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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Elevating Eid-ul Adha

M. Bakri Musa

Elevating Eid-ul Adha

As I write this, it is Sunday evening here in California, according to the Gregorian scheme of things. To Muslims, it is already Monday, as the Muslim day begins with sunset. The Gregorian day does not end till midnight.

How we divide the 24-hour day is completely arbitrary. The day could just as well begin with sunrise or even midday.

Likewise, how a culture fathoms the year is also arbitrary. In temperate zones, with their well defined seasons, the Gregorian calendar based on the position of the sun relative to the earth is more useful. In the tropics, with the lack of seasons (except for wet and dry periods) and where the sun’s position is essentially constant, daily routines like the ebb and flow of tides are better correlated with the phases of the moon; hence the lunar calendar.

My point with this preamble is that we can look at the same reality from different and equally valid perspectives. It would be fruitful if we were to examine them with a view of understanding and learning, rather than from the assumption that one is necessarily better or superior. That is not to deny that given a set of circumstances, one perspective may be more useful and relevant. My emphasizing relativism does not imply that there are no absolutes.

Ethical Issues with Abraham’s Sacrifice

At this time, our fellow believers in Mecca are in the midst of performing their final rites of Hajj. The ninth day of Zul Hijjah is the Day of Arafat. The next day, Muslims all over will join in celebrating the pilgrims’ completion of their Hajj with the feast of sacrifice, the Eid-ul Adha.

On that occasion, Muslims will symbolically re-enact that ultimate sacrifice made in the name of piety by Prophet Abraham. The Prophet, in absolute submission to the Will and Command of Allah, sacrificed his beloved son Ismail, only to have God miraculously substituting at the very last moment a lamb for Abraham’s son.

The spirit of sacrifice, sharing, and altruism of Eid-ul Adha is apparent. The meat from the sacrifice will be distributed to the needy. The khatibs and imams in their sermons will once again remind believers of the central theme of our faith, complete submission to Allah, which is what Islam means.

Rarely addressed are the less obvious issues. How does Allah’s command to Abraham square with our concept of a Compassionate and Merciful Allah? How does the sacredness of a father’s love be reconciled with such divine demands? Equally intriguing is the extent of a son’s submission and obedience to his father. These and other issues also deserve attention.

The beauty of such discussions is that they could be tailored at all levels, from preschool classes to graduate seminars. The ethical dilemmas raised have also intrigued great philosophical minds of the past, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We may usefully tap their insights.

Reason and Faith

There are those who believe that in matters of faith we cannot and should not apply rational analyses. We are to suspend our rational capacity on entering a mosque. I disagree. I believe that Allah in His Wisdom gave us an intellect, an attribute unique only unto humans, for a reason. We value this divine gift by fully utilizing it.

A hadith has it that the angel Gabriel descended upon Adam and said to him, “God has commanded me to let you choose one of three gifts: intellect, religion or modesty.” Adam replied, “I choose intellect.” Whereupon modesty and religion added, “Then, we shall abide with you, O Adam, as God has commanded us to accompany intellect wherever it may be.”

The jurist Muhammad Jawad Mughniyah argues in his book, al Islam Wa al’Akl (Islam and Reason), that whatever the intellect rejects has no place in religion. More importantly, as long as religion remains inseparable from intellect, closing the door of ijtihad (rational discourse) will mean closing the door of religion, because ijtihad by definition means freeing the intellect from restraints and allowing it room to extract problems from their roots (ushul).

Muslim scholars of the 10th century, in their supreme confidence (if not arrogance), declared that all major issues of the faith have been resolved and that no new inquiry is warranted, the so-called “Closing of the Gate of Ijtihad.” All we need do is simply follow the dictates of these scholars.

To Mughniyah, those who fanatically assert the supremacy of any mazhab (Islamic school of thought) is worse than the ignorant because their fanaticism idolizes an individual (imam or founder of that mazhab) instead of Islam itself. Our intellect does not require us to exclusively follow any given mazhab.

Instead of increasing our understanding of Islam and bringing Muslims together, the various mazhabs divide us. They also prevent us from exploring and benefiting from the vast richness of our faith and tradition.

Mughniyah further asserted that opposing a mazhab – or even its imam – does that mean opposing Islam and its essential truth. We should follow Islam as dictated by our respective intellectual understanding and perception.

Unnecessary Controversies

Muslims are divided not just by sects and mazhabs but also over the simplest and minor details of our faith. Take the timing of Eid-ul Adha. There are those who believe that we should celebrate it at the same time as those of our fellow believers in Mecca. Taken literally, this would mean that in some areas Eid-ul Adha would be celebrated at midnight! Then there are those who believe that it should be celebrated on the 10th day of Zul Hijjah, based on the local moon sighting.

This controversy rages on. The American Muslim community is divided, with some celebrating Edi-ul Adha on Tuesday, others on Wednesday.

While “local” is readily definable for the remote villages of the Third World, it is problematic for America. The crescent that would not be visible at sunset in the Maritime province would become clearly visible at sunset in the west coast, several time zones away. Where does “local” end?

In this day of satellites, we still depend on visual sightings to declare an important event. No surprise then that the Muslim calendar as presently constituted has little utility in the modern world. Imagine making an appointment for the next month, not knowing exactly what day that would be!

It is as if we have to look for sunrise to begin our fajar prayers, and whether a dark thread is indistinguishable from white thread to determine the time for maghrib. We certainly would be following the dictates of some ancient texts and teachings, not to mention that it would be quaint and very traditional. Today however, we look at our watches.

A century ago, when you told a Bedouin, “It is 5 PM,” he would likely respond, “Is that before or after Asar?” Today, you would likely get the question, “What time is Asar?”

There are other practical consequences for these needless controversies. Neighboring communities may celebrate Eid on different days, and we have to book prayer halls for two successive days just in case the moon is not sighted as predicted. We needlessly double our expenses, resources that could have been used for better purposes like helping the poor.

These irrelevant and non-productive controversies do not increase our understanding of our great faith. These are problems not looking for a solution; they are problems because we make them so. Our faith should not be reduced to such trivialities.

We must use our collective intellect to elevate Islam to its rightful lofty level. In celebrating Eid-ul Adha, let us pay tribute to our fellow believers who have completed their pilgrimage. We pray that Allah accepts their Hajj. Let us also make our own sacrifices in the name of Allah for the betterment of our fellow beings and ourselves.


Blogger malik said...

Happy Eid

"Eid ul-Adha" means the major festival. It is also called the "Eid of Sacrifice" or the "Eid ul-Hajj". The "Eid ul-Adha" is a commemoration and a reminder to Muslims of several things; for example:

• The story of Prophet Ebrahim (AS) (Abraham) and Prophet Ismail (AS) (Ishmael) and their willingness to make great sacrifices for Allah.

• To be ready to make sacrifices for the religion of Islam.

• For those who have not gone for Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mekka), it is showing support for their fellow Muslims who are completing the Hajj on that day (i.e., 10th Dhu al Hejja).

Please read complete article on my Site

Thank you,

11:11 AM  

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