Waiting for the moon to shine

Published: August 1, 2011

Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee.

People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him.

“Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha.”

(He is the one because of whom the Eid moon is sighted at eleven in the night.)

“Inn ka jab dil chahta hai Eid kar dete hain, aur jub dil chahta hai tees rozay karwa dete hain”

(Whenever he wants, it’s Eid and whenever he wants, there are 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan).

And these were some of the more polite comments.

It seemed strange to me that the gentleman was being blamed for something he had no control over – and for a decision that is not unilaterally made by him. The decision is made by respected and renowned Islamic scholars, media personnel, meteorologists and telescopes on board.

But this happens every year, doesn’t it?

We dispute on dinner tables and we argue at work places over this issue.  It’s ironic how, Ramazan, the month of peace and tolerance and serenity,  begins with relentless bickering over the issue of whether the entire Muslim Ummah should “unite” by celebrating the advent of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and then Zul-Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha on the same days as Saudi Arabia or not.

Then there is the issue of whether scientific equipment should be relied upon, and the question of whether moon sighting should totally be done away with or not. And then follows the mockery of how the moon’s been sighted in Peshawar and that discussions on how a nation can ever progress if they don’t even celebrate Eid on the same day.

This issue (or non-issue) is a classic example of how the gulf between extremes is widening.

Fundamentalism and liberalism, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin and are coming from the same place. This widening  gulf results in polarization where no single group or party is willing to listen, understand and tolerate the opinion of the other.

Those who follow the moon sighting ritual are upset at the “modern” citizens who have given it up. The other side is forever squabbling about how this ritual is  responsible for pushing back the Muslims in time by about 1400 years.

Why, simply, can both views not co-exist in harmony?

Opening Facebook at the advent of Ramazan is interesting to say the least. An assortment of sarcastic retorts awaits in the form of status updates.

While they start with Ramazan Mubarak wishes, they inevitably end up commenting on this issue. I am concerned about the motive behind these comments.

What leads to the derision of each other’s viewpoint?

Is it a simple difference of opinion, which would be completely understandable? Or the inconvenience of not knowing it is Eid till the last moment?

Or is it peer pressure from the rest of the world which makes Muslims a tad bit apologetic (as usual) and wonder why their religious festivals are devoid of a semblance of discipline and is celebrated on not one but different days?

The latter two, to me, are not good reasons.

As a boring pacifist, my take on the issue is pretty simple. I am happy for both groups so long as they don’t disrespect the other’s viewpoint and don’t display a lack of tolerance. That does not mean I don’t have a very clear viewpoint of my own.

I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.

I would not give up for anything the joy of rushing to the roof with my daughter, in anticipation and excitement, and reciting the supplication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite when he saw the moon. The sliver-like crescent that flashes a smile, informs us that it’s time to gear up for the spiritual detox month, and vanishes.

To me, this is actually a ritual that unites followers of a single faith beyond political boundaries. When a Muslim in Indian Punjab and a Muslim in Pakistan’s Punjab fast and celebrate Eid on the same day. But if some of my friends subscribe to another viewpoint, I will wish them a blessed Ramazan sans sarcasm and judgment. A Ramazan of worship, connection with Allah, forgiveness, mercy, sharing, charity and joy.

Enjoy Ramazan. Peace be upon you.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

A writer and editor, who has worked as a Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works as a media trainer and communications practitioner. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi (twitter.com/farahnazzahidi?lang=en).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Tanoli

    TO Day is first roza IN AMERICA HAPPY RAMAZAN TO ALL WORLD.Recommend

  • taimur


  • http://natashasuleman.wordpress.com Natasha Suleman

    //I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.//

    Same here.

    Ramadan Mubarak!Recommend

  • parvez

    Beautifully written and your argument is impeccable. If all could think like this, would not it be nice – but alas that’s not to be.Recommend

  • Ali

    i dont understand why there is so much controversy about the sighting of the moon. i think the Govt should sack the committee for moon sighting. i have a problem with Govt regulation of our religion what are we going to see next official prayer timings in all of the country.Recommend

  • Javeria Mahmood

    very nicely written blogs especially the climax of your blog……… really enjoyed reading Recommend

  • Fazl Hussain

    @natasha suleman… loved it…Recommend

  • http://think-islam.blogspot.com PostMan

    Trouble arises in the situation in which half of your family (parent-siblings) is fasting and half not. Often happens if you happen to live in Peshawar. I know, I have been through this. Its just a plain mess.Recommend

  • http://www.halaltamweel.com Noreen

    like the point Islamic festivals bring us together unite us ..but in Pakistan even such festivals bring divisions of thoughts.. fair enough if Peshawar people wants to celebrate Eid or Ramazan according to the Saudi Arab then say it rather saying we have seen moon we have received 2 or 3 evidences even on 28 of lunar date ….. Recommend

  • yousaf

    if we look at the history of Islam what you desire is quite possible,rather I will say history of Islam is just 23 years-the prophetic life of the holy prophet Mohammad(pbuh).During these 23 years He lived for us muslims to see what true Isam is and how should a true muslim live his life.Its after Him that the history of muslims begins.I dont need to tell what happened after the holy prophet left this world.every one knows rather better than I do.for the queries the author has raised in her blog I suggest she may go and meet the people from different walks of life try to reason with them,she wil get the answer,it is not a “simple difference of opinion”as she thinks.God bless. Recommend

  • R!zz!

    its due to this familiar face that we’ve to celebrate eid twice. may ALLAH give him some sense and proper instruments so that he won’t play with our emotions.Recommend

  • ;-s

    I don’t understand why don’t we follow lunar calendar or Fatmid calendar??? it is simple and will solve all our problems.. even Saudi and other Muslim countries follow Lunar calender and we still stuck in moon sighting concept which creates differences among us. Recommend

  • LayMan

    People with long tongues and miniature brains would every try to keep it complicated and prone to disagreements … this is how they make a living for thier kids :)

    Do not blame the maulvis only it is the part and parcel of our culture.

    On a second thought, does any one know a good blog in urdu?Recommend

  • http://waiting-for-the-moon suchiki

    When nothing was available, the periods were based on moon, stars etc. Now why this confusion when we got many modern scientific equipment and update calendars. Recommend

  • Nida Mohsin

    u have a point but if the ppl are so dissatisfied and there’s so much confusion, why wont the govt. just find a solution that satisfies everyone. Secondly Mr. Munib ur Rehman being incharge could just own the issue and solve it. We have so many distinguished ulemas in this country, maybe everyone can put their heads together and resolve it. I for one would rather celebrate Eid or start Ramadan on its due date esp if it starts with the rest of the muslim ummah. Recommend

  • Sohaib

    Clerics should separate themselves from this matter and government should announce on basis of astronomy and scientists. The respect they are loosing is worth than involving in the matterRecommend