Pakistan Observer

Crescent sighting: Task of Mufti or scientist

M M Alam

Thursday, August 23, 2012 - Karachi—Now that various fragments of our public have celebrated three Eids one by one & the commotion (including suspension of cell phone service, bomb hoax at Karachi Zoo & drownings at Hawks Bay) is over, it seems opportune to ponder over the conundrum: ‘Is crescent-sighting a task for a mufti or a scientist?’

Holy Prophet Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) following Ghazwa-e-Badr celebrated the first ever Eid-ul-Fitr & (according to a Hadith) instructed the Ummah to “fast when the moon is sighted & stop fasting when the moon is sighted, otherwise complete thirty days”. Since a lunar month is never more than thirty days the disagreement generally arises (in Pakistan) as to whether the crescent emerged on 29th Ramadan.

Historically, some 140 years ago when greenhouse gasses & other pollution did not exist, Royal Astronomical Society recorded 15.4 minutes as the age of youngest moon sighted by naked eye. According to Met. in today’s contaminated atmosphere moon’s age should be altleast thirty hours for sighting. Met. had also predicted that it was not possible to sight moon here on Saturday (August 18) as it was only 22 hours old. Then Chairman Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Munibur Rehman as well announced that they had received no evidence of Shawaal moon sighting anywhere in the country & the Eid-ul-Fitr would be celebrated on Monday Aug. 20. Professionals from Met Office, SUPARCO & Navy also assisted the meeting held at Pakistan Meteorological Department here.

Earlier self-appointed committee in Miramshah claimed sighting in (Hyderkhel area of) North Waziristan on Friday. That was followed by Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour’s official endorsement of the verdict of zonal committee & informal group headed by Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai at Peshawar’s Masjid Qasim Ali Khan about testimonies vis-à-vis sighting of Shawwal moon. (It is insinuated that since Afghans have numerically overshadowed the natives, they endeavor to observe Eid with their compatriots back home.)

In the presence of avant-garde scientific means is physical sighting indispensable? One of the apposite modes could be to follow Umm al-Qura calendar based on astronomical calculations or rely on up-to-the-minute techniques to predict the date & then appeal the common people for crescent-sighting on calculated point in time (&/or accept the scientific verdict principally when the sky is overcast).

In this (opinionated) state of affairs one may recall that when Bangladesh was East Pakistan citizens over there used to acknowledge crescent-sighting in Karachi; Bohris here celebrate Eid with Saudis; when 1.5-2 billion Muslims live all over the globe, it is debatable whether one sighting could be adequate for the whole world!

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