See no moon: MPA confronts local clerics

Qasim Khan Mosque challenged for invalid moon sighting announcement for Ramazan.

Manzoor Ali August 02, 2011


Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Member Provincial Assembly Nighat Orkazai on Monday submitted an adjournment motion against the clerics of Qasim Ali Khan Mosque for its controversial moon sighting announcement for Ramazan, which divided the country yet again this year.

The mosque had announced the sighting of the moon on Sunday, according to which people were supposed to fast on Monday.

The announcement was made by a committee of Qasim Ali Khan Mosque on testimony, comprising of five witnesses from the Khazana area of Peshawar, five hours after the actual sighting of the moon.

The K-P MPA, Orkazai, said the committee had earlier decided to hold a joint moon sighting session with the government; however, the clerics of the mosque violated the decision.

“This announcement is tantamount to dividing religious harmony in the country, as it drifted people apart from each other. The people of K-P need religious unity at this juncture and the government must take action against those elements responsible for disrupting peace and unity in the society,” she remarked.

She questioned the validity of the testimonies, saying that even though the clerics were present in the vicinity of Peshawar, the fact that the announcement was made after five hours made the decision questionable.

K-P Minister for Religious Affairs and Auqaf Nimroz Khan also criticised the committee’s announcement, terming it a “wrong decision”. He said the provincial government had made all necessary arrangements for the start of the holy month on the same day across the country. However, the religious leaders had created a hurdle to appease their own interests.

“There is a huge division even within Peshawar, as a group of people follow the unofficial announcements of Qasim Ali Khan Mosque,” he remarked.

Unlike last year, several restaurants and commercial areas remained open on Monday, despite the announcement made by the clerics.

However, a large number of people in Nowshera, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda, tribal areas and Afghan nationals residing in Peshawar followed the unofficial announcement, while the people of Hazara and Malakand divisions have decided to follow the official announcement by the government.

Zaheerullah, an Afghan national in Peshawar, said he was surprised to see people fasting in Peshawar. “Today is the 29th of Sha’aban and it is not possible to have a month of 28 days in the Islamic calendar. There seems to be a problem with either the announcement or with the moon sighting for the month of Sha’aban,” he claimed.

Aftab Ahmed, another resident of Peshawar, said his family used to follow the local committee’s decision every year. However, this year they decided not to follow it as the announcement seemed to be dubious. He said the committee must mend its ways as such announcements are bound to damage the credibility of the committee.

The committee’s decision also came as a surprise for residents of Peshawar, as the clerics were scheduled to hold a meeting on Monday, as agreed between the committee and the provincial government. However, the committee announced the moon sighting after an emergency meeting was called, in which witnesses testified to seeing the moon for the holy month.

Qasim Ali Khan Mosque, located in the Misgaran Bazaar, has been creating a nuisance in moon sighting for several years due to its moon sighting announcements ahead of the government at the beginning and end of the month of Ramazan. Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, the cleric heading the mosque, is well reputed for his religious insight and is followed by people from across the province.

The Popalzai family was selected to announce moon sighting for the month of Ramazan and Shawwal prior to the creation of Pakistan. However, they did not abandon the task even though their decision clashes with the official committee
every year, sparking controversy and increasing hatred in the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2011.