Every year there is brouhaha about having two Eids in one country. During Ayub Khan’s days, this reached such epic proportions that Eid was declared at sehri time i.e. just before the next morning and people did not know whether to celebrate it or not. This was because Ayub had succumbed to the superstition that if there are two khutbas on the same day (which happened if the day happened to be Friday) the ruler would face trouble. In Pakistan, traditionally, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) area has been one day behind the rest of the country. And we are lucky if we have just two Eids. Sometimes we are blessed with even three.
This irks most people and we hear lamenting that there should be unity in the country. Some even want unity in the Muslim world and for both, in their opinion, it is essential to have Eid on the same day. Since we follow the lunar calendar and the moon simply cannot appear everywhere at exactly the same time — even the date changes at the international dateline — this does not seem to be possible unless a new method of reckoning about Eid is agreed to by consensus. As for one country, this may be possible. But why should such a demand be there in the first place?
In my view, it is a consequence of the philosophy of nationalism or the philosophies contingent upon it. Nationalism has not had good consequences in the world. Had it confined itself to simply love of one’s nation, it would have been welcome. But it is also contingent upon having an ‘other’ which is the out-group and hence the focus of hostility and aggression. This has replaced it as a source of war instead of the dynasty or the empire. Moreover, to create a nation, the sub-national groups are sidelined or made to give up their separate identities. This process has been noted even in the case of established nations such as France. So it is this dubious philosophy of nationalism which makes people hanker for Eid on only one day in the same country. The premodern world was, however, a world in which it was possible to have a local celebration which was ideally based on some religious event. In some societies, including Islamic ones, the calendar was lunar and this posed no difficulty since those who actually saw the moon (not a big problem in the desert) celebrated Eid. Those who did not fasted for a day more. There was no nationalism to lament that Eid was not celebrated on the same day. Personally, I do not mind if Eid is on different days, but let us turn to the reasons why it is on different days in Pakistan.
While it has been said that, perhaps, people living in areas in the west of the country may actually sight the moon a day earlier than the rest of Pakistan, I do not have the technical qualifications to express any opinion on the subject. In my view, most of the time, Eid in KP used to be an expression of Pakhtun ethnic identity or sub-nationalism. Like nationalism, sub-nationalism, too, has many expressions of which some are symbolic. I have written about language in this context and will not repeat that. However, I will emphasise upon other symbols. Benedict Anderson has written about the census, the flag and the museum as the most potent symbols which make people imagine they are part of the same group. These create both nationalism and counter or sub-nationalistic groups and identities. These are also called ethnic identities and the Pakhtuns happen to be one of them. This Pakhtun identity was expressed through a number of symbols and one of them was the celebration of Eid with Kabul rather than with Islamabad or Lahore. This came to prominence during the Ayub Khan regime when the Awami National Party was unjustly suppressed. As Pakhtun rights were denied and suppressed and even the name of the province was not changed to Pakhtunkhwa till only recently, the expression took on the nature of an ethnic challenge. Hence, certain mosques and their prayer leaders emerged as centres of expressive dissent during this period and we saw a different Eid on most occasions. As the ANP is now ruling the KP province and is an ally of the PPP at the centre, this imperative is not so forceful. That is why those who did begin their Ramazan a day earlier and ended it a day earlier too did not have official patronage this time in KP.
Two solutions are possible. The first is to stop bothering about who celebrates Eid when and whether there are two Eids in one country or not. Indeed, let there be local committees which can decide such matters without any attempt to impose central decisions. Let our nationalism be dependent upon improving educational and medical standards through friendly competition without the normal bane of nationalism, which celebrates unity whereas we should celebrate unity in diversity and pluralism. The second solution is to let the departments of meteorology decide through exact calculations on the computer exactly when and where the moon will be sighted. This will have the advantage of calculating holidays in advance and declaring Eid in the calendar. Maybe then, we will have the same Eid day in a country like Pakistan. In that case, moon-sighting committees will no longer be needed and all we will need are scientists and computer experts. Such a decision may be made by the Organisation of the Islamic Council but, in my view, the ulema’s opinion should be consulted in a volatile country like Pakistan as one does not want to enter into a new and useless controversy. But, as I said before, why not have more than one Eid in a country?
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.