IN an attempt to address what is a perennial problem, the government has introduced a bill to regulate the system of moon-sighting. Unfortunately, instead of tackling the root of the problem — which lies in relying on an outdated and unnecessarily complicated method for moon-sighting — the bill appears to only give more powers to the moon-spotting committees in an attempt to please the religious lobby with little mention of a scientific or technologically-led way forward. If the bill becomes law, ‘false evidence’ of moon sighting will result in a jail term and a fine. The proposed 16-member committee will include clerics, as well as a science and technology expert, but thus far it is not clear what method will be followed. At present, there is no structured law that regulates the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee and the current set-up has been functioning under the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The moon-sighting controversy has been ongoing since the Ayub era and is cause of much frustration and panic due to last-minute announcements of the sighting of the crescent that marks the beginning and end of Ramazan. In the late ‘60s, clerics refused to follow a scientifically determined formula when the former dictator decided that military commanders would determine moon-sighting. Today, the system still relies heavily on the Ruet-e-Hilal committee to collect witness accounts of moon sightings in a manner that is both unscientific and archaic. Fawad Chaudhry was right to try to do away with this system when he was minister for science and technology, and his introduction of a website and an android application for the sighting of the moon made perfect sense. Instead of creating more committees to further complicate an already controversial system, the government should focus on making the moon-sighting process a seamless one that considers scientific evidence. For far too long different parts of the country have ended up celebrating Eidul Fitr on different days due to the absence of a streamlined system. This is an opportunity to end the confusion.
Published in Dawn, January 13th, 2022