A multiplicity of Eids

May 8, 2022

Moon sighting controversy makes its way to Balochistan as well

A multiplicity of Eids

Eidul Fitr was celebrated on two days this year - Tuesday and Wednesday. People in many parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are used to having two Eids due to Mufti Popalzai of Masjid Qasim Jan who heads an unofficial moon-sighting committee. Decisions reached by the committee are frequently at various with the official committee. The controversy has made its way to Balochistan as well.As a result, people of Balochistan were unable to celebrate the Eid the same day.

On the evening of May 1, the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee and its provincial chapters held meetings to sight the Shawal moon and receive and evaluate evidence in this regard. Members of these committees use telescopes to look for the moon.They also ask for testimony by other people who may have sighted the moon. They have developed a procedure to verify and validate moon-sighting testimony in accordance with the rules of shariah.

At around 9:30pm, two and half hours after sunset in most parts of the country, the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee announced that the Shawal moon had not been sighted. They decided therefore that Eid will be celebrated in Pakistan on Tuesday (May 3). It was later alleged that this decision had been reached in haste.It was claimed that testimonies about moon sightings in Balochistan were still in the process of validation at the time.

On account of the long distances and sparse population in Balochistan, it takes longer for a person in a remote area who may have has sighted the moon, to notify the zonal Ruet-i-Hilal Committee. Once a witness has intimated the committee, it takes a certain amount of time to validate the testimony. The process can takeup to five hours in some parts of the province. When the central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee announced its decision that the moon has not been sighted, thelocal witnesses were confused about why their testimonies hadnot been processed.

Some of the local clerics then took the matter into their hands and started evaluating the testimonies. In places like Kohlu and Duki, the process ended at 2am. After that the local clerics declared Eid on May 2, ruling that reliable testimony on moon sighting had been received. Resultantly, Eid was celebrated on May 2 in Qila Abdullah, Chaman, Qila Saifullah, Loralai, Kohlu, Duki, Zhob, Kuchak, Musa Khel and Sherani districts of Balochistan. According to a conservative estimate, almost 30 percent of the people of Balochistan celebrated Eid on May 2, a day before it was celebrated in most of Pakistan.

Eid was celebrated on May 2 in Qila Abdullah, Chaman, Qila Saifullah, Loralai, Kohlu, Duki, Zhob, Kuchak, Musa Khel and Sherani districts of Balochistan. Based on a conservative estimate, almost 30 percent of people of Balochistan celebrated Eid on May 2, one day before it was celebrated in most of Pakistan.

On May 2, many people in the aforementioned areas shared pictures of the crescent. They claimed that it was clear that the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee had made a poor judgment call. Many people in these districts said that they did not agree with the decision of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.“From next year onwards, a mechanism should be devised so that the moon sightings in remote areas of Balochistan are not ignored,” they demanded.

Moon sighting has always been a problem in Pakistan. During the erstwhile government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, a disagreement resulted in a clash between Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee chairman Mufti Muneeb and the then federal minister for science and technology Fawad Hussain. In December 2020, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony removed Mufti Muneeb from the post, replacing him with Maulana Abdul Khabeer Azad. However, the problem did not go away.

It has been argued that moonsighting should be left to Pakistan’s Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). They can use the latest scientific means available to accurately determine the start of Ramazan and Shawal. The fasts and Eid feasts can then be observed accordingly. However, it’s easier said than done. Using of astronomical knowledge to replace moon sighting has been rejected by most clerics and is not popular culturally. Therefore, the solution has proved a hard sell.

In this context, the current moon-sighting mechanism needs to be reformed to ensure that there is no great controversy. One way to go about this is to agree that the choice of day for celebrating Eid is a private matter. If people in some area want to celebrate Eid on a different day, then the government should not stop them from doing so. Registering criminal cases against some villagers in Mandi Bahauddin for celebrating Eid on May 2 is highly regrettable.It can be argued that it is tantamount to interference in the personal affairs of citizens.

The Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee needs to put its house in order and make itsdecision making inclusive. If there is a situation where it can take longer to receive and confirm testimonies, like in the case of Balochistan this year, the committee should wait and not announce a decision in haste. If necessary, it should wait till early in the morning to ensure that testimonies from all over the country have been taken into account before reaching a decision about Eid. If such a practice is adopted it may be possible to avoid multiple Eids in the country.

The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

A multiplicity of Eids