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.