WHILE the sighting of the moon for every new Hijri month in Pakistan is usually a quiet affair, when it comes to spotting the crescent for Ramazan and Shawwal, controversies are common. For example, there have been years when three Eids have been celebrated in the country. While the central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee — officially tasked with the duty of moon-spotting — says one thing, clerics of other self-appointed ‘committees’ often disagree, which results in varying dates for religious occasions. Though this problem has persisted for decades, a solution may be in sight, as the newly appointed head of the moon-sighting committee says he is willing to use scientific methods “within the limits of Sharia” to spot the crescent. Maulana Abdul Khabir, who recently replaced long-time Ruet chief Mufti Muneebur Rehman, said this on Thursday after meeting Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry. Mr Chaudhry and the previous Ruet chief, along with other clerics, had very publicly disagreed over introducing scientific methods to augment the religious duty of moon-sighting, with the men of the cloth telling the minister to keep out of religious matters.

While hardliners will likely dismiss the new Ruet chief’s efforts to harmonise faith and science, the move is surely a good omen. Credit should be given to Mr Chaudhry for standing his ground over the matter, while Maulana Abdul Khabir has also shown that modern methods can complement religious requirements. Some overzealous clerics in the past have ‘spotted’ the moon when there was absolutely no chance of it appearing on the horizon scientifically, while others have decided to follow Saudi Arabia in the matter, which is an equally confusing solution considering the difference in time and geographical distance between the two countries. To prevent such farcical situations from arising again, clerics should be encouraged to work with the ministry in order to ensure that the nation observes Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha on the same day countrywide, though some elements are likely to cling to their own outdated notions.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2021

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