Ramazan is around the corner, which means it’s time for our annual science versus sight debate over the moon. Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday said the Ramazan moon will emerge on April 24, making April 25 the first day of fasting. The date announcement was more of a reminder than a revelation as Chaudhry had already announced the date in February. The real news was that due to the coronavirus outbreak, there will be no moon sighting event, as previously announced. Chaudhry’s date prediction, of course, is based on the lunar calendar, which can be scientifically determined many years in advance. It is significant because it plays into an already contentious relationship between the state and the clergy since the Coivd-19 lockdowns began.
Chaudhry took a ‘respectful’ swing at Mufti Muneebur Rahman, the head of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and the man entrusted with moon sighting. Mufti Muneeb has been a thorn for the government, refusing to allow the lockdown to be imposed on mosques. “I respect [Mufti Muneeb] but he cannot even see such a big moon, how can he see the tiny coronavirus,” Chaudhry said, referring to Mufti Muneeb’s past refusal to accept scientific data, and allegedly even first-hand sighting testimony from certain people and regions. Chaudhry also alleged that the moon sighting committee had gotten the start date of three months wrong in the previous year, and was spending Rs4 million a year on moon sighting. Mufti Muneeb responded by saying Chaudhry has no right to speak on religious issues because he is not qualified.
We hope that allegations and counter-allegations must have evened out now. With just days away from the advent of the fasting month, what’s important is to decide how to go about an issue that has long been a source of controversy in the country over important religious occasions.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2020.
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