Men on the moon

Published May 3, 2022

CONTROVERSY surrounding the sighting of the Eid crescent has become an annual spectacle in Pakistan, in contrast to the rest of the Muslim world where the exercise of verifying the moon’s presence is more straightforward. Practically every year, there is disagreement between the official Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, and the unofficial body headquartered in Peshawar’s Qasim Ali Khan Mosque.

This year has been no different. While the official committee decided on Sunday that the nation would celebrate Eidul Fitr on Tuesday, Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai of Peshawar said the festival would be observed on Monday. The fact is that the Peshawar cleric’s pronouncement ran counter to prevailing scientific opinion as well as the official consensus that the Shawwal crescent in Pakistan was not in view on Sunday evening.

Even more disturbing is that the PTI-led KP government decided to disregard the announcement of the consensus opinion of the central Ruet committee that is formed on the basis of consultation with the zonal committees, and to celebrate Eid on Monday, thus renewing the annual crisis that surrounds the religious occasion in the country.

The Ruet’s decision reflected the Met department’s calculations that the moon would not be in view on Sunday. The PTI itself, when in power at the centre, had championed such scientific evidence, and former science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry had earned the ire of the clerical establishment for his promotion of moon-sighting efforts rooted in science.

Now the PTI administration in KP has itself rejected scientific evidence, as well as jettisoned the consensus exercise. It is unfortunate that in Pakistani politics, disregard for consensus and science, together with clerical intransigence, has turned the moon-spotting exercise into a farce, with Eid being celebrated in the country on different days.

Rational scholars as well as the state must encourage the use of scientific evidence to support the religious duty of moon-sighting, while political forces must not exploit the exercise to settle scores with their opponents. Instead, they should accept the official majority opinion.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2022

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