting if the moon was seen in the position and the orientation which they already know from the scientific data it should have at the time of observation.

They now have the key to the door allowing them easy entry into the house. But they refuse to enter through that door, although they do open it and look inside! They prefer to enter by the old, inconvenient and uncertain way, claiming that it is righteousness to do it in this way, to go over a hurdle unnecessarily. They have the accurate information, they believe in its correctness, and yet they want it confirmed by a less reliable method of human observation. This is just as a few years ago we could only get news from someone in a distant country by letter, taking several days to arrive. Now we can speak to that person on the phone or communicate by e-mail. So when we receive news from him by these new means, do we demand that we still need to receive a letter from him sent through the postal service conveying the same news? If we study the injunctions of the Holy Quran, they lead us to the conclusion that all inventions and developments which make things easier for mankind are blessings from God which we must use and accept, not reject and turn away from.

The result is that there is complete confusion just before Ramadan and just before Eid as to when it will be. It is not decided till the evening before. It causes inconvenience to people and brings Islam into ridicule. There is disagreement about the day among different groups, they hold it on different days, each group believing that it is following the way prescribed by the religion, and it is adhering to righteousness. But the Quran tells us in this verse that it is not righteousness to do something in an inverted, upside down way, departing from a straight and proper way.

It also tells us here what is righteousness: “he is righteous who keeps his duty”. The purpose of fasting, given in the very first verse about fasting, is to enable us to learn to keep our duty to God and our duty to fellow human beings. Those who learn this lesson from fasting are the righteous. It is not a condition of righteousness that you started and ended Ramadan on exactly the right date. As you may know, our Jamaat here in the U.K. uses a simple system based on the published data about the moon to fix these dates many years in advance. We don’t claim that this makes our fasting any more effective, any more accepted by God, than those who, in the traditional manner, don’t fix the date in advance. But we do say that we have made things more convenient for people, for making their arrangements, and we have shown how in Islam we can take advantage of scientific knowledge in organizing our religious activities. We are able to have this outlook because of the spiritual and intellectual heritage we have received from the great stalwarts of this Ahmadiyya Movement. They have shown how commonsense, reason and logic can be applied in the sphere of religion, while still treating religious teachings as supreme.

Brief note on what happened at this Eid[3]

It was announced on the Muslim moon sighting websites more than a month before this Eid that while the birth of the new moon is on Friday, 12th November at 14.27 GMT, the lunar crescent will not be visible on Friday evening at sunset anywhere in the world. It is declared on the website in bold text, using the underlining and capital letters as shown below:

It is IMPOSSIBLE for the Hilal to be visible anywhere in the world on the evening of Fri 12 Nov 2004 CE.  Hence, it is IMPOSSIBLE for EID-ul-FITR to be on Sat 13 Nov 2004 CE anywhere in the world.”

The statement on is as follows:

“On November 12, the moon could not be seen anywhere on earth, with a possible exception of limited Polynesian Islands where telescope will be required to see.”

However, on Friday evening in the U.K. the website of the Central London Mosque issued the following announcement:

Moon sighting signals end of Ramadhan

The Central London Mosque follows Saudi Arabia, where Eid was held on Saturday. The following news item appeared in the Pakistani newspaper The News International  and its Urdu sister paper The Jang on Saturday 13th November on their website:

Eid in S Arabia, Gulf states today
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia and some Gulf Arab states will celebrate the Eid-ul-Fitr on Saturday, state media said on Friday.

Naturally, one wonders how the “impossible to sight” lunar crescent became visible in these countries. There exist only the following three possibilities:

  1. The lunar crescent was actually sighted and therefore the calculations are wrong. If this is the case, then why aren’t the Muslim astronomy experts challenging the results of their scientific discipline and declaring that these have been proved to be in error by human observation?
  2. The sighting was an error by the observer; something else was mistaken for the lunar crescent. In this case, it just shows the unreliability of the method of sighting by eye, and is a strong argument for using the method of calculation.
  3. It was not an honest error but a deliberately false claim that the moon had been sighted. If this was the case, then it is highly deplorable that there are Muslims who, in collusion with their governments, are prepared to swear false oaths in a religious matter.

I leave this question for Muslim leaders in the fields of religion, science and national and community politics to answer, as to which of these three possibilities is true.[4]

Fasting teaches that the Quran should be the supreme source of guidance

I now refer to the beginning of the first verse that I quoted, which says: “The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the Criterion”. Ramadan was selected in Islam as the fasting month because it was the month in which the revelation of the Quran began upon the Holy Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu alai-hi wa sallam. The Holy Prophet, before being appointed to his mission, felt deep concern at the morally fallen state of humanity and used to pray to God to seek answers to the fundamental questions about life and solutions to the problems besetting the world. He also undertook very hard fasting in solitude for this purpose. God then granted him guidance in the form of revelation, later collected in book form as the Quran. Both Moses and Jesus had also undertaken hard fasting in solitude immediately prior to receiving their mission from God. Our fasting, much less severe than theirs, is also for a similar purpose on a more limited scale — that of becoming purified so as to be able to receive the understanding of the Word of God in our hearts. Then, while increasing our own understanding of the Word of God, and strengthening our connection with it, it is also our duty to teach its guidance to the world. As it is stated here, the Quran is a guidance to all human beings. The purpose of fasting is not achieved unless it leads us to make the Quran into a guidance for ourselves and then for the whole world.

It is in this respect that the Ahmadiyya Movement has rendered a unique service. When the Ahmadiyya Movement appeared, there was no concept among Muslims in general of:

  • Learning anything from the Quran and acquiring knowledge from it,
  • Applying the Quran to current problems and issues,
  • Translating the Quran,
  • Holding the Quran as the uppermost guide in life.

People did learn to recite the Arabic text of the Quran, and their religious scholars did know its language. But their understanding of its teachings was confined to the commentaries of the Quran written several centuries ago. They made little or no effort to understand or learn anything directly from the Quran and apply it to the situation of the current times. The commentaries of centuries ago, that they studied, related to the conditions of those times, and many things in them seemed rather strange, absurd and inapplicable now.

As to translating the Quran, a large number of Muslim ulama considered it disallowed by Islam to translate the Quran at all into any other language. Our Jamaat’s English translation by Maulana Muhammad Ali appeared first in 1917. Twelve years later, when a famous British Muslim, Marmaduke Pickthall, also did an English translation, he took it to Egypt before publication to check it under the guidance of the Ulama there. But he found to his surprise that many of them declared it as unlawful in Islam to translate the Quran. Instead, they advised him to translate one of the traditional commentaries. Pickthall has himself written an account of how he had to refute their objections, try to overcome their opposition and prove the urgent necessity of a translation.[5]

The Ahmadiyya Movement taught a hundred years ago that it was absolutely essential for scholars to translate the Quran into other languages and to write commentaries and explanations based on the Quran itself, instead of the classical commentaries, and apply the Quranic teachings to the questions and issues of the present age. The ordinary people too must study the Quran directly, with the help of these translations and explanations. But they must do this with an enquiring mind, and not blindly or regarding the explanations of the interpreters as being infallible like the word of God. It is their duty to apply their sense and reason to satisfy themselves that the meanings given by the scholars are confirmed by the Quran itself, and even to try to improve their interpretations further.

These days you see in the Muslim press and electronic media all over the world the meanings of the Quran being taught, dars and talks on the Quran and explanations of its passages being given, etc. Teaching the Quran in this way is a practice which was almost unknown among Muslims until long after the Ahmadiyya Movement instituted the teaching of the meanings of the Quran through books, lectures, khutbas, talks etc.

The last point I mentioned above is: Holding the Quran as the uppermost guide. Unfortunately, Muslim scholars and interpreters had been giving greater authority to books such as collections of Sayings of the Holy Prophet, works of what is called Islamic law, and even some books of unreliable history, than to the Holy Quran in determining both the spiritual teachings of Islam and its ordinances for this world’s life. This led to the growth of certain concepts and views among Muslims which are opposed to the Holy Quran’s directives and the actual practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Many of these wrong conceptions, regarded as Islamic, in fact cause damage to the dignity of Islam and create obstacles for its progress in the world. In this category are the wrong views on jihad, freedom of religion, rights of women, and the story of Jesus’s life. The Ahmadiyya Movement cleared up these misconceptions by placing the Quran in the position of the highest authority and treating all other sources as secondary to it. If you read Maulana Muhammad Ali’s commentaries on the Quran or his book The Religion of Islam you will see exactly how these wrong interpretations  have been corrected by treating the Quran as the highest source of guidance.

So the Ahmadiyya Movement has fulfilled this key purpose of fasting — that we learn to hold the Holy Quran as the supreme guidance for our lives and we strive to make this book reach all of humanity. If we are asked why certain of the Ahmadiyya views are different from the generally-held beliefs prevailing among Muslims, the reason is only that the Ahmadiyya Movement gives the highest place of all to the Holy Quran when deciding what our beliefs should be.

Prayer and attaining closeness to God

The second verse I read out is the one in which Allah says:

“And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way”.

This shows that fasting should lead a person to realize that God is near him and, being near, answers his or her prayers. Therefore prayer is of the utmost importance in the month of fasting. No doubt all Muslims believe in the extra importance of prayer during the month of Ramadan. But two points should be noted here. Firstly, prayers had come to be regarded as a ritual to be performed by repeating set words and literally going through the motions. The involvement of the heart and mind was considered unnecessary. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement stressed that prayer is only meaningful if it comes from the depths of one’s heart and is not merely a ritual. Secondly, the Ahmadiyya Movement has stressed the importance of tahajjud prayers during Ramadan. Generally Muslims hold taraweeh prayers after isha prayers. But the Ahmadiyya Movement urged that, if possible, one should instead pray the solitary tahajjud prayers in the early hours. That is the prayer recommended by the Quran and spoken of very highly in it. It provides a unique opportunity for seeking closeness to God. Unless our fasting makes us realize practically that God is near, He listens to and answers our prayers, and that therefore we too should answer His call, it doesn’t become the true fasting as required by Islam.

Righteous and true Muslims in all ages have demonstrated proof to the world, through their lives, that God was near them and that He answered their prayers. In recent times, it is the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement and then those who accepted him in his lifetime who showed to a very sceptical world that God is near and He hears and answers prayers. Their pure moral conduct and character was testimony that they felt that they were in God’s presence all the time. Their prayers were so effective that the seemingly impossible became possible through them. The power and efficacy of their prayers was widely recognised by other Muslims. It is impossible that we would be gathered here today, in this centre, doing the work of the propagation of Islam, if it were not for their prayers.

We must carry forward the mission they started, even though we cannot by any means reach their calibre of scholarship, level of devotion, readiness to make sacrifices, and high standard of righteousness. The Holy Quran teaches that those who inherit faith from their spiritual forefathers can nonetheless preserve, safeguard and develop their heritage, even though they may not be anything like equal to them: “And those who believe and whose offspring follow them in faith — We unite with them their offspring and We shall deprive them of naught of their work” (52:21). There are people who inherit great monetary wealth from their forefathers, but themselves do not have the capability or knack of creating wealth from nothing as their forefathers did. They can either fail to value their inheritance, and let it deteriorate and go to waste, or they can make efforts to preserve it, maintain it and make it develop and grow by investment. The same applies to us in having received this inheritance of gold mines of faith and knowledge from the founding stalwarts of this Movement. Every generation can always progress, even if it lives in the shadow of the greatness of a previous one.


[2] For an example of such a rejection at this Eid see, whose learned specialist Dr. Mohib Durrani rejected a reported sighting by a Muslim husband and wife in Illinois, U.S.A. on Friday 12 November on the following two grounds. The report stated that the ends of the observed crescent were pointing downwards towards the sun, which is the opposite of the way they should be. Also the moonset time that evening in that place was before the sunset time, so it was “impossible” (as Dr Durrani calls it) to have seen it.

[3] I have added this section after Eid while finalising the published version of the oral khutba.

[4] I should explain why the U.K. Jamaat predetermined the Eid date as Sunday 14th while the birth of the new moon was on Friday 12th at 14.27 (London time). In the unfortunate absence of a predetermination system agreed by Muslims generally, we have to resort to a system of my own devising. Our method requires that at the first sunset following the birth of the moon, the moonset time should be after sunset time or, if not, then the moon should be at least 18 hours old. This condition was not going to be met on Friday in London as moonset time was 15.57 and sunset time 16.14. On this basis we had announced our Eid date about a year in advance.

[5] This account is given in Pickthall’s biography entitled Loyal Enemy by Anne Fremantle, published in London, 1938, from pages 408 to 420.