Matters of the moment!


By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Thank God, Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chouhdry has had his way with the controversial Ruet-I- Hilal muftis and maulvis. He got the proverbial Seven Blind Men at last see the Moon to bury for once the usual controversy over the sighting of the Eid Moon. It made us all proud to celebrate Eid on same day in unison with the Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia. While this being a moment for additional celebration, the Black Friday PIA Airbus Crash took away the fun causing every one excruciating pain and anguish over those killed in the air tragedy.

Here in UK while coronovirus pandemic remains the main cause of worry with death toll crossing over 36, OOO, most of the media head lines are honking about PM Boris Johnson’s Chief Advisor Dominic Cummings breach of lockdown by travelling. Much like Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Boris Johnson is standing by Cummings, in his row over his trip from London to Durham during the lockdown.

It is strange that people here want to know why is the Prime Minister spending so much political capital defending an unelected adviser. It is understandable here to look ahead to greater freedom; indeed the last three months will not easily be forgotten. The lockdown has brought many costs. It has also forced people to reassess their lives in ways both big and small, and many of the changes that have come about need to be preserved.


While Britain has been able to see some light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, what remains is that on a global scale the pandemic continues to grow and grow. One area that seems to have bucked the trend is our region. However, that may, in fact, be due to deliberate covering up of the death toll by officials like Dr Zafar Mirza who now have issued a warning that if in Pakistan death toll crosses 50,000 there would be no other way but to re-impose lockdown more rigorously. One wishes his boss and him had not opposed lockdown, imposed it much earlier, not relaxed in between to please their Mulla supporters by lifting ban on prayers in mosques and other religious congregations. Had PTI government not allowed the Tableeghi hordes to romp around Punjab and Sindh the situation would not have been as dismissal as now.

On the other hand, Sindh government initially took right decisions despite opposition by the Federal Government. It enabled CM Murad Ali Shah to claim today that in Sindh recovery rate is much better than the death toll.

Coming back to Moon controversy, I regret to say that it has kept bouncing back after the birth of Pakistan. I remember In Delhi where I opened my eyes there was never a controversy over the sighting of the Eid Moon. We knew Eid happened, moon was sighted, we looked forward to Sheerkhorma and Eidee from our elders.

ISLAMABAD: Chairman, Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Mufti Muneebur Rehman address press conference regarding the sighting of moon and celebrating Eid festival on Saturday (May 23).

The controversy started in Karachi in the days of Field Marshal Ayub Khan who established Ruet-e-Hilal Committee to do the job. Perhaps there was a method behind this madness and a sinister scheme of things that ended up in dividing the nation— one set of mullas announcing their own date and the clerics in the government their own. Metrological Department that had paraphernalia and expertise to predict accurately each and every movement of the moon, could not have its say to uphold its scientific findings about the movement of the moon and earth as as father of modern astronomy– Galileo Galilei–believed and got himself burnt at the inquisition to defy the unscientific stand of the clergy.

The Government clerics had their own questionable but political interpretation of Shawal moon sighting. They would not sight a moon that would have Eid on a Friday as according to the mullas, two khutbas (one Friday Sermon and the other Eid sermon) would not favour a sitting head of the state so the government appointed Ruet-E-Hilal Committee that never sanctioned Eid on Fridays. Obviously this was resisted by Independent ulema and they supported their own Eid day. Ayub did not tolerate this defiance and had these religious leaders arrested or expelled. Official hand out notifying their arrests or Expulsions-used to say that such and such ‘Mr’ and not Maulana has been forbidden to enter Karachi. By that time Karachi had become a most volatile centre of opposition to the military dictator and resistance to Ayub’s absolute power.

If I remember correctly, when Ayub held presidential elections in 1965 and was opposed by Madre Millat Fatima Jinnah, Karachi turned out against him and he lost the vote count in Karachi. As a consequence Ayub let loose his wrath on it and his son Captain Gohar Ayub led a horde of armed Tribals and virtually ransacked, burnt and looted Refugee enclaves of Liaquatabad, Lalukhet and Nazimabad etc, many innocent Karachiites were killed. And perhaps that was the turning point for the Urdu speaking population to think they thought under MQM. After Ayub’s unsung and unwept departure in 1979 this moon controversy scar became permanent. After him every dictator used it to avoid two Khutbas (Sermons) and keep the people religiously divided. This has continued even under quasi civilian rules or so-called democracies. And as it evolved Ruet—i- Hilal committee became sovereign, quite representative and its decisions became mandatory on the government.

When Khan came was put in power he appointed Fawad Ch-a veteran of many parties—as his minister. However, FC became a thorn in the eyes of the less competent ministers who were jealous of his positive image projection in the media. Though himself quite a heavy weight Fawad could not bear the tonnage of PM’s Advisor on Information popularly known as Massi Musabatay Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan herself being a veteran political turn coat. However, Fawad lost the battle to her since she was preferred over him by IK.

In exchange Fawad become science and technology minister. From day one as Minister Science he took upon himself the populist challenge of revisiting the ever recurring Eid Moon controversy. Last year too he tried to impose a scientifically reached date and time of the sighting of the moon but could not enforce it on the mullas of REHC who had the support of the Religious Affairs Minister, Massi Mosibatay and some others who did not like FC. However, this year FC looked determined to have his say and he did pre-empt Moon announcement by letting media know before hand that Eid moon would be seen on May 23. Mufti Muneeb and his more colourful colleague Popalzai could not impose their decision on FC until the seven blind men endorsed FC’s findings and announced that Shawal moon was signed on May 23. And perhaps once for all, the moon controversy seems to have been buried and we have had with the blessings of Allah (SWT) Eid on the same day.

It is yet another thing that while moon controversy was put to bed, another but more tragic, was unfolding regarding the tragic PIA crash. While PIA’s ‘sifarishi’ chief in his very first utterance hinted at pilot error, stories from PIA’s inside sources put the entire blame on lack of maintenance. A hasty appointment of a probe team under an air-commodore is being criticised by PALPA and no confidence has been expressed by it making the probe no starter. PIA Chief seems to have cast the die in support of pilot error. Many Aviation veterans don’t take it and they want PIA Chief to be made accountable.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)