Confusion reigns over start of Ramadan in France
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France’s official Muslim body stated in May that Ramadan should start on Tuesday. But with the rest of the Arab world starting on Wednesday, the French faithful have been thrown into confusion.
French Muslims were thrown into confusion on Tuesday after the country's top Islamic authority and officials at the leading mosque in Paris failed to agree on the official start date of the holy month of Ramadan.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), the official Islamic representative body, had insisted that according to its calculations, Ramadan began on Tuesday.
But the theological council at the Great Mosque of Paris said the month of daytime fasting would not start until Wednesday, the same day that many Arab countries are due to begin the observance.
“The CFCM’s decision has thrown everyone into confusion,” said Hassen Farsadou, head of the Seine-Saint-Denis [northern Parisian suburbs] Union of Muslim Associations, which has called on its followers to start their Ramadan fast on Wednesday.
“A very large number of French mosques have taken the same decision,” he told FRANCE 24. According to French Muslim websites, more than 131 mosques, including the Great Mosque of Paris, had followed this lead.
“I’ve never known such a period of utter confusion,” said Nadia, a young Muslim living in Aulnay-sous-Bois, a northern Parisian suburb. “It’s ridiculous. There are members of my own family starting Ramadan at different times. My parents and most of my brothers and sisters are starting Wednesday, but I had decided to follow what the CFCM told me, so I’ve already started fasting.”
“What’s most annoying about this is that I’m now persuaded that the CFCM got it wrong,” she told FRANCE 24.
“Because of the confusion, the family has decided to follow Ramadan as it is being observed in our country of origin – Morocco – where it begins on Wednesday.”
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims are required to abstain from drinking liquids, smoking and having sex from dawn until dusk. Observing Ramadan is one of the five main religious obligations in Islam.
The CFCM had in May settled on Tuesday as the start of Ramadan based on the expected arrival of the new moon – using the same calculations that are used by Turkish Muslims – which they argued happened a day earlier in France than in Arab countries.
It is the first time that the CFCM body has taken the decision into its own hands and not followed the rest of the Arab World, apparently unaware that French Muslims would be thrown into confusion by the decision.
French Islamic theologians who gathered Monday night at the Paris mosque put off the start by a day, saying the new moon had not been sighted.
“Mosques were calling us yesterday until 1am, the imams were in disarray," Djelloul Seddiki, the head of the mosque's theological council, told AFP.
Dalil Boubakeur, who is both the president of the CFCM and the rector of the Paris mosque, said the change in date had followed an outcry in the community that Ramadan was not starting in France on the same day as in many Muslim countries.
"The calculation was not wrong in theory, but we did not take into account the community dimension – the community had decided it would follow the Muslim countries," Boubakeur told AFP.
‘Shouldn’t have caused such a scandal’
Imam Tareq Oubrou, head of the Bordeaux mosque, told FRANCE 24 that he had chosen to tell his followers to begin their Ramadan fast on Tuesday – but added that “we chose the new method of calculating the start of Ramadan, but the disparity really shouldn’t have caused such a scandal.”
“The CFCM used a perfectly legitimate way of determining the date of the new moon,” he said. “The Turks, who have a much more modern approach to Islam than Arab countries, have been using these methods for a long time. And if we agree that prayer times have to be different from country to country, then why not also the start date of Ramadan?”
He added: “No French mosque is obliged to follow the directions of the CFCM. The most important thing is that Muslims should observe a month of fasting.”