EDITORIAL: Once again the nation celebrated two Eids this year because, almost as always, the moon was sighted earlier in KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) than other provinces. That’s because we’re not just perhaps the only Muslim country to completely disregard modern technology in moon sighting, but because we’re also most likely the only country that does not follow the unwritten pact that the holy day should be celebrated on the same day in the same nation-state.
The world was still some centuries away from the birth of the modern state when it was blessed with Islam, of course, so a few technicalities like the interpretation and application of the lunar calendar in different parts of the same country had to be worked out later.
Therefore, the turn from Islamic month-to-month has more or less been carried out uniformly within Muslim countries ever since. Advances in astronomy along with the introduction of game-changing modern technology made such things much simpler, of course, but not for us.
Even now, as most Muslim countries keep up the tradition of moon sighting but increasingly rely on technology for the final decision, Pakistan is open to no such concept. Here the sighting is an as-is, where-is affair. And if that means different parts of the country celebrate Eid on different days, then so be it.
There’s a way of making all this much more straight forward. The lunar cycle begins from the west, so it would make a lot more sense to shift the Ruet-e-Hilal setup as close to the western border as possible. And if and when the moon is sighted, a perfectly natural national call can be given. That would not only save everybody the last-minute confusion, it would also make more sense.
It should not be forgotten that allowing the possibility of two different Eids doesn’t just mean two annual holidays on different days within the country. It means that the entire Islamic calendar can be put on divergent tracks whenever the turn-of-the-month moon sighting differs.
Some people expected sanity to prevail, for once, when one of the two or more science and technology ministers of the previous administration flirted with the use of technology in this process. Later, however, it turned out that it was a one-man initiative with little or no backing in a government that often leant out of its way to appease the extreme religious right.
It even went so far, in its dying days, to try to introduce a bill in parliament that forbade anybody but the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee from announcing the new moon and awarded a jail sentence to anybody that did. Thankfully, it seems it got lost in the panic and rush that defined the last gasp of the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) government.
There’s little hope of any progressive change going forward because the current multi-party government would not want to upset this apple cart in the little time that it has in power, and whichever setup follows it is likely to have too many more urgent issues to deal with to give priority to angering a particular section of society.
It’s a shame that Pakistan, the only Muslim nuclear power and the so-called Fort of Islam, etc., stands out within the Ummah for clinging on to laws and procedures long discarded by the rest of the brethren. And there’s little to suggest that we have it in us to take the bold leap forward that everybody else has already taken.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022