A crescent moon can be seen over palm trees at Manama, marking the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan in Bahrain. (Wikimedia Commons)

Pakistani Cleric Files Complaint in ‘Moon-sighting Controversy’

Mufti Inam-ul-Haq slams use of new calendar to fix holiday dates as ‘un-Islamic act’

[Islamabad] A cleric in Pakistan has lodged a complaint with police accusing a federal minister of violating Islamic tradition by introducing a moon-sighting website and an official lunar calendar. In the complaint, Mufti Inam-ul-Haq said Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry had perpetrated an “un-Islamic act.”

“[For centuries], Islam has a tradition of physically seeing the moon when it comes to deciding the dates of the start of the month of Ramadan and of Eids [Islamic holidays],” ul-Haq wrote to authorities. “Pakistan is no exception. Hence, the minister has committed a grave sin…. He deserves punishment.”

Islamabad police confirmed an investigation was underway to decide whether to open a case against Chaudhry. However, the station’s assistant sub-inspector told The Media Line that it was highly unlikely criminal charges would be pursued as the minister had not insulted or defamed Islam or its teachings.

“Yes, we have received the complaint, but the cleric is [not in the position] to object to government decisions,” Zohaib Nasrullah Ranjha said. “It’s for the government to decide whether to use technology for moon-sighting or not. I believe the minister has not violated Islam.”

Pakistani religious figures – who on the whole know little about astronomy – generally use decades-old telescopes to determine the arrival of holidays. As such, Chaudhry on May 7 established a committee – comprised of scientists – to resolve discrepancies and controversies surrounding the issue.

And, on Sunday, Pakistan released its first-ever official lunar calendar along with a moon-sighting website that specifies significant Islamic dates for the next five years.

“I’m grateful to the scientists, astronomers and information technology experts for accomplishing these tasks,” Chaudhry thereafter told a press conference in Islamabad.

The website (www.pakmoonsighting.pk) features a Hijri (Islamic) calendar, as well as a lunar chart that uses information from the Gregorian calendar.

According to the new calendar, Pakistan will this year celebrate Eid al-Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan) on June 5, and Eid al-Adha (honoring the willingness of Ibrahim [Abraham] to sacrifice his son) on August 12.

A majority in Pakistan support Chaudhry’s initiative, including Hafiz Ijaz, one of the country’s most renowned Muslim clerics who is based in South Punjab.

“It will remove the moon-sighting uncertainty,” Ijaz told The Media Line. “Individuals will now be able to plan their holidays with families much better. Even travel plans or leave schedules will be made in advance,” he said.

Yet Chaudhry is still facing the ire of some religious scholars.

Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, chairman of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal Committee that has been deciding the dates of Ramadan and Eids for years, rejected the concept of predetermination.

“Seeing the moon with the naked eye is the criterion for declaring the start of a new month,” he told The Media Line. “Those who are not familiar with intricate religious matters should refrain from indulging in the [debate].”

Despite opposition, the Pakistani government has accepted Chaudhry’s modern approach and plans to use the newly-devised tools.

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