Asking for the moon

May 19, 2019

The gloves have come off this Ramzan as the battle begins between two men fighting for the moon. A satire

Asking for the moon

The distance between the Earth and the moon is 384,400km. That’s also the average distance between Fawad Chaudhry and Imran Khan right now. But Chaudhry is looking towards science to get closer to both.

It was said that the former information minister was given the science and technology ministry as a ‘punishment’ during last month’s cabinet reshuffle. It was feared that the prime minister was punishing science and technology as well.

Say what you want about Chaudhry, he has a knack for proving people wrong. Just ask any senior leader of any of his ex-parties who decided to give him an election ticket.

Now he’s doing so with the aid of his best known characteristics -- experimentation and opportunism -- all the while exhibiting qualities rarely used by him -- logic, rationality and far-sightedness.

Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry is launching a moon sighting application to spoil the annual Eid circus, which has in the past featured the festival celebrated on three different days.

"Where is the wisdom in spending Rs4 million on moon-sighting for Ramzan and Eid?" asked Fawad Chaudhry in a week dominated by chandas. And just like the IMF, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman won’t give up his chanda easily.

Many are of the opinion that it’s not really Eid in Pakistan without a moon-sighting controversy. Agonisingly waiting for the Ruet-i-Hilal committee to spell out the pre-decided amidst repeated drawing room debates is a Pakistani Eid ritual. It’s akin to general elections in Pakistan -- only more politicised and with a bigger impact on the nation’s immediate future.

But gloves have come off this Ramzan as the battle begins between two men fighting for the moon, and the prolonged relevance that comes with it.

What will Muneeb-ur-Rehman do if not issue verdicts on Eid? After all, more than the moon, traditionally it’s Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman’s face that needs to be sighted for the nation to celebrate Eid.

Sure, he could go back to his pastime of demanding execution of Ahmadis to maintain some visibility. But that particular sector has simmering competition, and is currently dominated by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. There are many clerics issuing wajib-ul-qatl fatwas -- only one declaring Eid.

If Fawad Chaudhry has his way, that would no longer be the case. Instead of the Ruet-i-Hilal front-man making the announcement on the eve of Eid, the federal minister wants science and technology to release the lunar calendar for the next five years.

So henceforth one would just know when Eid is. What’s the fun in that?

Yes, that dystopian future that Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and all of us had feared is officially here. After alarm clocks, mailboxes, conference rooms and entire offices fitting in our devices, we will now have our own Ruet-i-Hilal committee in our smartphones. Setting the wallpaper to Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman is the closest we’ll ever come to traditional Eid.

The greater concern is that this takeover of science and rationality won’t stop with Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman. Today you’re creating an app for the lunar calendar, tomorrow you’ll create one for daily salah timings, leaving the loudspeakers redundant.

Tableegh and dawah have already become ubiquitous on social media. Many Christians are now using a ‘Confession’ app.

Given that the true menace of the internet lies in its accommodation of multiple, contrasting ideologies and viewpoints, what will happen to orthodox religion and its intrinsic need for monolithic, unflinching adherence?

History has taught us that science and rationality are predators that hunt in pairs. If the menace of former appears daunting, the latter could result in a veritable existential crisis.

One moment you’re using technology to streamline religious rituals, next you’ll be looking to embrace ideological pluralism. If rationality is allowed to usurp religion, reformist and progressive interpretations would begin to dominate just like narrow literalism has over the past millennia and a half.

Make no mistake, this won’t end here. The ramifications might be seen in the state’s own conduct. What if Pakistan denounces armed jihad as an ideology and a strategic policy, just because empirical evidence suggests that it’s in the state’s best interests? What if it starts hiring economic advisors based on their financial prowess and not their religious beliefs because someone might come up with the rational argument that theology holds little sway over economy? What if the state realises that ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’ actually mean something and might actually embrace egalitarianism just because that’s the basic governing principle it legally adheres to?

Does your heart not shudder at the possibility of the constitution treating all its citizens as truly equal by separating religion from politics? The same constitution that actually decides who can and can’t call themselves a Muslim, issued death penalty for crimes on conscience to help Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and his colleagues call for theologically endorsed murders.

Fawad Chaudhry isn’t just asking for the moon, he’s asking for the entirety of the Islamist Milky Way. And they won’t give it up without an ugly dogfight.

Asking for the moon