Thursday, August 23, 2012

Strife amongst Maulvis give astronomers a rare opening in Pakistan

by Salman Hameed

There were three Eids (celebrating the end of Ramadan) in Pakistan this year. This beats even the usual controversy over the sighting of the evening crescent that announces the beginning of a new lunar month. What is fascinating is that there is an official moon-sighting committee (Ruet-e-Hilal Committee) - but that doesn't include any astronomers (at least that was the case a few years back). Instead, it has maulvis of various denominations. They usually sit on top of the tallest building in Karachi, and try to see the Moon and/or wait for testimonies of sightings from elsewhere. Here is a picture of the committee with the chair, Mufti Muneebur Rehman right behind the telescope:

Well as it turns out, other maulvis - especially those living in the northern areas of Pakistan (close to Peshawar) do not agree with this government-sponsored committee. So they tend to announce the sighting of the Moon on their own (often when the sighting of the Moon is not even theoretically possible) and Peshawar usually celebrates Eid a day before everyone else in Pakistan. This is an annual drama which is more predictable than the lunar calendar.

This year, however, things got even more problematic. First, a cleric in the northern province (K-P province) announced Eid two days before everyone else. He was promptly arrested by the police (I actually agree here. Finally some accountability for some bad astronomy!). But it was then followed by the usual sparring of maulvis from Peshawar versus the government lunar sighting committee over the one-day difference of Eid. Here is a clip from an evening talk-show on this matter, where two maulvis "discuss" the matter. The clip is in Urdu. But even if you don't understand Urdu, you can enjoy it as a dramatic discordant opera - especially towards the end of the clip. Here is the first part (thanks to Zakir Thaver for finding the clips):

It will not add any thing substantive, but you can watch the second and third part as well. Actually, the host did try to raise an important question at around 5 min into the clip: If there was no possibility of lunar sighting according to astronomy, why was the committee still on top of the building? The implication is that if science has nothing to do with this, then why dismiss the testimonies from Peshawar? I think it is an important question. Unfortunately, all we got was more shouting from the two maulvis.

But here is an interesting bit of news today. The critic in the clip (Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi of Pakistan Ulema Council) has decided to take the issue of multiple Eids to court. And here is the kicker: He distrusts the government sponsored Moon-sighting committee so much that he wants astronomers to decide on the dates lunar calendar.

Woo hoo! Here is an opening for astronomers in Pakistan. Science can accidentally win this calendar battle. The strategy of having no say at all finally payed off! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is a bottomless pit. I would rather stay out of it. Meanwhile I would like to share with you the LPOD from 22 Aug 2012. :-))),+2012