Written at the commencement of Ramadan 2014
When I was somewhere around 12 years old, my family would go celebrate ‘Chaand Raat’ at a local Desi restaurant. For those of you who are unfamiliar, chaand raat (literally ‘moon night’) is basically partying it up the night before Ramadan starts. It was my designated duty to go to the payphone every 15 minutes or so and call the 800 number to see if Ramadan/Eid had been announced. I can’t remember who the 800 number dialed, if I had to guess, I would say it was ISNA. In any case, it was quite the adventure. Half the time the line would come up busy. I’d keep trying and trying, and then when I finally got through or got the answer, I ran back to deliver the official news to my parents.
One year, when the moon had not been sighted overseas, and our local communities were also preparing to complete 30 days of Sha’ban, a friend of mine saw the moon near our college campus. Word of this sighting quickly spread, and a prominent (nationally famous) Imam called him to personally verify the sighting. Once satisfied, they took the sighting and it caused a split in that Imam’s city.
Despite the supposed fitnah and eye-rolling accusations of moon-fighting, some of my fondest Ramadan memories are actually those nights where everyone was trying to figure out when Ramadan starts. I remember sitting in the Imam’s office at my local masjid trying to track down news of moon-sighting. We were burning up our phones calling and texting people all over the country trying to get the latest news. My own phone was blowing up with people asking me the same thing. What was interesting was this event actually helped develop bonds of brotherhood. Everyone was experiencing the same event, and we were reaching out and getting in touch with friends we otherwise may not have spoken to for a significant period of time.
I was listening to Mark Cuban the other day, and he mentioned that the future of television is in social television. In a world of streaming media, what sets TV apart? It’s the ability to do things like watch live events (e.g. Playoffs, Super Bowl, World Cup) and interact with others watching the same event in real time by way of social media.
Our annual moonsighting now plays out the same way. Instead of calling the masjid and waiting to hear a pre-recorded announcement on their answering machine, we now keep hitting refresh on the website. We’re constantly refreshing our Facebook and Twitter feeds to hear the latest. A few years ago, I subscribed to the email list of a particular Islamic website for only one reason – they sent out the official announcements from Saudi Arabia about Ramadan/Eid. Now I see tweets from all different organizations talking about who sighted it where. You can also check the tweets and see what debates are taking place. This year for example, Yemen announced a local sighting, and those status updates blew up with people disputing it and going back and forth.
Shaykh Yasir Qadhi posted yesterday that we used to go out and look for the moon. Now we just keep checking Facebook to see the latest. The spirit is still the same as the old days. That anxiousness and impatience is still there. We can’t wait to see if Ramadan is starting or not. We want to know what all our friends and family are doing. We’re still trying to figure out who that crazy masjid (or country) is that is starting 2 days later than everyone else.
Last night, my phone blew up. It was a nonstop stream of text messages. I was checking with friends to see what was going on, and people were checking with me as well. I even got to sit in the Imam’s office and see what was going on. It was like a war room. Computer was up, phone was out, all the latest reports were being checked and verified so a decision could be made. After Isha the Imam stood up to say that they would have an announcement in a few minutes depending on what another masjid in the area was doing. He barely finished this sentence and people were already pulling out their phones telling him the other masjid had posted an announcement. In fact, as soon as we made tasleem I pulled out my phone and had a text message on the home screen informing me of just that.
It was fun checking in with friends and seeing how different communities were handling it. It was even more fun seeing some of the witty one-liners making their rounds on Twitter at the appropriate time.
Most of all, it was incredible to be doing all of this at my fingertips in real time. Not the day after or a week after, but exactly as it was happening. So despite all the people who are upset that we’re not united, or not following calculations, or whatever it might be – I had an absolute blast last night.
What was your experience in trying to figure out the start of Ramadan? Did social media play a unique role?
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