Close to Nature through Hilal

Once, when people tried to see the crescent at the beginning of Ramadan, no one had managed to see it other than Anas bin Malik. At that time he was almost one hundred years old. Anas was a leading hadith expert. Since the age of ten years, his mother had submitted to worship the Prophet after he migrated to Medina.

Then Anas raised his testimony before judge Iyas bin Muawiyah.

“Show us exactly where the crescent moon is,” Iyas asked Anas.

Anas invited the judges and many people to show the position of the moon he had witnessed, 

“There it is!” 

But they saw nothing. Judge Iyas then looked at Anas. Apparently there was a strand of gray hair falling on Anas’s eyebrows so that it obstructed his view. Judge Iyas uncovered the gray hair and tidied it up.

“Try, show it again, where is the moon now,” Judge Iyas asked later.

Anas tried to find the position of the moon.

“Yes, I cannot find it,” he answered. (Syarh al-‘Uyûn fi Syarh Risâlati Ibn Zaidun, Ibnu Nubabah)

Perhaps we are not as old as the great Anas, he has been a respected narrator of hadith. But a piece of gray hair could make him a fanatical person. We also tend to be in such position, we focus to much on small things that could easily block from distinguishing facts and hoaxes. 

Back to the discussion, what is interesting here is how to determine the beginning and end of Ramadan. There are two methods usually used, called wujudul hilal and imkanur ru’yah. What’s the difference? The wujudul hilal method assumes that if the hilal (beginning of the moon) already exists, even though it is not visible / can be seen by naked eyes, then fasting can be started in the next day. In other words, if the position of the new moon at sunset is already above the horizon, no matter how high, as long as it is bigger than 0 degrees, then it is considered to enter the new month. While for imkanur ru’yah method, the presence of the new moon is not considered until the hilal can be seen with the naked eye.

The second method is used by the government, because it adheres more to the following hadith.

إِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُ فَصُومُوا, وَإِذَا رَأَيْتُمُوهُ فَأَفْطِرُوا

From Ibn ‘Umar r.a., he said,”I have heard the Messenger of Allah. said, “If you see the new moon then fast. If you see it again, then celebrate (idul fitri). “(HR Bukhari no. 1906 and Muslim no. 1080). This proposition shows that the new moon must be visible and not just to signify that it begins to fast or end it when it enters Shawwal.

Regardless of the differences in the method -we must respect each other’s choices- it implied by the message behind the rukyatul hilal: Islamic sacred rites, especially the five daily prayers and fasting of Ramadan, are closely related to the natural cycle, and not mechanical time. Prayer times are determined by dawning of dawn, sunrise, peak of the sun, mid before sunset, sunset, and the end of the day.

Although the calendar —based on the method of hilal— tells us when the moon of Ramadan begins and ends, that date still needs to be determined by seeing the new moon rise, so that direct experience precedes scientific calculations. The sophistication of digital technology can not only determine the minutes, but the seconds when the new moon will appear in one particular location. However, more important is the direct appearance of the crescent moon on the horizon.

By sticking to the principle of “seeing” (rukyah), Muslims everywhere show their understanding that “verses” of God must be found in natural experience, not in mere thought processes.

It is undeniable that contemporary life, urban and modern, is increasingly breaking our closeness and sensitivity to the natural cycle. From Sirah Nabawiyah we know that in Mecca there was a habit of entrusting babies to nursing mothers from Bedouins who lived in the desert. Prophet Muhammad was taken care of by Halimah and lived with Bani Sa‘d. At first I thought this was just an ordinary tradition. However, from Prof. Tariq Ramadan (2008) I got a new insight: living in a desert area is like going to natural school. The Prophet was close to nature from an early age. In the days of formation, young Muhammad used to observe, understand, appreciate, and befriend with nature.

In the first years of his life, the Prophet built a special relationship with nature which continued to be intertwined throughout his prophetic career. The universe is filled with signs that remind the presence of the Creator. And more than anything else, the desert opens the human eye to observe, reflect, and perceive meaning. Therefore, many verses of the Qur’an mention the matter of creation and various lessons from it. The desert, which seems to have no life, repeatedly shows and proves to an open heart the existence of a miracle of life after death:

And part of the signs of His authority is that you see the earth dry out barren, so when We bring down water on it, it is certainly moving and fertile. Surely the Lord who revives it can certainly bring to life the dead. Surely He is omnipotent over all things (Q. 41: 39).

Years later, when the Prophet lived in Medina and was facing conflict and war, revelation fell in the darkness of the night: Surely in the creation of heaven and earth and alternating nights and days there are signs for intelligent people (Qur’an 3: 190) .

The Prophet cried all night. When going to dawn azan, Bilal asked what made him cry. The Prophet explained and added, “How wretched is the person who hears this verse but does not want to meditate on it!” When the troops left for the battlefield, the Prophet also told them: do not damage the plants and trees.

So, being close to nature, appreciating its existence, and observing and pondering what it shows, offers, or wants (returns) from us is a demand of faith. Prayer times and fasting sensitize us to the natural cycle. Alam is the main guide and faithful friend of the faith. Is it not in the Qur’an that God also swears a lot with time and natural cycles?

For the sake of dhuha time.

And the night when it is silent (adh-Dhuha: 1-2);

For the night, when stalking, whispered.

For morning’s sake, when breathing (at-Takwir, 17-18)

And much more. Allah knows best.

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