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Opinion News
June 30,2015

Science, faith and the Moon

S Akbar Zaidi
A few minutes before the Reut-e-Hilal Committee was to meet in Karachi to look for the Ramzan moon on June 17 this year, a controversy erupted between the committee and the Pakistan Metrological Department. While television channels were constantly showing the Reut-e-Hilal Committee members impatiently waiting for the sun to set so that they could verify whether the moon had been sighted, the same television channels were also interviewing members from the Pakistan Metrological Department well before the sun set on whether there was any chance of seeing the moon at all.
Not surprisingly, based on ‘astronomical parameters’, which were known well in advance, the Pakistan Metrological Department members announced that there was only a ‘slight chance’ that the moon would be sighted in Pakistan that evening and that Ramzan would not begin for another day.
What is interesting about this episode is not that the Met Department announced that the moon would probably not be sighted while the members of the Reut-e-Hilal Committee were waiting to inform the public whether they had seen it, for it had already been published in many of the newspapers many days before the committee was scheduled to meet that the Met Department knew that the moon would probably not be sighted on that day. What is of particular interest here is the fact that the Reut-e-Hilal Committee took severe umbrage to the fact that the Pakistan Meteorological Department had stolen their mandate and were doing the Reut-e-Hilal Committee’s job.
If only all government departments and institutions were so efficient and sincere at doing their designated tasks, making sure that only they themselves did what was expected of them.
While the Reut-e-Hilal Committee may provide a model that other departments need to emulate this incident, which happens many times every year, must make one question the need for the Pakistan Metrological Department. Moon sighting is clearly the purpose and mandate of the Reut-e-Hilal Committee, and science and other astronomical parameters are clearly coming in the way of that mandate.
While the Pakistan Metrological Department must inform us when the monsoon is expected to start, or whether there will be much flooding this rainy season, it certainly should not be in the business of sighting the moon. Perhaps there is already a realisation of this transgression of authority and jurisdiction, and things are changing fast.
Well before Ramzan was even halfway through, Jang (June 28, 2015) prominently reported that the secretary general of the Research Council of the Reut-e-Hilal Committee gave a detailed and lengthy scientific explanation demonstrating that Eidul Fitr will take place on July 18 this year. The secretary general went into the details of his conclusions, arguing that on July 16 Shawwal’s moon will be born at 6:24am, and at the time of the sunset on July 17, the moon will be 37 hours old in Peshawar and of a slightly shorter age in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. He said that the moon will be visible on July 17 in much of Sindh and Balochistan and, importantly, that the moon will not be visible with ease in Fata or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
With the Research Council of the Reut-e-Hilal Committee providing such clearly calculated numbers with precision and clarity, one sees little need for the Pakistan Meteorological Department to usurp the committee’s mandate. It should restrict itself to predicting the amount of rain expected over the next few weeks.
The author is a political
economist.

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