When the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee announced on Sunday that the moon hadn’t been sighted anywhere in Pakistan and that Ramazan would begin from Tuesday in the province, it was met with more opposition than it is used to.
Federal Science and Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry took to Twitter to announce that his ministry would make an Islamic calendar with Eid, Ramazan and Muharram dates pre-decided before the official announcement. In response, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, the head of Pakistan’s moon sighting committee, told Chaudhry to mind his own business.
Sighting the moon ahead of major Islamic events (like Eid, Ramazan or Muharram) is an event in Pakistan. People wait on tenterhooks for the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee to decide whether the moon has been sighted or not. It gathers information from its sub-committees in provincial capitals and the main committee decides whether or not the moon has indeed been sighted. Teams from SUPARCO and the Pakistan Meteorological Department also sit with the committee to sight the moon.
According to Abdul Rashid, the director of Karachi’s Meteorological Department, you don’t need technology, you need sharp eyes. But we do have technology to use too, he told SAMAA Digital. They have binoculars, telescopes and optical theodolites (a device used to measure angles between two points). He was rather sure that SUPARCO wouldn’t have any new technology to make a 10-year calendar, especially since a team from the commission sits with the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee every year during the moon sighting.
SUPARCO could not be reached for a comment.
But not everyone is on board with this method.
Chaudhry said on Twitter that the country’s future cannot be left to maulvis (religious clerics). He announced that a five-member committee comprising officials from SUPARCO and his ministry would make a new 10-year calendar to put an end to the “controversies” that arise every year around major Islamic events. “When we have the technology, why not use it?” he asked.
The minister said the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee is not making use of the modern technology available to them. He also thinks they shouldn’t be paid to sight the moon. “What’s the point of spending Rs4 million on [sighting] the Ramazan moon?” he asked. He believes the members should do it for free.
Educated ulemas are listening to my advice, said Chaudhry. But this is just my opinion and not everyone has to agree with it, he said. The project will be put before the cabinet and will depend on their approval, he clarified.
Mufti Rehman is one of his detractors. He wants Chaudhry to focus on his own job instead. The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee chairperson said Chaudhry used to take jabs at the opposition every day but now that he has been replaced as information minister, he is looking for another topic to talk about.
Apart from Chaudhry, who has been very vocal in the past 24 hours about his opposition to this method, Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, the head of a private moon sighting committee at Peshawar’s oldest mosque, has declared that Ramazan starts today (Monday) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The main Ruet-e-Hilal Committee decided on Sunday that it will begin across Pakistan on Tuesday.
This wouldn’t be news except for the fact that around 90% of KP follows Popalzai, partly for his own stature but mostly because the Qasim Ali Khan Mosque Committee has been declaring moon sightings since before Partition. The committee records its monthly moon sightings in a register and is considered a credible source of information.
The central regions of KP — Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda and the merged districts — as well as Hangu and Lakki Marwat are following Popalzai, who often declares that the moon has been sighted a day before the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee. Traditionally, Malakand division follows the federal government and this year it is joined by Bannu, Kohat and Karak. The southern districts are mixed — Muslims there begin their fasts with Popalzai but celebrate Eid with the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee.
Maulana Sahib-e-Haq of the Jamaat Ulema-e-Afghan, Charsadda also announced the first roza on Monday.