Role of scientific calculations in moon-sighting
The issue of moon-sighting (ruet-e-hilal) has been controversial between Peshawar and rest of the cities in Pakistan since its inception. Although, Peshawar vs all Pakistan had been accepted by all and sundry as a routine for the matter spread over decades, but the establishment of a new committee of experts by Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry to determine moon-sighting recently stirred debate among different circles on how much involvement should scientific tools have in religious subjects.
Earlier, the disagreement was between the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee and the Qasim Ali Khan Masjid, a 17th-century mosque in Peshawar. Now, this issue has exacerbated with Chairman Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman and Fawad Chaudhry at loggerheads over the use of scientific machinery to pre-decide the dates.
Mufti Muneeb is adamant on sighting moon with bare eyes, while Fawad Chaudhry believes that scientific methods could settle the confusion once and for all. The former sees Shariah in its true form, whilst the latter has a logical angle. This has put people in a bloody fix. Heads are spinning. It is feared that this variance of opinion may further divide the nation.
Fawad Chaudhry argues that how could sighting moon through old technology be halal and with latest technology be haram. However, later he softened his stance and said that the Islamic Ideology Council has to decide this issue. He said he had done his part by constituting the 10-year lunar calendar.
In an interview with a channel, Mufti Muneeb had said that lunar calendars were no new invention and they had existed from thousands of years.
A lunar calendar is based upon the monthly cycles of the Moon’s phases and some scholars believe that it has existed for 27,000 years.
Senior TV anchor Orya Maqbool Jan said you cannot make religion subordinate to science when it was a matter of Shariah compliance.
Talking to a channel, Mufti Raghib Naeemi had said that they used science as a secondary tool only. He said the existing moon-sighting committee had religious scholars as well as scientists in it. He said the expenditures on the committee were worth it.
In a survey conducted by a local channel, people disdained the calendar formed by Fawad Chaudhry’s team.
Earlier this year Gulf News reported that the scholars of the United Arab Emirates also deliberated on revamping moon-sighting methods for Ramadan and Eid. A section of the UAE scholars believed that sighting the moon with naked eye should be the standard. Few scholars think that the astronomical calculations could be accounted for starting a new month.
Chairman of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space Science and Chancellor of University of Sharjah Dr Humaid Majol Al Nuaimi had said that although the scientific method of calculating the new moon’s birth was accurate, even “up to the second”, but it did not mean that the moon could be seen.
“There is a big difference between the birth of the new moon and the moon sighting; we can calculate the new moon for the next 10,000 years if we want… there are even websites that can do it,” Al Nuaimi hyad said.
In May this year, the science and technology minister had formed a new committee of comprising science and technology experts from SUPARCO (Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission) and meteorological department.
The committee was tasked to prepare an Islamic calendar for the next 10 years to decide dates of Ramzan, Eid and Muharram.
In a tweet in June, the minister had announced that Eid ul Adha would fall on August 12 while Muharram would begin on September 1.
Meanwhile, the chairman central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee had responded that the minister was ‘unaware of religious matters’.
“Fawad Chaudhry is unaware of the system. He doesn’t even know that the committee meets at Suparco. I have previously appealed to the prime minister to let speak only concerned minister on religious issues. The science and technology minister doesn’t understand the sensitivity of the issue he shouldn’t have a licence to speak on it,” he had said.