Muslim Scholars and Astronomers to Reach Consensus
By Turki Al-Saheil
Wednesday 29 April 2009
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat - The Saudi Minister of Justice, Dr. Mohamed Al Issa has stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the responsibility for verifying lunar sightings has been transferred from the Supreme Judiciary Council to the Supreme Court, according to the new operational system of the [Saudi] judiciary. The verification of lunar sightings has been an issue that aroused considerable debate between astronomers and Muslim scholars over the years.
Al Issa, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat following a meeting of the participating judges for the Crescent Observation committee that is being managed by the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology [KACST] said that this indicates that the scientific debate between scholars and astronomers on the issue of verifying lunar sightings is almost at an end, especially with regards to religious occasions such as Ramadan and Hajj.
According to Dr. Issa, the Ministry of Justice is involved in the "Lunar file" and "is keen to bring together the different viewpoints on this issue." The meetings between Islamic Shariaa scholars and astronomers are ongoing in order to bring together their different opinions on the issue of how lunar sightings are verified, as well as whether it is appropriate [under Islamic Shariaa law] to use astronomical calculations to assist in this.
The Minister said "We offer our congratulations on the fruitful collaboration between the Justice Ministry and KACST, which has reduced, to a large extent, the differences of opinion [on this issue]." He added that "the subject of lunar sightings that previously aroused scientific debate between scholars and astronomers, and [debate] even within the Fiqh system itself, is coming to an end, because opinions are converging as a result of enlightened discourse."
According to Minster Issa, the new composition of the judicial system has resulted in the Supreme Court becoming the relevant body for issuing the official verification of lunar sightings, being "at the head of the judicial pyramid, and successor of the permanent body under the Supreme Judicial Council that was previously in charge of this issue."
The new Justice Minister confirmed that the dialogue between the Muslim Scholars and the astronomers, which included discussion on the tools used in [lunar] sightings, "bridged the rift of mutual suspicion [between the two groups]." Issa said "The astronomers believe that the scholars who disagree with them do not rely upon established scientific facts…while some scholars believe that the astronomers hold scientific hypothesis above Shariaa texts"
Issa also pointed out that this debate between the [Muslim] scholars and the astronomers led to the general public lacking a clear viewpoint on this issue due to the lack of serious dialogue [between the two groups]. He added that "Dialogue is useless, unless it positively interacts with the issue by takings the issue's reins, bringing together the [different] viewpoints, and convincing the parties that anyone's opinion is correct but has the potential for error."
The Senior Scholars Council in Saudi Arabia held talks with KACST, and these meetings were described by Dr. Issa as being "a great achievement" especially after they resulted in the Islamic Shariaa reaching a "substantive unity between the Office of the Mufti and the judiciary."
The Minister of Justice said that the provisions of Islamic Shariaa Law cannot in any way contradict scientific facts. He added "If something becomes apparent, then it may be wrongly understood; scientific facts reveal the meaning of texts. This shows the difference between knowledge and ignorance."
He noted that talks with the panel of judges participating in the Crescent Observation committee are exploring this issue on many points, the most important of which is with regards to the uncertainty surrounding lunar sightings. Minister Issa stressed the importance of these special meetings to discuss lunar sightings, which is something that he has written many research papers and reports on, against the backdrop of serious dialogue resulting in substantive outcomes and a mutual consensus between the scholars and astronomers.
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