Wednesday, August 22, 2012


There is something surreal and vaudevillian about this whole high drama that we go through every year. As surreal as the water car episode that we went through recently. Those otherwise pathologically concerned with Pakistan’s “image” abroad as a modern state should really be on an overdrive here.

What we have, every year, in the 21st century, is a national debate over the sighting of the moon. It would take several attempts at explaining this annual national discourse to an outsider for the latter to take it seriously. And this is not to be attributed to the condescending superiority complex of those using the Gregorian calendar towards those using lunar. No, religious injunctions in other faiths, even other Abrahamic faiths, can be far more eccentric than the mere use of the lunar calendar. What will be questioned would be the reluctance to actually use the lunar calendar to get out of the messy, inexact business of sighting the moon.

Adding a layer of complexity to the whole issue is the forging of new ties across sectarian divides and the burning of old ones. One prism of understanding the issue used to be in the pro-Saudi Arabian versus pro-local terms. How, then, would that explain the functionally anti-Saudi Arabian influence government of KP, celebrating Eid a day earlier and the Saudi Arabia-fixated Punjab government celebrating it a day later?

Also evident is the irony of the central Ruet-e-Hillal committee calling the other camp obscurantists while maintaining an intransigently literalist stance on sighting the moon. But Peshawar’s Mufti Popalzai also based his declaration, not on any calculation or throwing his lot with Eid in other countries, but, yes, on reports of sightings. With this, the debate mutates from the theological into a my-word-against-yours, spawning off arguments about light pollution in cities, the visibility of the moon and whether the faith is sullied by using telescopes to begin with.

Several years ago, Mufti Muneeb (who is now in his 14th year at the committee), in his protest against Mufti Popalzai, equated the matter with the then recent Swat crisis. He explained the necessity of an “operation” the way one was started in Swat to restore the “writ of state.” Heavy words, these. The loss of the state’s monopoly on violence to militant extremists is to be put in the same slot as the trivial issue of gazetted holidays?

To segue that into an appeal: it would do us all a lot of good to drop the hyperbole. The heavens won’t fall if we have two Eids. And national unity wouldn’t have been cemented even if we did. There are other, bigger monsters to slay for that.

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