The building of a consensus on religious matters has been a rare occurrence in Pakistan. Even the simple matters where the use of common sense and science help can resolve issues, self-righteousness prevails and creates a rift in society. Our country is a state which has become a reserved place for creating religious controversies and the sighting of the Shawwal moon at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan is one of them.
Each year, a race starts among religious scholars to look for the Shawwal crescent moon after the sunset at the end of 29th Ramadan both officially and unofficially. Sometimes, the quest continues for four to five hours or even longer. People remain glued to TV screens awaiting the final decision. It has become a yearly phenomenon, that the Shawwal moon not seen anywhere in the country, appears in some areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa whose witnesses mostly testify before Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, who is the Khateeb of the historic Qasim Khan Mosque in Peshawar and the head of his own Ruet-e-Hilal committee. This year too, Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai declared the sighting of the Shawwal moon in the light of “more than 17 testimonies”. Interestingly, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government also officially celebrated Eidul Fitr on Monday, May 2” leading to the celebration of Eidul Fitr on different days in Pakistan as the Central Rueet-e-Hilal Committee did not find any credible evidence of moon sighting in the country.
The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months, which makes 355 or 356 days in a year. Moon-sighting is imperative in Muslim countries, where a committee looks after it, keeping in mind the end goal — to determine not only the start of the month but also the holy days and the days of Islamic festivals. With the technological advancement of the 21st century, the task has gotten much easier to perform with fewer odds of making an error. Even the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia uses the technique of astronomical imaging for finalizing the start of the Shawwal moon. However, in Pakistan, the meetings of zonal and central Ruet-e-Hilal Committees are held at their respective offices each year for the sighting of the crescent of Ramadan and like always, there remains a conflict among local clerics over the sighting of the moon. Every year, the government of Pakistan decides to take a proactive step to put an end to the controversy regarding Ramadan and Eid moons, but somehow fails. In the presence of technological advances, the sole reliance on sighting of the moon through the naked eye or using a high-powered telescope remains questionable because it is not always possible to see the moon with the naked eye or even with a telescope, which is why a more scientific method to determine these dates will have to be developed. The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee can take the assistance of technology to avert the dispute once and for all.
We live in a technologically advanced world, where there are numerous websites and other sources that give precise moon-sighting results. Why is there still a need for people to climb their rooftops and race to mosques to testify when clerics can make use of competent technological equipment for accuracy? If Islam does not encourage regression then why are we not able to progress regarding technology? It’s time to disband this useless committee and employ expert meteorologists for this task to get rid of these conflicts. The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee has proved itself to be ineffective over the years, causing more confusion than it resolves, and is just a waste of government funds. A more authoritative committee is needed for finalizing the moon sighting and implementing its decision across the country.