On terrorists and lunar-tics ...OK, I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking to yourselves: “Here we go! Yet another Muslim apologist reminding us kaffirs (Arabic for persons of incorrect religion and Afrikaans for persons of incorrect colour) about how peaceful and sensitive and New-Agey he and his mob are.”
Well stop complaining. For every Muslim apologist, there are 500 nasty people reminding us that radical imams are colluding with burqini-clad lifeguards, Somali security guards and Pakistani taxi drivers in a huge terrorist conspiracy.
These days, it’s become fashionable to pretend that 1.2 billion Muslims across the world have joined hands to destroy Western civilisation. I’ve got a name for this conspiratorial state of mind – The Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Tehran. Or should that be Kabul? Or Lakemba? Or Coburg? Take your pick.
The sad thing is we hear this stuff so much that we actually start believing it. Addressing a largely geriatric Sydney audience in August 2006, neo-Conservative theatre critic Mark Steyn posed this question to yours truly:
When you heard these news stories … some terrorist
crackdown or whatever, in your heart, were you genuinely surprised that it
turned out to be … alleged plotters acting in the name of Islam? Acing in
the name of Allah? Acting in the name of Mohammed?
Writing on his blog in July, Peter Faris QC makes these original observations:
All these terrorists and supporters live in the
Austsralian (sic.) Muslim community. It is difficult if not impossible to
identify in advance exactly who are terrorists and supporters. Accordingly, as
specific identification is impossible, all Australian Muslims must be treated
with suspicion … there (sic.) Civil Rights will inevitably be curtailed (in
various ways). These limitations are not the fault of the “racist”, mainstream
Australians. It is the fault of Muslims themselves by permitting terrorists to
live unidentified amongst them.
Yep, it’s all our fault. After all, we’re permanently logged into the al-Qaeda intranet, receiving immediate updates from Caliph Usama (without translations from The Chaser) on the next attack.
Jokes aside, let’s face facts. Can Muslims really get themselves organised to the extent that they know in advance which terrorist is pulling off which attach and where?
The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “The spiritual stench of a lie is enough to drive the angels away”. Or something like that. In this sacred fasting month of Ramadan, I think it’s only proper I refrain from telling you the usual lies of self-serving community “leaders” about how united and organised Muslims are.
Without pretending to speak from experience, I must say that 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’m not for one moment suggesting that the people responsible for 9/11 were not from Muslim countries or backgrounds. But I seriously find it really hard to believe that Aussie 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.
Islamic religious festivals are determined by the Islamic lunar calendar. In terms of our secular solar calendar, Ramadan and other Islamic months begin and end on different days each year.
In the Prophet Muhammad’s time some 14 centuries ago, people used to sight the new moon with their naked eye. The Prophet gave instructions about how to sight the new moon, and how to calculate prayer times during the day using the length of a stick's shadow.
Today, 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 lunar-tic controversy. And even the most radical imams are too busy issuing fatwas on this.
Australian mosques are largely organised along ethnic lines. The ethnic group with the largest number of mosques and imams in Australia is the Turkish community. Turkish imams, astronomers and mathematicians have calculated lunar months well in advance. Each year, Turkish Muslims in Australia and across the world know exactly when Ramadan begins and ends.
Other ex-Ottoman Muslim groups (Bosnians, Cypriots and Albanians) tend to follow the Turks. Lebanese and other Arabs also fall into line, as do Indonesians, Malaysians and Central Asians.
But a sizeable number of imams and ethnic groups (like the Pakistanis, South Africans and Indo-Fijians) insist that pre-determined dates are invalid. They insist on sighting the moon with their naked eye. This inevitably means they start fasting a day later and have their Eid feast marking Ramadan’s end 1 or 2 days after everyone else.
Those who follow the naked-eye method claim their way is closer to the way of the Prophet Muhammad. The rest say insisting on actual sightings is as silly as throwing out watches and prayer timetables and calculating stick shadows. Or like throwing out the cars and investing in some camels.
(Sheik Hilaly, who belongs to the latter group, once observed: “Man has landed on the moon and yet some imams are still too busy trying to see it with the naked eye!”)
Who is correct? Which method is right?
Well, for the average Muslim punter, it really doesn't matter. They just wish all the imams and mosques could agree. Things become especially embarrassing in the workplace.
Imagine employing 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? Who would you believe?
This scenario will probably be repeated in hundreds of workplaces across the country. And Muslim religious leaders still can’t get their act together and sort it out.
With Muslims too busy mooning each other over whether to sight with naked eyes, it’s highly unlikely they’d get their collective act together to pull off a terrorist attack. Those who believe otherwise should be relegated to the lunatic (or should that be lunar-tic?) fringe.
(Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of AltMuslim.com. A version of this article was first published on NewMatilda.com on 9 November 2005.)