A special Eid, London-style

The crescent will be visible in the sky over the city and the London Eye will amplify the sight

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Eid is coming. And the excitement is building. And like Ramadan, it will bring its joys as well as its own challenges. Foremost among these are the "moonsighting wars", which are felt particularly acutely in Muslim minority countries. As Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and Eid is the first day of the month that immediately follows Ramadan, we can only know when Eid is when the crescent moon is seen at night. But the crescent appears at different times in different places.

Some people will accept that the crescent has been seen in a faraway country; some even if it is only scientifically possible (but not seen by the human eye); and others are happy to use telescopes; some the human eye, and sometimes moons are accepted as seen even if scientific data means it wouldn’t even have been possible. It is a rite of passage of Eid night, excruciating debate, which leads to one of the most blessed and celebratory days of the year for Muslims.

In the UK, Eid is celebrated by different communities, mosques and even families on different days, as they follow moon sightings from places like the Indian subcontinent, from Saudi Arabia and Morocco. From my side I have advocated a "supersized Eid" of three days, coupled with a healthy tolerance for people fasting or not fasting according to their own decisions about moonsighting and Eid. But the disputes continue, much to the despair of practicing Muslims.

More recently there has been a push for local moonsighting in the UK. The New Crescent Society in the UK was established five years ago to celebrate the relationship between astronomy, faith and Islam. One of its central pillars of work has been to establish a tradition of moonsighting in the UK, and primarily busting the myth that it is too cloudy to spot the moon. They have now collected half a decade’s worth of sightings and data. Highlighting when the moon is likely to be seen, and sending out moonsighting expeditions around the country, they are re-introducing Muslims in the UK to the excitement of going to seek the moon themselves, rather than relying on fraught phone calls from abroad to "declare" Eid, or looking to unverified reports on social media.

Establishing moonsighting and a trajectory towards a united Eid approach in the UK – even if it is not on the same day necessarily – shows a maturing of British Muslim communities. Since the middle of the 20th century, Muslim communities have established and interwoven themselves into British life. Today, estimates of the UK's Muslim population are between 2.8 million and 4 million, coming from diverse cultures and heritages.

Muslims in the UK always poll very high on Britishness, their faith and national pride going hand in hand. For example, I describe myself as a "British Muslim woman". The attachment for me is emotional and particularly acute to London, where I was born. It is my home, and a city that for me is a global microcosm. I love it so much that I put its skyline on my first book and memoir. And its vibrant Muslim communities and cultures are very much part of its rich, textured and influential global status. That’s why, when I was invited to be on the Mayor of London’s Community Advisory Group for Eid, it was a huge privilege to accept. What could be more meaningful, celebratory and global for me than putting London on the Eid map?

On Saturday, May 7th, "Eid in the Square" will be held at Trafalgar Square, a day-long celebration that will feature artists, comedians, musicians and entrepreneurs. I’ll be on stage too, interviewing "Muslim heroes" and the work they have been doing for their community and country. What a thrill to be on stage in one of the most prestigious locations in the world.

Most emotional and exciting of all has been the fact that I’ve been leading the design to light up the iconic London Eye in celebration of Eid for the very first time. Given the deep personal meaning, the only design choice for me has been to show the Eye lit up to depict the waxing and waning of the moon and finally the crescent moon followed by celebratory sparkles. The aim is to convey the excitement and joy Muslims feel during different phases of the moon, and the celebrations at the end that so many of us look forward to.

The London Eye will be lit up on Eid. Picture: The lastminute.com London Eye

On May 2nd the crescent will be visible in the sky over the city and the London Eye will amplify the sighting. The Eye will light up in the evening at 1925, displaying the crescent at exactly the time it emerges in London, at the angle it appears in the city, making this a unique symbol. Celebrating in this way will hopefully make London’s diverse Muslim communities feel very proud.

Some Muslims in the UK will greet each other for Eid the day before or after. But whichever day we celebrate, it feels like this is a huge moment. London’s Muslims, like me, will be celebrating along with the global Muslim community.

Published: April 29, 2022, 12:00 PM
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