For years and years now, there has been a controversy in the country over the sighting of the moon for religious occasions like Ramazan and Eid. Traditionally, members of the central moon-sighting body, the Ruet-e-Hilal committee, comprising clerics and representatives from the meteorological department and the space agency, put their heads together and in a consensual manner sighted the moon as per Islamic traditions to determine the start and end of the religious months. However, after a string of controversies which at one point even saw the committee deliberate late into the night to sight the moon, the public’s confidence in this body was shaken. Yet, its monopoly continued.
Out of this came Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai from the historic Masjid Qasim Ali Khan in Peshawar who set up his own private moon-sighting committee. For many parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, his word on moon sighting is an authority — something that challenges the writ of the Ruet-e-Hilal committee that enjoys the sanction of the state.
Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry, though, wishes to definitively solve this dispute by creating the ‘first official’ moon-sighting website with a lunar calendar for Islamic months fixed for the next five years based on scientific readings of the moon’s movement. Chaudhry’s magnum opus also aims to cut back the Rs3.06 million which the Ruet-e-Hilal committee eats up every year to officially sight the moon.
Mufti Muneeb has, in a recent newspaper column, hit back at the science minister by definitively stating that visually sighting the moon is a pre-requisite in the Sharia. He has warned that setting up the scientific calendar will not solve the controversy. While Chaudhry’s intentions are noble, his ideas are already running into resistance from the clergy. And it remains to be seen how the public, beyond a certain segment, reacts to it.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2019.