The following was published in the Aussie Mossie blog on Sunday 06 November 2005.
Some months ago, a Melbourne tabloid made a huge deal about how imams in Melbourne still couldn’t figure out whether Usama bin Ladin had something to do with 9-11. It was somehow inferred that imams were some deep dark force of extremism within the Muslim communities south of the Murray River.
Of course, what the tabloid didn’t mention was that many imams probably think the Russians are still occupying Afghanistan, and regard Usama as still one of Ronald Reagan’s political love-children!)
Some neo-Conservative commentators published in the Opinion pages of that American newspaper known as The Australian claim that the biggest threat of terror to Western countries comes from Muslim minorities. It is said that Muslim cultures forbid their adherents from properly integrating with their host societies. Some even suggest that mosques and imams are at the forefront of hiding terrorists and plotting terrorist attacks.
That’s what the paranoid neo-Cons claim. But let’s be serious here. Pulling off a terrorist act requires meticulous planning and execution. The September 11 attacks were timed to perfection. It was all coordinated, the hijackers were trained and the level of damage was almost predetermined.
I am not for one moment suggesting that the people responsible for 9-11 were not from Muslim countries or backgrounds. But seriously, I find it really hard to believe that imams and Muslim organisational leaders could pull off a stunt like that.
How do I know this? Because these guys (and no, I’m not being sexist) couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Consider this.
The Islamic religious festivals are determined by the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar. This means that, in terms of our solar calendar, Ramadan and other Islamic months begin and end on different days each year.
Back in the days of the Prophet Muhammad some 14 centuries ago, people used to sight the new moon with their naked eye. Those were the days before telescopes, and well before men landed on the moon.
At that time, the Prophet gave instructions about what to look out for when using their naked eye to see the new moon. Then again, he also gave instructions on how to calculate the times for prayer using the length of a stick’s shadow.
Today, of course, we don’t need sticks and shadows. Instead, we have watches and prayer timetables to determine when to face Mecca. But when it comes to determining when the months begin and end, each year sees a fresh controversy. And Aussie imams are at the thick of it.
Australian mosques are largely organised along ethnic lines. For instance, the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba is known to be a Lebanese Mosque. In fact, you cannot be a member of its managing association, the Lebanese Moslems Association, unless you are eligible for a Lebanese passport.
The ethnic group with the largest number of mosques and imams are the Turks. And in Turkey, imams, astronomers and mathematicians have calculated the lunar months well in advance. That means each year, Turkish Muslims in Australia and across the world know exactly when Ramadan begins and when the feast of Eid (to celebrate the end of Ramadan) will be.
The other ex-Ottoman Muslim groups (Bosnians, Cypriots and Albanians) tend to follow the Turks. The Lebanese and other Arabs also fall into line. So do the Indonesians, Malaysians and Central Asians.
But a sizeable number of imams and ethnic groups insist that pre-determined dates are not valid. They insist on sighting the moon with their naked eye. This inevitably means they start fasting a day later and have their Eid feast 1 or 2 days after everyone else.
Those who follow the naked-eyes method claim their way is closer to the way of the Prophet Muhammad who insisted on using the naked eye. The rest of the people say that insisting on actual sightings is a silly as throwing our watches and prayer timetables away and grabbing sticks and calculating their shadows. Or like throwing out the cars and investing in some camels.
Who is correct? Which method is right? Well, for the average Muslim, it really doesn’t matter. They just wish all the imams and mosques could agree. I mean, think about it. You employ 3 Muslims. Each wants to take a day off for Eid so they can spend time with their family. But each has Eid on separate days. What would you do?
Or imagine trying to explain to your boss why your imam says Eid is on Thursday while your colleague’s imam says Eid is on Friday.
This is exactly what happened this year. And to make matters worse, Muslims are still arguing about it. On the forum pages of IslamicSydney.com, they are now into their 5th page of argument on the issue.
With Muslims too busy mooning each other over whether to sight with the naked eye, it’s highly their imams could have the time to plot a terrorist attack. But this isn’t the most mundane thing Muslims argue about. Some Muslims actually argue about … wait for it … where to place their hands in prayer! Some claim wahhabi Muslims are the real terrorists. But most wahhabis I know are too busy objecting to the way I pray because I place my hands just below my belly button and not on my chest as they do.
It gets better. There are verses in the Qur’an talking about God’s hands and eyes. Now some Muslims actually will argue until they are black and blue in the face. And what about? About whether you take these references literally or metaphorically.
Imams and their followers can hardly be expected to pull off a terrorist attack when they cannot even agree on basic matters. To expect them to do otherwise is giving them more credit than is due to them.
Words © 2005-12 Irfan Yusuf
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