Controlled Chaos
The month of Ramadan is just about over. In less than 24 hours, the search for the new crescent moon will begin for those who follow the tradition set more than 1400 years ago in marking the beginnings of the months. The day the follows the end of Ramadan is known as Eid Al-Fitr, the festival of fast breaking, and is celebrated the world round by observant Muslims. It is a joyous day that marks not only the end of a month-long devotion to our Creator but also that as Muslims we were able to stay away from and curb our desires during daylight hours. It is a month where those who observe it hope to gain the self-control and discipline to tame our egos, grow more conscience of the Divine, and foster love, mercy and compassion to all of humanity.

And so it is with this as a backdrop that the current events unfolding leave me somewhat introspective on our future.

Two things trouble me. The first, which is a recurring debate that has plagued the Muslim Community for as long as I can remember, is the issue of Moon Sighting. This beautiful tradition of going out to search the post sunset sky for the emergence of the new crescent moon dates back more than 1400 years. It is a tradition of how Muslims marked time and lead the way to numerous advancements in astronomy. It is a tradition that ties us humans to the natural cycle of the heavens and brings us closer to the rhythm of nature. It is also a tradition that forces us to accept the fact that we are not in control.

In recent years the debate revolving around moon sighting has been with how the dates of the two major holidays in Islam can be predicted to avoid what some call a disunity of Muslims. The argument goes like this – Because of the variability of atmospheric conditions, even though the sight-ability of the crescent moon can be calculated to not only where in the world it can be seen, but also when is very accurate, we cannot predict what the atmosphere will give us at that location and time. Thus, the start of months is one where there is a variability of a day or two from the predicted and calculated dates. There is a growing body of Muslims who don’t like this. Come the Holidays, some celebrate based on actually seeing the crescent, while others celebrate based on what calculations say as to the start of dates.

The way I see it is that it is not about the validity of calculations or that if don’t use calculations we are somehow backwards, it is more about people wishing to be in control of things that are out of their control. We did not create this world that we live in, nor did we bring ourselves into existence, nor did we set into motion the physical laws that govern the universe, and thus we cannot assume control of how it works.

The beauty, in my eyes, is that the Muslim community is the only community on the entire planet that still relies on sighting the crescent moon solely as a means of marking the months of the year. In doing so, it makes us a part of this grand creation rather than being apart from it. Seeing the crescent emerge in the sky where a moment ago it did not exist bares testimony to the manifestation of the creative power of the Creator and it truly humbles the one who sees it. This simple tradition demands at most two days out of the month where we go out and commune with the natural world and await the “birth” of the new moon and with it a celebration of the grandeur of the natural world itself and its Maker. Is that too much to ask?

The image that graces the top of this article, titled Controlled Chaos with its reflection – “Tumultuous, turbulent and chaotic, this surf swirls and surges amongst the sea stacks along the Big Sur coast. Paradoxically, the surf is in a constant state of change. Completely unpredictable, chaos is really the only way to describe its motion. Yet, its motion just like the motion of every single thing in the known universe is in submission to and under the control of its Sustainer. With knowledge of where everything is, how fast it is moving and where it is going, the All-Knowing is in control. How truly humbling it is when we ponder upon that.” – gives us some insight into the tumultuous times that we live in.

We need to understand we do not have control over very much, and in some sense we have control over nothing at all. What we need is a humble submission to the One who is in control of everything, and in that submission we will find peace and solace in knowing that everything is truly under control.

Even as we watch the chaotic and frightening unraveling of the financial markets of the United States and the rippling effect it will have the world over, we have to understand that it too is under the control of a divine justice system that will always push to keep this world in equilibrium. When the few try to unjustly usurp the wealth of the world and in turn subject the majority to poverty, things will naturally happen to right the imbalance. In Divine Law, we find such a system known as Zakat. It is through this system that the wealthy distribute 1/40th of their wealth each year to those who are impoverished to help maintain a balance in society. It is a systemized charity, where in spite of one’s philanthropic tendencies, those who have the wealth move some of it to those who need the wealth to maintain a dignified level of existence.

Throughout the natural world we find equilibrium in all its systems and subsystems. It is only in our human realm that we find gross violations of this perfect balance. God in the Quran states, “The Benevolent One has raised the sky, and set the balance, so you would not overstep the balance. So establish weight justly not letting the balance give short measure.” Weights and measures are the very basis of an economic system. And that system must be based on a true balance; a balance that does not cheat the buyer of what is bought nor the seller of what is sold. It is a balance that maintains justice and equilibrium in the society. When we include ourselves as part of this divine mechanism to maintain financial justice, just as we include ourselves as a part of the natural world in sighting the moon to mark time, we become whole with the world and with our fellow humans.

As we approach the end of Ramadan this year with debates raging over how to mark its end and the debates of the end of unjust financial practices, we need to bare in mind, that even though everything seems chaotic and out of control, it is all well governed and in motion to reach that divine balance it was once set on. The month will end and the next will start just as it has for millennia and in the end, real wealth is what makes us whole with the world.