Suppose it is the 29th of Ramazan and evening time when the new moon is about to appear. Many people around the country have absorbed themselves in the biannual activity of looking for a crescent in the sky. Let an average citizen, who is all alone on his rooftop, witnesses it for a minute or so and then it is gone. He is absolutely sure about what he just saw. How much time will it take to report moon sighting if he belongs to a far-flung area and at the same time he is illiterate? No one likes to get into bureaucratic intricacies in the first place. It might take hours while his family and friends convince him to honour his national obligation and testify before the government authorities. By the time he makes himself emotionally ready to face difficult questions from officials, the meeting of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee would have been declared closed, with the announcement of Eidul Fitr on the day after tomorrow. After all, for how much time do they patiently wait to hear witnesses? At most two hours?

This Committee remains a centre of focus for the whole nation two nights a year, and every time it makes itself known to the people about how much reasonably and technically competent it is. Spending two sleepless nights a year, receiving and hearing witnesses may seem tiresome especially when one is as old as most of the Committee members, but having a budget of millions of rupees worth it. The irony is that the man sitting in the Chair has been a controversial person for decades but no government could muster up the courage to send him home. Why have the successive administrations failed to come up with a person of great, religious stature to preside over the Committee’s meetings at whom no one can point fingers?

On the other hand, Mufti Popalzai runs his own version of unofficial Ruet-e-Hilal committee at Masjid Qasim Ali Khan in Peshawar. One wonders how Popalzai and the government’s 29th of Shaban falls on the same days and first of Ramazan on different days every time. It has never happened that Popalzai has not received any witness on 29th of Shaban. Does every year Shaban get a share of 29 days in the Islamic calendar? What is the government’s stance on the working of this committee? Is it legal or illegal? The fact that many past provincial governments complied with its decisions in striking contrast to the federal government leave little space for outlawing it.

Where Ramazan and Eid festival should have been a source of mutual love and unity, we stand divided as a nation on these occasions, with the onset of Ramazan and Shawwal in most parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa one day prior to the rest of the country. Many citizens of KP are rendered perplexed by announcements of these two committees about their legitimacy of fasting and Eid celebrations. Both are of doubtful authenticity for many people who are ambivalent about which one to abide by. This controversy has been intensifying the people’s lack of trust in the government and its institutions. And when trust is lost, it breeds many evils. It is welcome that a debate has been sparked off in the high circles in this regard and the matter has been taken seriously.

The incumbent Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry shouldered his responsibility by setting up a committee of experts from his own ministry, Meteorological department, and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) to work on preparation of an Islamic calendar and development of a moon-sighting application based on the latest astronomical information. This should have happened a long time ago, still better late than never. Now that the Islamic calendar has been developed, Fawad Chaudhry needs to take religious scholars of all sects on board and avoid being embroiled in any dispute which can dash our hopes of Eid on the same day throughout Pakistan. If this initiative of the honourable Minister bears fruit and he successfully comes to grips with this important religious problem, it’ll be proved that he is worth his salt.

I myself live in a part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where people choose to observe Eid and Ramazan in conformity with the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee while part of our family lives in Peshawar where the public go along with Popalzai. Members of the same families have to celebrate their most important religious festivals on different days within one country and one province. It is appropriate to urge the government, not Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman or Shahabuddin Popalzai, to take necessary measures for amicably settling this issue once and for all, whether it disbands the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and implement the Islamic calendar, makes Popalzai conform to the norm, or look for any other practical solution.