One Crescent, Three Eids
This year the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were subjected to multiple Eids yet again. It might come as a surprise to many, but in Peshawar, Eid ul Fitr is usually split into Muftis Muneeb & Popalzai’s Eids. The split exists even within many families who spend a substantial time arguing about who had a “shaitan ka roza” (Satan’s fast) and who didn’t. Considering the physical toll that Ramzan takes these days, guilt about being the Devil’s associate is the last thing that anyone would want for Eid.
But if that is not enough, a split Eid is followed by an expression of disappointment/bewilderment from the rest of the country. This basically boils down to a literal “What the hell is wrong with you people?” expressed through newspaper cartoons, cheeky memes and racist SMS messages. The more scientifically inclined would also ask whether we, the ones from across Attock, have ever heard of Neil Armstrong?
One such cathartic outburst was done recently by the famous TV anchor and columnist Janab Talat Hussain. Talat Sahib is aghast with the people of Waziristan and those of its “mulhiqa Ilaqay” (adjacent areas), for ignoring such basic principles of astronomical science that would be obvious even to 10th grade students. Such has been his disappointment that he has declared the Eid announcements coming from the “backwaters” of Waziristan to be a result of “Jahalat” (ignorance).
That short but eloquent piece from Talat Sahib made me cringe, not because I disagree with his emphasis on astronomy, but with the crass geographic generalization of his verdict. Just for the record, I would react similarly if some smart alec Gora Sahib watched Talat Sahib’s celebration of Agha Waqar’s Water Kit and declared that to be a result of Pakistan’s underdevelopment and Jahalat. If one is to believe Dr. Ata Ur Rehman, the fraudulent nature of that machine should have been obvious even to a 10th grade student.
Setting the 10th grade threshold aside, one thing is for certain which is that while the Water Kit does not have any religious significance for most Pakistanis, moon sightings on the other hand pertain to one of the basic pillars of Islam. This fact alone makes moon sighting more of a religious rather than an astronomical matter.
It is very easy to say that the clergy be taken out of the equation and the MET department be given sole authority to decide on Eid and Ramzan. But in practical terms, i.e. considering our masses, the Mosque will always trump the MET office in this matter. That is the reason why the mosques of KP are able to convince almost the whole province to go against the scientifically valid decisions from the center.
While the Eid rift manifests itself in ethnic terms, it originates in the differences between Deobandi and Barelvi clergy. That is the reason why some Barelvi mosques in Peshawar are known to celebrate Eid with the Central Ruet I Hilal (CRHC) while some Deobandi mosques in Lahore are reported to follow Masjid Qasim Ali Khan. The obvious need is for a consensus building body that takes clergy from all sects on board. Luckily, such a body already exists in the form of the Central Ruet I Hilal Committee (CRHC).
The problem however is the inability of the CRHC to deliver on its mandate. The dissenting Deobandi group cites “injustices”; these include the apparently unjust rejection of Deobandi witnesses and adjournment of the Ruet meetings before witnesses from far-flung areas can present themselves. This year even the zonal Ruet I Hilal committee for KP has blamed the CRHC for adjourning the Ruet meeting too early.
The response from the Chairman of the CRHC Mufti Muneeb usually has two aspects; first he challenges the astronomical validity of the alternate decision and second he wants enforcement of his own committee’s decisions. But both of these responses nullify the need for a CRHC.
If scientific validity of the sighting is the main requirement, then the MET department alone is sufficient for that, why need a CRHC? Similarly if enforcement is an option then yet again there is no need for the CRHC as the MET’s decisions can also be enforced. In other words, what is the value add of Mufti Sahib’s Chairmanship if the sightings verified by the MET department are to be enforced through the Police?
Interestingly, Saudi Arabia is often quoted as an example for Eid and Ramzan “enforcement”. However, it should be obvious that dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia differ from democracies such as Pakistan. A separate Eid in defiance of the House of Saud might be a punishable offence in Saudi Arabia, but for us Pakistanis a separate Eid is an exercise of our basic rights. Therefore, building consensus is the only democratic solution and also the only reason that justifies CRHC’s existence.
As a consensus building body, the CRHC should have a buy-in from all sects. This can be ensured if the sects are fairly represented and decision making equitably shared among them. But as things stand, Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman, a Barelvi, has been the head of CRHC for the last 12 years. Besides not being able to ensure a single united Eid ul Fitar, the Mufti Sahib has also been very controversial. His televised spates with politicians and Ulema show him to be a very easily irritable person with a hunger for the enforcement of his decisions. His replacement would be a necessary first step for raising credibility of the CRHC among its dissenters.
It is indeed moronic to associate this Eid split with the “stupidity” of a race. Races cant be stupid, even if racist humor tells us other wise. The Eid split can be traced back to the improper functioning of a Government body. While the solution to that seems fairly obvious, its non implementation is a mystery unto itself. The sectarian nature of this split needs to be recognized and addressed, focusing on its ethnic dimensions would only create another split in this fissured nation.
An edited version appeared in the daily The News on the 28th of Aug 2012