Illustration: Samar Iqbal / Himal Southasian
Illustration: Samar Iqbal / Himal Southasian

Swear not by the moon

The contentious politics of lunar sighting in Pakistan.

It is nearing sunset in Karachi on the hot and humid evening of Wednesday, 12 May 2021. The weather, however, has nothing to do with the residents of the city's Gulistan-e-Jouhar neighbourhood congregating on their roofs and balconies. It is not fresh air they are looking for with their eyes peering towards the horizon, but the sleek crescent of the Shawwal moon (the new moon). The city's polluted air, however, denies them a chance at seeing either of them.

Not that the residents of any other city were having much luck if the news bulletins were to be believed. Like every year on this lunar date, people retire indoors as the sound of a siren followed by the maghrib azaan indicates the time for iftar. The same eyes which searched the horizon now are glued to the TV screens, as they sift through news channels, hoping to find out whether the moon has been sighted. Attention now shifts to the Pakistan Meteorological Department office in Karachi, and more specifically, the Ruet-e-Hilal committee press conference. The committee is Pakistan's official moon-sighting body made up of religious clerics and experts from the meteorological and space research departments. Over in Peshawar, the unofficial but influential moon-sighting body at Qasim Ali Khan mosque had already announced Eid for the next day. The rest of the country, however, would have to wait. The clock hits nine. To pray taraveeh or not? Ten. To get mehndi or not? Eleven. Surely not now. It would be till midnight before the official committee would be ready to make a decision.

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Himal Southasian