ISLAMABAD: Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry has formed a committee of experts to determine moon-sighting for key Islamic dates and months.

The minister took the initiative after the National Assembly was recently informed that an amount of Rs3.06 million had been spent last year on the sighting of the crescent for Muharram, Ramazan, Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha.

Mr Chaudhry had earlier questioned the wisdom of spending large sums of money on moon-sighting every year, saying the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee should do this task on a voluntary basis. He was critical of the committee, saying that up to Rs4m was spent on the moon-sighting procedures every year and that it was time science and technology was utilised to end the controversy.

The minister’s remarks and his announcement about the formation of an experts’ committee drew a prompt reaction from Ruet-i-Hilal Committee chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman, who cautioned the former against commenting on religious matters and said the committee consulted experts while sighting the crescent.

Religious scholar Mufti Naeem also suggested that the government stay away from this sensitive issue. In a programme on a news channel, he accused the federal minister of creating a new problem. “The Ruet-i-Hilal Committee has been delivering just fine with the masses having faith in its functioning,” he said.

Nonetheless, the notification for constitution of the committee of experts to finalise a calendar to indicate the exact dates of Ramazan, Eidul Fitr, Eidul Azha and Muharram for the next five years with 100 per cent accuracy, came out on May 3.

According to the notification, convener of the committee will be joint scientific adviser at the Ministry of Science and Technology Dr Mohammad Tariq Masood. Its other members are: lecturer of Department of Meteorology at Comsats University Islamabad (CUI) Waqar Ahmed, Met Department deputy directors Nadeem Faisal and Abu Nasan and DCM of Suparco, Islamabad, Ghulam Murtaza.

On Tuesday, Mr Chaudhry reportedly said he had respect for Mufti Muneeb, but was not content with the way the moon was sighted by the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee. He said the way of sighting the moon by Islamic schools of thought of Imam Hambal and Imam Shaafai was different. “While Imam Hambal supported physical sighting of moon, Imam Shaafai recommended scientific ways for it,” he added.

The minister asked why the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee used telescopes and sought assistance of the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission if it followed Imam Hambal’s way of physical sighting of the moon. He made it clear that the government would not force people to follow the calendar issued by the scientific committee.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2019