The moon and the maulvi

Published: July 29, 2011

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The holy month is fast approaching and will no doubt approach in its usual fashion — in stages. That an Islamic Republic is so strife-ridden that it is unable to agree in unity on something as simple as the moon says much for the brand of religion it declares it practices (and the manner in which it does so mirrors its general dysfunction).

Now, there is an old story, possibly apocryphal, but nevertheless a good story worthy of emulation. In what really were the good old days (far be it for this column to recommend another military rule) when General then Field Marshal Ayub Khan, tall and handsome with a twinkle in his eye, who kept things together and in order from 1958 until led astray by his politicians in 1965, the mullah/maulvi faction was to an extent controllable.

From the outset of Pakistan’s coming into being, science has not been a strong point for the learned men of the Book who supposedly guide the national morality scenario, and each Ramazan eve they were and still are unable to reach an agreement on the planet moon and its appearance and placing in the night sky. Scientific methods, for them, are for the birds, albeit Islam’s contributions to science frequently crop up and are lauded.

One year, early in his regime, Ayub Khan decided enough was enough. There was to be no double or even triple outbreaks of Ramazan and thus clashing Eids. The official moon-spotters would decide in unison. So his orders were that in each area of the country the holy experts would be guided by his military commanders and would be bulldozed into ‘sighting’ the errant moon on one single evening, so that for the first time in its life the nation would fast (or feast) and then celebrate Eid in one fell swoop.

On the night in question when science decreed that the crescent be visible in the sky, the divines in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar were fine. Their eyesight was perfectly channeled and tuned. But up in Quetta, Maulvi Ehtisham declared that he had not seen the moon and therefore in his province there would be no fasting the next day. Ayub was informed by his division commander and, furious, told the general to do what he had to do so that the moon was sighted.

Maulvi and general swiftly got together on high-ground, the general turned the maulvi’s head heavenwards and asked him: “Maulvi Sahib, do you see the moon?”. Firmly the man replied: “No.” The general took him gently by the shoulders and swung him around 180 degrees, told him to peer downwards and softly asked, “Do you see West Camp?”. A subdued maulvi muttered, “Yes.”

Pointing upwards the general asked again, “Now do you see the moon?”. A nervy maulvi replied, “Yes, yes.” The entire exercise was repeated at the close of the holy month and all went swingingly. So if scientific methods are ignored, there are other ‘ways and means’.

Ayub pre-1965 was not all that bad. A dangerous factor that is strangling the country has been written about lately — the lack of population control in this land of now over 180 million. Ayub’s was the sole regime which had family planning near the top of its agenda. West Pakistan’s population grew from 31 million in 1947 to 39 million in 1950 and 48 million in 1960 (East Pakistan was then 51 million). The government had a definite programme which spilled over to what was then ‘civil society’ (and a good deal more civil than it now is). Sadly, it was overtaken by events but while it lasted it was a popular movement with even many of the begum sorority rushing around trying to and succeeding in having assorted and various tubes tied.

Successive governments and the nation at large have been and are least bothered about a growth rate now out of hand.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:02PM



    May I take some small credit for this wonderfully witty piece!!
    You made me smile broadly on reading it. Do keep it up.

    I recall in one of his public speeches (and Ayub did not speak Urdu very well being a Pathan) he actually told the crowd something to the effect to go home and talk to their wives! Pretty daring stuff. I thought he would keep it clinical.


  • Salman Orangiwala
    Jul 29, 2011 - 11:14PM

    Bashing everyone seems to be a favorite past time for Ms.Jilani .
    First it was a political party of Karaci and now here goes the poor Maulvis .
    Please do bring out some positivity from the HAT next time you try to pen-down something (!).

    I wonder if the super-filthy-rich-enlightened-half-westernized-psuedo-muslims (??!!) ‘ truly comprehend the underlying message of this Holy month while devouring goodies and munching pizzas publicly ,in this month .


  • ithinkthereforeiam
    Jul 30, 2011 - 12:18AM

    @ Ms. Jilani

    Cant agree w ya more mam.

    In the words of that secular and enlightened poet Dr. Iqbal, who prophetically told wat was in store for us, some 80/90 years back

    ” Dil hai Musalmaan tera naa mera
    Tou bhee namazi, main bhee namazi
    Main jaanta hun anjaam uska
    Jis maar-e-kay main Mullah ho ghazi ”

    S u can c the prophecy has come true, much to our great misfortune.
    Mullah is unfortunately the ghazi in our society, not to mention always the “shaheed” as well.
    Its not just the moon Ms. Jilani. This supreme mismanagement is so prevalent, that it has now come to signify our National Identity.
    Consider our traffic, government offices, health n education systems, public toilets, beaches, sewerage n sanitation, and last but not the least our Mullah Brigade, the caretakers n chowkidars of both our individual as well as collective morality. Literally speaking.
    U talk of one moon, our moral SHOs r showing all types of moons n heavenly gardens to the unsuspecting illiterate masses, all year round Ms. Jilani.
    So a few muck ups here n there in our Land of Pure, when it comes to just one moon sighting r pardonable. Considering our marvelous performance on all of the aforementioned fronts of our existence that i dared to mention.
    What I found the most amusing was your desire ( or was it a complain / dream), to somehow drag our moral police ( read Mullah) anywhere near the dreaded science n technology………
    How dare you Ms. Jilani?
    Are you trying to corrupt our moral fabric, by importing the harams of the Kufaar ( read science n technology)?
    Dont u know, it will tarnish n destroy all that we stand for……like suicide bombing, tax evasion , child labor, illilteracy, contaminated drinking water, spurious life saving medicines, adulterated milk for children, abuse of minorities and ofcourse refusal to allow any semblance of civility and tolerance in our midst.
    Wat to cry of a moon mam, when the entire universe is upside down in this Land of Chosen People.
    Again in the words of Allam Iqbal

    ” Ajab nahi k Khuda tak teri rasaai ho
    Teri nigah say hai posheeda aadmi ka muqaam
    Teri namaz main baqi na jalal hai na jamal
    Teri azan main nahi meri sehar ka paighaam ”

    May God help our unfortunate homeland, and may God awaken the sleepy 180 million souls to the harsh n cruel realities of their existence before its way too late.
    Happy Eid Mubarak in advance!

  • Max
    Jul 30, 2011 - 12:24AM

    You are correct that Ayub was not surrounded by Maulvis or Mullah but only up till 1962. Once the Maulvis had started protesting against the newly enforced family laws/ordinance (declaring polygamy illegal) and also mechanized slaughtering of animals, Ayub had to change his course of action or using the military metaphor, tactics. The tone was more conciliatory than confrontational in the aftermath of these protests in 1962. I do remember that infamous Eid when some Maulvi did not see the moon in Quetta. I thought it was Peshawar where Agha Yehya Khan was commanding an army division. You may also be remembering when Dr. Fazal-ul-Rehman, the architect of the above two legislations had to resign as head of the Islamic Ideology Council and return to Chicago. I don’t think he ever returned to Pakistan after that.
    Ayub had some friend in the religious establishment and these included Mulana Ghulam Ghaus Hazarvi, Pir of Dewal Sharif (near Murree), Sahibzada Faiz-ul-Hasan of Alo Mahar (Sialkot) and obviously sajjada nashin of Golra Sharif, but your point is well taken.
    There were also the rumors that Maulana Bhashani (NAP) was somewhat close to Ayub. There were a few other Maulvis from East Pakistan (now BD) were Maulvi Farid Ahmed (PDP), Mualana Abdul Jabbar (the Speaker of the NA) and there was another Mulana Ehtisham-ul-Haq (I think from Jessor). But Ayub always kept a distance from Jamaat and Tableghi types. But those days are gone and we can simply fall into nostalgia for good old days and relish.
    Nations move forward and Pakistan, regrettably, moves in the other direction. Science and scientific or rational thinking among Pakistan’s religious element (and there are too many now), I can sympathize with you lady.


  • ithinkthereforeiam
    Jul 30, 2011 - 12:38AM

    Dear Immu + Shahzaib + Danny

    Just co authored a comment with Mr. Hasan Abidi on the above article. Hopefully u guyz will find it cool.



  • Max
    Jul 30, 2011 - 12:58AM

    The name of the speaker of the nation Assembly was Mauvli Tamiz-ud-Din Khan and not Maulana Abdul Jabbar. Apologize for the mistake. But neither Tamiz-ud-Din Khan nor Maulvi Farid Ahmed or Maulana Bhashai was typical mullah. They were simply devout Muslims and none ever made any noise for Shariah laws. Mulvi Tamiz-ud-Din, actually, was one of the first few who stood for supremacy of the parliament, and rule of law (Tamiz-Din Khan versus Government of Pakistan 1954).


  • Cynical
    Jul 30, 2011 - 3:36AM

    I always have this feeling that Ayub was not all that bad, when compared to the ones who followed him.


  • AJ
    Jul 30, 2011 - 5:24AM

    Splendid ! I have always pondered on this national anomaly of ours. Thank you for pointing it out. Indeed it is ironical that as a nation we managed to build the “Islamic bomb”, and laud the achievements of renowned scholars of Islamic descent, yet cannot invest in a good astronomical observatory which can then in turn guide the entire nation as to when is Chaand Raat.


  • Jul 30, 2011 - 5:50AM

    Excellent piece sharing!


  • Jul 30, 2011 - 11:27AM

    So you want to threaten our aalims with violence so that they decide things in your favour? Tell me where does it say in the Quran that all of Pakistan should observe eid on a single day? The borders of Pakistan were arbitrarily drawn by man and have nothing to do with religion. Using scientific instruments also has nothing to do with religion.


  • rehmat
    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:35AM

    His actions led to the creation of Bangladesh.


  • Amina Jilani
    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:44AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    Dear Meekal
    Well, it has happened once.
    Can’t keep it up – funny stories do not abound.


    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:46AM

    Our problem is the hypocritical , coward so-called secular leaders who gave in to ignorant maulvies at every critcial juncture starting from using Islam for creation of Pakistan to Maqasid resolution to late but highly dubious transformation of ZAB, to Musharraf’s use of MMA against tow main political parties to name a few.Always for their selfish purposes.I do not blame maulvies because they are doing what they are professing .When will our seculars do what they believe in?
    More recent example is case of Salman Taseer.Why his name is not high among party’s shaheeds and why they are not demanding; loud and clear capital punishment for Qadri?

    I say until our seculars muster some courage and take risks , they are bound to fail and we will keep going down the hill. Recommend

  • Amina Jilani
    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:48AM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    Dear Meekal
    Can only happen once in a blue moon.
    Funny stories do not abound despite your urgings.
    Was hoping for a word from you and was not disappointed.
    Ta and best,


  • My Name is Khan
    Jul 30, 2011 - 12:05PM

    Ah yes, how dare the Mullahs have to live within the confines of civil society. We should all be bowing down to them in a Khalifat. Enjoy that in Pakistan. Us Pakistani Americans are loving this whole democracy and secular society thing in America.


  • Zahid Qureshi
    Jul 30, 2011 - 1:09PM

    @abdussamad: look at her picture again and you will know how much she has to do with religion.
    I recommend to Amina Jilani to migrate to Israeel or India and find peace there


  • RK
    Jul 30, 2011 - 3:38PM

    Undoubtedly, sign of a divided/distressed nation….How do you feel about the dozen or so azaan’s for each prayer time?


  • Arifq
    Jul 30, 2011 - 7:03PM

    Ms Jilani thoroughly enjoyed your article, it’s important for the new generation to be educated on Pakistani history, for too long they have been brainwashed into zombies believing everything the Maulvi tells them. Bravo


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jul 30, 2011 - 7:42PM

    @Salman Orangiwala:

    “Poor” maulvi’s?!


  • Meekal Ahmed
    Jul 30, 2011 - 7:44PM

    @Amina Jilani:

    I think one can always turn any story into a funny one especially if you have the gift of writing as the author here surely does.


  • Mubashir
    Jul 30, 2011 - 8:10PM

    Most modern calenders all over the world show the new moon. The moon is not a PIA flight that sometimes shows up late or (depending on wind current) arrives a bit early.

    In other words, the moon appears (whether due to atmospheric conditions we are able to see it or not) so it makes sense to go by astronomical moon charts rather than ending up with two or three Eids. Can you imagine wishing someone “Eid Mubarak” and he/she goes “But I am fasting.” In non Muslim countries some people need to apply for Eid holiday in advance and what are they supposed to tell their boss when giving a date “It depends?”.


  • RK
    Jul 30, 2011 - 8:29PM

    Show me where the Quran says that Eid should be on different days????


  • Mastishhk
    Jul 30, 2011 - 8:43PM

    …Holy Quran doesn’t mention Pakistan at all….

    @ Amina Jilani..Nice and effective piece of writing.No wonder instead of getting the import of this article, people are pointing at your appearance and advising you to migrate to Israel or India. You are winning the battle of wits without doubt :)


  • Khadim Husain
    Jul 30, 2011 - 9:08PM

    Besides above funny tale, moon sighting issue was used as political weapon by Ulema against Ayub Khan. Now it is converted in sectarian problem. It was matter of shame that entire population of Muslim world sight moon except Moulvies of Punjab and Sindh. I think last year when searched the web, from China to Middle East, Europe and North America, Central Asia and even in India Muslims were able to celebrate Eid on same day except Punjab and Sindh provinces.
    By the way there are twelve Islamic months and controversy arise on three moons, the Ramadhan, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Have you seen any controversy on Muharram moon sighting?


  • Naushad
    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:25PM

    There’s no argument that religious scholars of the sub-continent have disappointed the masses in this respect. However, one cannot deviate from the Quran and Hadith in any matter. IF one claims to be a “Muslim”.

    This is the first time I have had the honor of reading this author, yet I’m under the impression that she is a so-called “Secular Muslim”. If that is true, then I would like to humbly urge her, as well as anyone and everyone of that mindset, to please do some research on the two words comprising this allusion. I used to identify myself as one not too long ago, but when I read the history of secularism up to this day and read the Quran and Ahadith as per who and what is a ‘Muslim’, I came to realize that these are two absolutely different things. Putting these together achieves nothing but create more confusion at individual and collective levels.Recommend

  • Naushad
    Jul 30, 2011 - 11:30PM

    “By the way there are twelve Islamic months and controversy arise on three moons, the Ramadhan, Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Have you seen any controversy on Muharram moon sighting?” (Khadim Husain)

    The reason is simple: these two months (Ramadhan and Zil-Hajj) bring the only two occasions of festivities for Muslims authenticated by Quran and Sunnah; and by nature such festivities require people of the same faith to celebrate the events together with as much unity as possible.


  • Hasan Abidi
    Jul 31, 2011 - 12:08AM

    @ Zahid Qureshi
    @ Abdussamad

    Shame on both of you!

    Its ppl like u Messrs Qureshi n Samad, whose ignorance, bigotry and tunnel visioned mindset, has brought this country to where its at.

    Can i ask u guys, wats wrong with the picture of the author, and who has given u the right to comment on her looks, much less equate them with religious connotations or lack of them?

    Can i also inquire of you, if u have correctly n carefully gone thru the article? I ask of u, bcoz ur personal comments abt the author r not just reflective of ur innate bias, unfound prejudice n hate for the sake of hate, totally devoid of any reasoning n logic, but ur opinion is also representative of the regressive , repulsive and cave age mentality, that has come to symbolize this Land of Purein the classic Zia-era fashion….those dark ages

    Though ur disgusting comments about the author moving to Israel n/or India, give us a peek in ur shut closed mind, but they also awaken us to the harsh realities of how many like u roam the streets of this society and infect it with your hatred based not on facts n rationale, but on religious extremism and lopsided preconceived notions.

    If someone in this country is identifying the crucial crisis the burgeoning population explosion has caused, or if the author has the courage to bring forth the highly ridiculous n mind boggling process of moon sighting in this day n age of scientific advancement, its being done for the benefit of the largely illiterate n ignorant masses( both academically ignorant and the parha likha jahil crowd….get the hint) of the country, who themselves dont have the intellectual capacity or the acumen to think straight n question, as to why not a single thing is in order in this country.

    Wat has bringing to light all these sorry facts abt the country, got to do with ur religious sensitivities and the sickening comment that just because she is better n more learned n more thoughtful, than both of u can b in a zillion lifetimes, she should go to Israel n/or India?

    Am i missing a point here brothers? …that anyone n everyone who talks sense in this country should pack n leave, bcoz now this society has no room for an intellectual discourse n highlighting the social evils that confront us day in n day out?

    For God sake grow up….and stop employing religion as a tool to shield urself from the onslaught of logic n reasoning.

    On an ending note, here is a food for thought for both of you:

    The 2 countries u suggested that the author should move to… India n Israel….. hv u ever wondered that how come they dont hv suicide bombings, illiterate ppl moral policing their societies, invest more in science-education-technology, live better lives, hv no honor n ghairat killings of their daughters/sisters, dont blow their girls schools/colleges, hv better drinking water, health facilities than us, hv much higher literacy rates than us, dont hv a Shia/Sunni/Ahmedi/Barelvi/Deobandi/Mohajir/Punjabi/Balochi/MQM/ANP/PPP/Target killings of doctors bcoz of their sects problems on a daily basis….. etc etc???????
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  • xyz
    Jul 31, 2011 - 6:00AM

    Dear God,

    I dare not be a part of the two extremes, the liberal and the religious… but how do i avoid being crushed between the two!


  • Khadim Husain
    Jul 31, 2011 - 6:52AM

    Dear ! Your sentiments are appreciateable and Islamic teaching nothing to do with moon sighting politics. You are author is extra ordinary secular and trying to make fun, but it is truth that sectarian Ulema would never work to join nation. Peoples laugh on us.
    It is sad that Ulema are not ready to listen any one. I discussed with Ulema, those agree on my view point that unity is for superior practice that gives strength, but our ulema whenever move back to their sectarian heads forget every thing.
    For Muharram if you may check newspapers programs are scheduled and announced for before Zul Hajj. Whereas miscalculation of one day of month of Muharram could effect next 11 months. If we have harmony on moon sighting of Muharram so Ulema must work with same spirit on Eid and Ramadhan.
    I feel shame when I can not convince my children in defence of Ulema.


  • Aqleem Mirza
    Jul 31, 2011 - 6:41PM

    @ Hasan Abidi

    What a marvellous response. I wish more of us can think that deeply feel for Pakistan so intensely and have the ability to sort out and rectify, like you do sir.

    Its one of the most moving lines i have read of late. It awakened me and a few more to whom i forwarded your response.

    Thank you Mr. Abidi for an enlightening piece, and I agree with Mr. Tony Singh and other admirers of your writing prowess that my country desperately needs intellectuals like you.


  • PakEconomist
    Aug 1, 2011 - 3:52AM

    Ms Jilani,

    Thank you for identifying the most colosal failure in Pakistan since 1947. Our population has increased by 6 times !!!

    We are heading for disaster – may be the disaster has arrived ! Can you imagine how much better we would be living if we still had a population of 30M !

    We are destroying our resources. Water aquifers are being drained. Farmland is being becoming saline. We are poisoning the land with arsenic from underground water.

    We need staggering investments in irrigation. Do we have an friends left who will lend us the money for these projects because we don’t have any money. ?

    The average Pakistani youngster is more stunted in his growth than his parents according to a World Bank study.

    Imagine everyone being 6 times more wealthy ! Instead we are quickly approached a crisis when brother may have to kill his brother to survive. You laugh at me for exaggerating – but already Shia, Sunni, etc are killing each other !


  • sirius
    Aug 1, 2011 - 3:09PM

    Bravo keep decending into oblivion. Why in these days and age do we have to rely on some religious leader’s about the sighting of the moon.!!!!!!!!!

    HELLO humans have been to the moon, !!!!!!!!!!!!we have technology which can tell if the crescent is there or not! Thank God I IGNORE the official declaration of Ramazan and simply use high tech to ascertain the start of Ramazan!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Recommend

  • Zubair Khan
    Aug 1, 2011 - 4:10PM

    How true you are. Really motherland never got any one like him. Probably the evaporation of common societal values is the main reason. In those times every one had respect for others. Even enmity was also done on some noble principals. Alas same scenario can prevail once again in Pakistan.


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