Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 189..........Part 2
They ask you about crescent moons. Say, ‘They show the times appointed for people, and for the pilgrimage.’ Righteousness does not consist of entering houses from the back; the truly righteous is the one who is mindful of God. So enter your houses by their main doors and be mindful of God so that you may prosper. (Chapter 2: Verse 189)
When the Arabs asked Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) about the moon phases, God explained that they are tools for the measurement of time. Many people have wondered: how was time measured before creation? Is time an eternal constant that flows in one direction? We answer that time is a period during which events take place. Allah, on the other hand, is ever present; there is neither a beginning nor an end to God. God commands ‘be’ and it ‘becomes’; His actions do not require time. Thus, time is one of God’s creations and does not apply to Him. You cannot ask when God was? Or Where God is? Because the concepts of place and time are His creation and do not apply to Him.
As for us, there is both time and place. On some occasions, time is the overriding factor regardless of the place; while on other occasions, the place is the most important factor regardless of time. If a person in Egypt intends to perform Hajj, then he or she would dress properly for Ihram at or before the location of Rabegh. The location of Rabegh is known as the ‘Meeqat’ for the Egyptians. Rabegh is the location that you cannot go beyond without your Ihram attire if you intend to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj or Umrah. This is an example where the place is the most important factor regardless of the time. On the other hand, when you fast, time becomes the primary factor for abstaining from food and drink regardless of your location. There are some instances where both time and place hold equal importance such as standing on Mount Arafa on the day of Arafa during the Hajj season.
This brings us back to the verse: moon phases ‘show the times appointed for people, and for the pilgrimage’ because by sighting the moon we can identify the beginning, middle and the end of a month, determine the time of Hajj, keep track of iddah –which is the waiting period before a woman can remarry-, and much more. All these events can only be known by the measurement of time. More specifically, the sighting of the moon is the tool God provided to help us in these tasks. The sun can give you the time of day but cannot help you specify months and years. The sun location has other functions such as the horoscopes which are related to weather, seasons, and agriculture. God says:
It is He who made the sun a shining radiance and the moon a light, determining phases for it so that you might know the number of years and how to calculate time. God did not create all these without a true purpose; He explains His signs to those who have knowledge. (10:05)
Take note of the precision of God’s word. In the Arabic language, there are two words that express light. ‘ÍŠ┴ Dao‘ refers to light that is coming from a source producing light, while ‘noor’ indicates a lit object that is not a source of light. Allah explains that the sun is a self-illuminating source of light, and the moon is not. Thus, we understand that the moon is like a piece of a gleaming stone upon which the rays of the sun are reflected and as a result it becomes bright and lit. God says:
Exalted is He who put constellations in the heavens, a radiant light, and a shinning moon- (25:61)
And in another verse:
God decrees that there are twelve months- ordained in God’s Book on the Day when He created the heavens and earth- four months of which are sacred: this is the correct calculation. Do not wrong your souls in these months- though you may fight the idolaters at any time, if they first fight you- remember that God is with those who are mindful of Him. (09:36)
The Hijri (or Islamic) calendar is lunar. It is different from the Gregorian calendar which is solar. If Islam had adopted a solar calendar, then Ramadan -for example- would occur at the same time and season every year. In some parts of the world, Muslims would have to fast in the summer each and every year. But by following the Hijri lunar calendar, Muslims can enjoy fasting and other religious duties in different seasons. This is because the lunar calendar lags behind the solar one by eleven days each year, so with the passage of a few years, events linked to the moon occur at different seasons. This is how God's mercy spreads to all creations and people can enjoy variety and ease in worship.
Everything in the universe has a system: the sun has a cycle, the moon has phases, and the stars have positions and constellations. Allah holds the perfect knowledge and the secrets of the universe and its system. He has granted us some of this knowledge and revealed from its secrets. We have adopted the moon phases for measuring time and predicting tides. We have utilized some of the sun’s energy for our use, and we benefit from our knowledge of the seasons for agriculture. We have ancient knowledge of the positions of some stars –such as the North Star- and we use it for navigation. Perhaps in the future, and when the scientific minds are busy in exploration and research, Allah will reveal to us some of the secrets of the stars so we can gain more modern benefits from them. He says:
I swear by the positions of the stars- a mighty oath, if you only knew-(56:75-76)
The verse continues: ‘Righteousness does not consist of entering houses from the back; the truly righteous is the one who is mindful of God. So enter your houses by their main doors and be mindful of God so that you may prosper.’ There were some tribes in Arabia -known as al-Hums- that were very strict in their religion. Quraysh and Kinanah were amongst these tribes. When one of their people returned from performing the Hajj pilgrimage, he would not enter his house from the main door because he had become dusty and grubby; rather he would enter from the backdoor. These tribes had imposed such restrictions upon themselves, while God Almighty did not legislate it. Allah wanted to break this custom, and thus revealed the verse under study.
Righteousness refers to anything that is good and beneficial for the entire society. Had God left it to us to determine what ‘righteousness’ is, then each of us would have come up with a different answer. Some would consider entering the house from the back door as a sign of righteousness and humbleness, while others would think the opposite. Thus, Allah set the criteria of what is good and the beneficial for us. He says: “the truly righteous is the one who is mindful of God.”
The phrase ‘mindful of God’ is common in this chapter. To be mindful is to be steadfast on God’s path, and to avoid taking unnecessary risks that may harm you in this world and the next. When you adhere to God’s teachings and implement them in your daily life, then you have guarded yourself and your family against harm. Those who do as they wish and disregard their Lord have a different fate. God says:
"But as for him who turns away from My remembrance, he will surely lead a burdensome life, and We will raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection." (20:124)