KISSAH AND DAWAT: Pagkita’ bulan: Moon-sighting in the Bangsamoro

THE REGION
May 7, 2019

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ZAMBOANGA CITY  – May 6 was declared the
commencement of fasting (Arabic ‘sawm’, plural ‘siyam’) in the month
of Ramadhan of the Hijri or Islamic calendar. The declaration in this
part of the Muslim World was done by the Regional Darul-Ifta’ in the
BARMM and outside by respective Darul-Ifta’ bodies such as the
Darul-Ifta’ of Zamboanga Peninsula and Palawan and the Mufti of Davao
City after the mandatory physical sighting exercise. The declaration
over the weekend was immediately circulated on social media and
received by the faithful with such greetings as ‘Ahlan Ramadhan’
(Welcome Ramadhan), ‘Ramadhan Mubarak’ (Blessed Ramadhan) and
‘Ramadhan Saīd’ (Happy Ramadhan).

For around 28 days, the days will be marked by fasting and the nights
by tarawīh prayers. The fast commences before the early morning Fajr
prayer until sunset with observants refraining from food, drinks and
smoking; married couples from intercourse; shying away from gossips
and idle talks; and devoting more time for obligatory and optional
salat (prayers), du’a (supplication), dhikr (remembrance), qira’atul
Qur’an (Qur’an reading), tilawatil Qur’an (Qur’an recitation), and the
like.

Moro children are enthusiastic as they are attracted to the variety of
food on the table. Whilst they participate in fasting, they are not
yet obligated yet. Instead, their participation is to familiarize and
practice them so that they are able to do so properly when they reach
the obligatory age. Children, pregnant women and infirmed are normally
exempted from this obligation.

Further, during the month of Ramadhan, Moro families are generally
generous with food and monies. The food prepared for daily iftar
(breaking of the fast) is shared with kith and kin. Where unable to
prepare food, money is extended. Islam reminds the faithful to
remember, to invite and be generous with orphans and those who have
less in life. After all, among the many intents of fasting is for
those who have more in life to experience the life of those who have
less; consequently, Muslims come out of Ramadhan emphatic, humble,
grateful, frugal and generous. But the fundamental teaching of fasting
is taqwa or God-consciousness, to be attracted to His worship and to
fear the consequences of religious inaction. It is this taqwa that is
suppose to bind all Moros under the Islamic faith.

Furthermore, since embracing Islam, the 13 Moro ethnolinguistic groups
had observed fasting in the month of Ramadhan as integral practice of
their Moro identity and culture. While observing the core teachings of
Islam pertaining to fasting, every ethnic group have added their own
ethnic variations, such as the preferred local foods. Among the Moros
of the Sulu Archipelago and Zamboanga Peninsula, seafoods are a hit as
iftar food together with ‘bang-bang’ or native delicacies of all
kinds. For sahūr, the last meal before the early morning prayer,
‘sabaw maimû’ (hot and sweet coconut milk soup) is popular. Although,
the Sunnah (practice) of the Prophet Muhammad SAW is to eat dates to
break the fast. Dates is now easily accessible especially in urban
areas where it is often distributed in mosques and by religious
organizations or on sale in local barter trade stores.

Ramadhan is not just fasting. It is supposed to reinforce Muslim unity
and empathy. Thus, there is a need to reiterate its importance among
the 13 ethnolinguistic groups and burgeoning religious diversity.
There is also the imperative to revisit this cultural practice in
order to be a source of unity, and in order to avoid divergent
discourses and division.

Fasting in the month of Ramadhan does not follow the Gregorian
calendar, it follows the Islamic hijri calendar. Since the Bangsamoro
does not have its hijri calendar, every Moro group either adopts its
own or import one from overseas as their reference. The hijri calendar
like the traditional Chinese Yinlee calendar is lunar-based, that is
following the different phases of the moon. Thus, hilāl or
moon-sighting is necessary to move from one month to another,
year-round, not just before the start or end of the month of Ramadhan.
However, because of logistical and organizational constraints to carry
out these tasks and with loss of their patron, the practices are now
limited to the observance of fasting only.

The Gregorian calendar that is dominant in the Philippines is
solar-based, that is based on the seasons and the relative position of
the sun. This is why, there is a (mis)conception that the month of
Ramadhan is moving across the Gregorian calendar. One value of the
lunar-counting is that the observance of the fast is not fixed on a
particular season. Ramadhan is from the Arabic root word ‘ra-ma-dha’
meaning scorching heat or dryness. Imagine observing fast on a fixed
hot season? Because the Hijri counting is lunar-based, the fasting
month of Ramadhan can move across the seasons.

In the time of the old monarchy, the Sultan was the ecclesiastical
authority and certain procedures and practices were observed uniformly
across the realm. When the Sultan’s power was taken over by the
Americans, ecclesiastical practices lost their patron and saw their
decline. Thus, the need to re-institutionalize two traditional
practices associated with fasting and the month of Ramadhan – the
practice of taqwīm or Islamic hijri calendar and hilāl or
moon-sighting.

The establishment of the BARMM can re-institutionalize these cultural
practices by adopting uniform standards and hiring professionals to
carry them out properly. This is the call of the ulama headed by the
Aleem Abdulmuhmin Mujahid, former executive director of the ARMM
Regional Darul-Ifta’ (RDI) and current BTA member.
Re-institutionalization means adoption of a legal framework for the
uniform observance of hilāl, the development of its own BARMM hijri or
lunar taqwīm or calendar, training professionals with the necessary
ulūmiyyah (technical) and diniyyah (religious) qualifications, and the
establishment of a taqwīm and hilāl bureau under the Ministry of
Science and Technology (MOST) to sustain these practices. It should
similarly be clarified that while the proposed bureau undertakes these
practices, the official pronouncement should be coordinated with and
come either from the offices of the BARMM Darul-Ifta’, the region’s
jurisconsult authority or the Wali, the BARMM’s titular head.

Worth mentioning and adopting by this proposed bureau are some of the
practices demonstrated by ARMM RDI – such as the annual hilāl
conference, mobilizing provincial teams to undertake hilāl, upgrading
and additional procurement of moon-sighting equipment and software,
developing technical qualifications of young ulama in partnership with
the national DOST PAGASA office, and importantly, consultation and
consensus building among varied darul-ifta’ bodies, organizational
muftun and influential ulama.

While this proposition is not in the priority legislation for BTA, its
early adoption can signal the re-emergence and recognition of positive
traditional practices that make Bangsamoro what it is, thereby
promoting cultural identity, unity and heritage among the Moro
inhabitants.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a
Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi,
studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a
development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional
Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in
Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is
a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro
dialogue).


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