ISLAMABAD: The responsibility and authority of moon sighting for the month of Ramazan and Eid-ul-Fitr remains to be a conundrum for the Pakistan Meteorological department (PMD), Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO)
According to reliable sources, SUPARCO made an attempt to hold a press conference some two years ago about announcement of Ramazan moon sighting. However, the commission was asked to cancel the conference at the eleventh hour and allow Ruet-e-Hilal committee to officially announce it.
Every year just a few weeks ahead of Ramazan or Eid-ul-Fitr, members of the committee strictly ask the officials of the PMD to avoid sharing information about moon sighting with the media, said the sources.
An official in the PMD requesting anonymity said that every year PMD receives a letter from the Ruet-e-Hilal committee asking them not to share moon sighting news with the media before the Ruet-e-Hilal committee officially announces it.
Every year people in K-P start Ramazan or celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr just a day before the rest of Pakistan observes it.
Last year, the government had forcibly sent Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai of Peshawar-based Masjid Qasim abroad just ahead of the Eidul Fitr in a bid to end the moon-sighting controversy. However, the government failed to stop the people in K-P from celebrating Eid-ul-fitr on the same day with the rest of Pakistan.
Later, a senior member of Masjid Qasim Ali Khan’s moon-sighting committee Mulana Khairul Bashar in a video clip shared on social media condemned this act of the government and claimed that the central body had no legal status and it was unconstitutional.
The head of the Senate standing committee on religious affairs in 2016 said, “Millions of people look up to the committee, especially during Ramazan, but the committee, set up via a resolution of parliament, is without a legal and constitutional status.”
Moreover, a senior official of Ministry of Religious Affairs told The Express that the Ruet-e-Hilal committee in 1974 was constituted through a resolution passed in the National Assembly. “However, so far no actual legislation or rules have been framed for it since it was established,” he added.
In December 2017, the federal government forwarded the draft of Ruet-e-Hilal Bill 2017 which seeks the reconstitution of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and suggests a one-year imprisonment, a Rs200,000 fine, or both, for anyone who would announce moon sighting before the official announcement made by the Ruet-e-Hilal committee.
The draft of bill is still pending with a parliamentary committee. This bill was drafted after an incident took place in 2016 in which the head of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee lost his temper prior to a press conference when some TV channel announced Ramazan moon sighting news before his official announcement.
Islamic Ideology Council (CII) chairman Dr Qibla Ayaz while talking to the Express Tribune suggested that the Ruet-e-Hilal committee should not confine moon sighting to Pakistan but in the entire South Asian country.