Settling the moon sighting controversy

  • About time, once and for all

Each year the country is subjected to the frustrating exercise of “moon sightings” by religious clerics wielding unmerited power to decide when the nation observes a certain religious holiday. The Ruet-e-Hilal committee, through its controversial chairman Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman, relentlessly holds the citizenry hostage for hours multiple times a year making them go through the ordeal of waiting on him and his men who have a rudimentary knowledge of astronomy and who rely on dated technology to– sometimes till midnight– decide whether or not the following day is a holiday or not. Thankfully the former Information Minister and new Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, unlike any of his predecessors, realises how absurd this whole business of staring at the sky really is. He has therefore constituted a scientific committee that will provide a ten-year calendar deciding the dates of Eid, Ramzan, Muharram and other major events. It will remove uncertainty, enabling individuals to plan their holidays much better with families. Businesses can easily work around their employees’ travel plans or leave schedules well in advance, to ensure productivity doesn’t suffer. How the committee plans to remove provincial conflicts remains to be seen. In KP, for example, the religious holiday calendar has been decided by the Qasim Khan Mosque under the Popalzai family for decades. They employ even more primitive measures and vehemently oppose the Ruet-e-Hilal committee’s methods and suggestions.

If passed and implemented, it would effectively render redundant the religious lobby running the show without having their methods being questioned or updated for so many years. As things typically go in such instances the oft repeated ‘science versus sharia’ argument is already being made by those at the helm of things currently. The scientific approach is an objectively rational way to resolve the matter and should have been implemented much sooner as is being done for years in most majority-Muslim countries. Such pressures have succeeded in the past to sway the PTI leadership giving way to bigotry, Atif Mian’s appointment and abrupt removal is a case in point. Hopefully Prime Minister Imran Khan also sees the advantages of this move and supports his minister fully.