July 17, 2015

As Pakistanis, we claim to be “a citadel of Islam,” but our actions and policies probably do more harm than good to the image of Islam. We believe we can propagate Islam and enhance its glory by Islamising everything. We have Islamic banking, Islamic mobile phone tunes and applications, and Islamic housing colonies like Qartaba Town. In a nutshell, we have made everything Islamic at a superficial level, but fail to comprehend the true spirit of Islam.

There is no dearth of non-issues that we blow out of proportion and end up making a mockery of religion. One such non-issue Pakistan encounters at least twice a year is that of the Ramzan and Eid-ul-Fitr moon sighting. It involves an institution called the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (Moon-sighting Committee), which consists of a bunch of clerics who, alien to the field of astronomy, gather every year to physically sight the moon and give their verdict as to whether the nation should fast the next day or not. It is a much awaited, tense event, with factors such as a clear or cloudy sky affecting the outcome. Where one views the skies from is also a factor.

Like every other year, Ramzan started on different dates in various parts of the country this year as well. According to the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee’s announcement, the first day of fasting would be June 19. However, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based cleric, Mufti Popalzai, supposedly sighted the moon a day earlier and announced that in KP the first roza would be on June 18. Possibly, we will have the same controversy at the end of the month as well. The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee will assemble again and search for the Eid moon, Popalzai will see it a day before, and Pakistanis will celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr on two different days, just like we had two different start days for Ramzan.

This has been going on since the formation of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee. On certain occasions, Pakistan has even celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr on three different days. It is difficult to recall a single year when the entire nation started fasting on one day, or celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr on the same day. The dates of Ramzan and Eid-ul-Fitr have always been controversial.

So, what is the use of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee? Nobody takes it seriously and it is a burden on taxpayers. While people elsewhere have landed on the moon, our clerics still continue to quibble over its sighting.

Allah has said in the Holy Quran that He has set a system that allows the moon, the earth, and other planets to revolve around their orbits with precision, without interfering in each other’s functioning. We need to understand and analyse the Quran and assign the task of charting the moon’s phases to scientists instead of clerics. Science can tell you about the moon’s
movement with precision many years in advance. Better still, we should follow the Saudi schedule for Ramzan, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha. At least that way Pakistan will fast and celebrate Eid on the same day across the country.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.