SBY Takes Heat Over Idul Fitri Date Debacle
Camelia Pasandaran & Chrestella Tan
Among the numerous Idul Fitri greetings he received, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Tuesday that many expressed anger over the differing dates for the end of the fasting month.
“I have received many text messages,” the president said. “Most of the text messages from our brothers expressed anger, blaming me for there being two versions in the Christian calendar of the first day of Syawal [the month following Ramadan], falling on August 30 and 31.”
This year, the country’s two largest Islamic groups, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, differed in their date for the first day of Idul Fitri.
NU decided on Aug. 31, matching the government’s decision, while Muhammadiyah announced Aug. 30.
The date disagreement stems from the different methods used to determine the start of the new month, which occurs at the arrival of a crescent moon. While NU requires a visual sighting of the moon, Muhammadiyah’s relies on an astronomic computation.
Many people expressed anger that the government and NU announced that Idul Fitri would start on Aug. 31, because officials calendars had Aug. 30 as the start of the holiday.
Last-minute astronomical sightings on Aug. 29 did not find the right signs to signal the start of the new month.
Many people had already been cooking and making other preparations to celebrate Idul Fitri on Aug. 30, only to have to start over again after the government pushed it back by a day.
Yudhoyono said his reply to the messages explained that he did not decide the date.
“Afterward,” he said, “I received many text messages asking me whether we could have one wise solution that would allow the whole nation to use the same method to determine the start of Idul Fitri, so we could all celebrate it on the same date.”
He said he would pass the message to the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), the highest authority on Islamic affairs in the country, “to think calmly and clearly to decide on the first day of Syawal for all of us in the future.”
Ma’aruf Amin, the chairman of the MUI, said the date was forecast in advance, but “the exact date is always discussed at the end of Ramadan. It has always been like that. We’ll predict again for next year and discuss it again at the end of Ramadan.”
He said the MUI, the government and NU had agreed on the Aug. 31 date, and “it was Muhammadiyah’s choice not to join us.”
Salahuddin Wahid, an official with NU, said disagreements over the first day of Idul Fitri were not unusual.
“In the last 10 years, we have celebrated Idul Fitri six times together and four times on different dates,” he said. He said it would be nice to have all the Muslims in the country celebrate Idul Fitri on the same date, but differences between his organization and NU “have been there since 1945 and as long as the calendar system is different, there will always be [a difference in dates].”
Amirudin, a Muhammadiyah official, also dismissed the differences as normal. “It has happened many times.”