By Ahmad Faruqui
First there was the ‘Eid sermon which began at 9:30 am. As the congregational service at a small town Fairgrounds ended, three of us stood up and moved to a shaded area with chairs, tables and tents. The sun was beating down on us mercilessly and the day had just begun.
We were no longer officially in the congregation but the post-prayer sermon was audible. Another friend joined us and we began to chat among ourselves, like people do in the stands while watching a boring cricket match. Suddenly a man yelled at us. He was right behind me and I did not wish to see him, afraid that an altercation might ensue. He was clearly a stranger.
He said it is a ‘fard (obligation) to listen to the sermon and we should stop talking. For added effect, he also muttered something else. So we went quiet. After several minutes, one of the four went over to take pictures of the congregation. I resisted the temptation. The rest of us wondered who this man was and why did he not realize that since the ‘Eid prayers were not obligatory (just highly recommended) so how could the post-prayer sermon be obligatory.
When the sermon ended, the stranger who had given us his own mini-sermon got up and began to walk away. I stood up and embraced him in the conventional fashion and that seemed to elicit a fumbling apology from him. I was going to depose him but decided to let it go.
I had of course missed the sermon but spotted at a distance one of my other friends who had listened to it. After the conventional embrace, I asked him about the topic of the sermon. He said it was pretty bland and not the type that I would be writing up. He told me that it consisted of three points. He could not immediately recall what they were and asked his friend who had been talking to him before I interrupted them what the first point was. His friend shook his head and said he could not remember it. So my friend thought hard and recalled the first point and told me what it was. It was bland. Then he asked his friend to recall the second point but he could not recall that either. So my friend told me the second point, which was atrociously bland. The third point was not much better.
The sermon had been delivered in English so comprehension by the congregation should not have been an issue unlike the prayers that were recited on Monday evening at the end of the Quranic readings during the long nightly prayers. That sermon had been entirely in Arabic and had been interminably long. The service had ended at midnight and I could not avoid thinking of the flight that I had to take the next morning which would require me to get up at 5:30 am. I had complained bitterly about it in a long email to my friends and asked if anyone understood what the sermon had been all about. No answer was expected and none came.
Later today, we went to an open-house celebratory lunch that was being put on by a nephew of mine. I spoke to several friends there who had attended the ‘Eid sermon and each of them gave me a different interpretation of the three points. Some liked it while some said it was pointless. Some said it was too short and some said it was too long.
Later in the afternoon I went for the ‘juma prayers and heard a young man, who I had seen a while back but who had now grown a beard, present the sermon. It was given in English with extensive Arabic citations. Several big English words were used such as eschatological which I assume no one understood.
He spoke of the killings in Chattanooga and said we have to confront the elephant in the room. I was happy to hear that. Then he said we should not accept blame for it nor should we say the killer was not a Muslim. But he did not tell us what we should do either, which I thought would be the kind of thing you would expect to hear in a sermon.
Having disposed of that topic, he turned to the main course. This was to be about the end of time. He said I can see some of you don’t want to hear about it. But you are not a true believer until you think of the end of time. He reminded us that the Islamic traditions had more details on it than any of the Abrahamic faiths. This took up the next 20 minutes and of course I was thinking of the conference call I had coming up at 2:30 pm.
Unsurprisingly, there was little new information. We had heard it all before. The end of time would be characterized by promiscuity, moral turpitude, rule by dictators, massive killings, violence on an unprecedented scale, nudity, the proliferation of R and X rated films, high divorce rates, lack of respect for parents and the legalization of gay marriage. Nothing was left out!
I have been hearing about the end of time for as long as I can remember and the details have not changed during the past six decades. Of course, the end of time has been predicted in every century since history began to be recorded, thousands of years before the arrival of Islam.
My mind wandered back to the open house which had preceded the second sermon. A person had been going around the room saying that the ‘Eid moon had been sighted in San Diego while another person was saying that according to NASA, it could not have been sighted there.
A man told me that a Muslim scientist had spotted it through a telescope at Columbia University but the scholars had rejected it because the use of a telescope was not permissible. It remained unclear whether the use of prescription eye glasses was permitted because someone like me with serious astigmatism would not be able to even spot the quarter moon without eye glasses.
This man, a wealthy businessman in the IT space, told me that he had made prior arrangements with some people in Ecuador (on Galapagos Island no less) and Tahiti (where he owns some properties) to engage in moon sighting on Thursday night. They had indeed seen the new crescent moon but since they were non-Muslims, their testimony had been rendered null and void.
At the end of the day, I was left wondering if I was born into the wrong century, the wrong country, or maybe –and it is just a maybe—into the wrong religion.
 There is a big controversy whether the lunar months of the Islamic calendar can be initiated based on astronomical calculations or whether they require the actual sighting of the moon with the “naked” eye by two male adult Muslims. The controversy continues further when the point is interjected whether the sighting has to be in your neighborhood (however defined) or in your state or in your continent on anywhere in the globe.