KARACHI: Like years past, a controversy over sighting of the Shawwal crescent continued to dog Eidul Fitr this year as well, with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government officially observing Tuesday as the first day of the Eid holidays.
People of the other provinces in the country will observe Wednesday (today) as the first day of the holiday, as per an announcement made by the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.
The situation has dismayed many members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), particularly federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, who criticised the KP government’s decision to begin celebrating Eid on Tuesday.
In response, KP Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai lashed out at Mr Chaudhry and said: “I suggest ‘Mufti Fawad’ to focus on his work and not target the government and religious scholars.”
He defended the KP government’s decision to declare Tuesday as the first day of Eid, suggesting that while they were celebrating Eid on the correct day, the provincial government should have announced the beginning of Ramazan a day earlier.
Will fast for extra day in compensation, says provincial minister
“We started fasting as per the announcement of [Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Chairman] Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman but beginning the fast a day earlier would have been [more] accurate,” the minister said during an interview to a news channel.
“We will fast for one extra day as compensation for the fast [missed],” he added.
He said it was a misunderstanding that the KP government had announced Eid on Tuesday on the instructions of Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, the Peshawar-based cleric who is frequently at the centre of controversies regarding sighting of the Ramazan and Shawwal crescent.
The information minister said that Prime Minister Imran Khan had been approached before announcing Eid in KP. “The prime minister responded that ‘it is your matter and you understand it better’,” Mr Yousafzai said.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Chaudhry, while talking to a private news channel, had said it was impossible to sight the Shawwal moon on Monday (June 3).
“You can’t celebrate a religious festival on the basis of a lie,” the science and technology minister had said.
He criticised the KP government and termed its decision to celebrate Eid on June 4 as “inappropriate”. He also advised the provincial government to refrain from becoming part of local disputes.
The minister tweeted that ignorance had had no cure: “Printing press, rail journeys remained ‘haram’ for 200 years, while it took several years to declare the use of loud speaker ‘halal’; the issue of moon sighting will be resolved too.”
Mr Yousafzai also criticised Mufti Muneeb, saying the cleric had raised objection over Mr Chaudhry’s efforts to celebrate Eid across the country on the same day. He claimed that Mufti Muneeb had said “science has nothing to do with moon-sighting”.
Mr Yousafzai said there were differences within the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee as well. “Mufti Muneeb should step aside as retirement happens in every job,” he added.
On Monday, the KP information minister had announced that the provincial government after taking into account testimonies of moon-sighting from all over the province had decided to celebrate Eidul Fitr on Tuesday after getting approval from the prime minister.
The minister said the government received a number of testimonies for Shawwal moon-sighting from the tribal districts.
Responding to reports of moon-sightings in the province, Mr Chaudhry had tweeted that it was possible to spot the moon on Monday only if someone named himself so (moon).
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Khawaja Saad Rafique pointed out that for the first time in history, the KP government had decided to observe the first day of Eid after 28 fasts. “Ruet-i-Halal committee and science ministry alarmed. Who gave you the right to skip the 29th fast?” he asked.
Earlier this week, the federal minister launched the country’s first moon-sighting website and Hijri calendar and announced the date of Eid-ul-Fitr (June 5) based on the lunar observations.
‘Confidence’ in Ruet-i-Hilal Committee
Meanwhile, Mufti Muneeb, after chairing a meeting of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee on Tuesday, addressed the controversy generated over moon-sighting, saying “all acclaimed scholars have full confidence in the committee”.
Addressing the KP chief minister and information minister, he noted that parts of KP would also celebrate Eid on Wednesday.
“I want to say whether it’s the 18th Amendment or the 28th Amendment, these are all subservient to religion, religion will never be subservient to these,” he said.
He expressed displeasure at the ruling PTI for allowing Eid to be celebrated in KP on a different day than the rest of the country.
“I was astonished that the party which has a government in the federation is deviating [from the norm] at the provincial government level. This is a most unusual event in Pakistan’s history,” he said.
“I wish to appeal to the electronic media: Please do not consider Masjid Qasim Ali Khan the entire province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Will you remove the other areas from the province? That’s why those who are appointed in government positions should keep in their minds the sensitivities of their roles,” the cleric added.
He said Mahmood Khan was not the first chief minister (of KP). “Many others have come before him. All in all, whatever they did on the local level, they never let their decisions be the source of controversy for the whole country,” said Mufti Muneeb.
He then held up a clipping of an old news article from an Urdu newspaper dating back to 1981. “This is not a matter belonging to the present time. This has continued since the creation of Pakistan,” he said.
Mufti Muneeb then proceeded to name all preceding chairmen of Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, saying that this “tradition of deviation” had persisted during their tenures too.
“Religion will continue to reign supreme in the country. And in a country which got independence in the name of religion, those who are in power will benefit from siding with religion in matters which are purely religious in nature. If they do not have the courage to do so, then at the very least they should not make things controversial.”
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2019