Tuesday, August 9, 2011


By Rabia Ahmed   Pakistan Today  09 August 2011

The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things,
of ramzan and prayers and zakat tax,
of CPI and load sheddings,
And why our days are boiling hot
And of new moon sightings

It’s that time of year again when learned ones ascend tall towers to sight the Ramzan moon over the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The exercise is repeated again at the end of the month so we may celebrate Eid.

A ‘Sardarji joke’ that has done many rounds is about how many Sikhs it takes to screw on a single light bulb. Well then, how many maulvis does it take to spot a single moon?
Members of the Ruet e Hilal Committee 
The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee meets in every province, taking testimonies from individuals, and that single tower lends itself to some sixteen entire maulvis from the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, as well as representatives from the Pakistan Navy, the Meteorological Office and the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

After all that, the KP went and spotted the moon a day earlier on Sunday night. The clerics of the Qasim Ali Khan mosque in KP were chided by the Chairman of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee (while about fifteen other persons vied for the camera alongside him) for ‘not cooperating’ with the Central Committee, which is interesting, for if the purpose of the whole exercise is to sight the moon, then they say they saw the moon. If the aim is to cooperate or coordinate with someone, ah then that opens a whole new can of worms, doesn’t it? Then why stop at coordinating with Pakistan, coordinate with Muslims all over the world, already!

While holiday rosters for Christmas are set months in advance, Muslims all over the world are never certain when Eid will be. In Muslim countries this is inconvenient but at least everyone is in the same boat. In non-Muslim surroundings, however, this annual charade is a headache.

This year there appears to have been a certain amount of consensus, and Ramzan started on the 1st of August in the Middle East, US, Britain, and KP, although there are bound to have been some differences, such as the rest of Pakistan.

It bears consideration: given the chaos and poor organisation every year over the simple matter of moon sighting, whether we are the best people in the world to be organising say a nuclear arsenal? Or let’s simplify that: If it takes fifty persons to determine the beginning and end Ramzan in Pakistan, how many persons would it take to determine the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, from beginning to end?

The two major calendars today are the Gregorian, a solar calendar, and the Islamic, a lunar calendar. Days always fall on the same day of the lunar calendar, for example the fasting month always starts on the 1st of Ramzan, and is followed by Eid-ul-Fitr on the 1st of Shawwal, and so on. It is when transposed to the Gregorian calendar that the lunar calendar fails to synchronise, and varies by approximately eleven days every year.

There is controversy regarding the method of determining the lunar calendar, more importantly since most of the world follows the Gregorian calendar. The Fiqh Council of North America has decided to adopt the astronomical method of calculation which, since such scientific methods are now available, allows a calendar to be pre-determined for many years. Holidays can be planned, time taken off, menus organised, yada yada.

For the rest of the Muslim world, the lunar calendar is based on actual sightings of the moon. This method, while ingeniously useful when other methods were unavailable, has now become rather dakianoosi, a lovely word which means ‘outdated’ and can be liberally applied.

Unfortunately, our inability to resolve such issues bodes ill for our ability to achieve consensus on less emotive issues as important for our earthly survival as Ramzan is for our eternal salvation.

So back to our nuclear arsenal: how many Pakistanis does it take to secure a nuclear arsenal?

One must first decide which Pakistanis are to be employed.

Any group with a religious bias is likely to take more than 1400 years to come to any decisions if then, given the moon sighting example. However, as we have recently seen in Japan, nuclear matters require snap decisions.

A group with political affiliations is no better, seeing that one political party cannot control violence in just Karachi, the other cannot figure out how many provinces the country must have, whilst the third cannot decide whether to be in the coalition or out of it.

If military intelligence personnel are to look after the matter, it is again a dubious choice, since ‘military intelligence’ is a plain contradiction in terms.

Besides, to continue the lyrics above, ‘some of them are out of breath and all of them are fat’, C S Lewis – spot on.

Rabia's avatar
Rabia· 15 hours ago
Correction: That was of course Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, not C.S Lewis, sorry folks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you have any comments, please leave them here. They will be published after moderation. Automated comments will be deleted.To contact me please leave a comment. If you do not wish that comment to be published please say so within the message. Thank you.