Pakistan split over when to celebrate Eid Al Fitr

Differences emerge among Islamic scholars over the sighting of the moon for the Islamic month of Shawwal that marks the end of Ramadan.

Police stand guard outside a mosque during Eid Al Fitr prayers yesterday in Peshawar.
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ISLAMABAD // Pakistanis continue to be split over when to celebrate Eid Al Fitr after differences emerged again among Islamic scholars over the sighting of the moon for the Islamic month of Shawwal that marks the end of Ramadan.

On Saturday night, a clerical body appointed by the central government announced that the Shawwal moon was not sighted anywhere in the country and therefore Eid Al Fitr would be observed across the country today.

But a majority of people in the north-western Khyber Pukhtunkhuwa (KPK) celebrated Eid yesterday, a day ahead of the rest of Pakistan.

"We were collecting evidences for the moon sighting but the central committee did not wait for us and made the announcement in hurry," Abdul Ghafoor, a KPK cleric, told reporters yesterday in the city of Peshawar.

But the central committee rejected that claim, citing reports from the government's meteorological department that there was no possibility of a moon sighting on Saturday.

"How can we accept a decision, which is against principles of science, logic and Sharia?" Mufti Abul Qavi, a member of the central moon-sighting committee, told The National yesterday.

Moon sighting for Ramadan and Shawwal has been a long-running dispute between the clerics of KPK and the central committee. In recent years, the provincial government has been officially endorsing the decision of the clerics from the province, causing embarrassment for the central government.

"If they can't wait for us and don't accept our decisions, then we will also not accept their decisions," senior KPK minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour said after announcing on Saturday that the provincial government would observe Eid yesterday.

But the moon-sighting dispute also divided officials in the KPK.

The chief minister of KPK, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, offered Eid prayers yesterday in line with the decision of his province's clerics. But the provincial governor, Masud Kausar, who was appointed to the post by the central government, decided to go by the central committee's announcement

The controversy does not confine itself to clerics from KPK and the central moon-sighting committee. The people of North Waziristan, a major sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants on the Afghan border, had celebrated Eid on Friday after their clerics announced on Thursday night that Shawwal moon had been sighted in the region.

The central government expressed its helplessness at resolving the situation.

"We had tried to resolve this dispute but we could not succeed in our efforts," the federal minister for religious affairs, Khursheed Shah, told Dubai-based Geo television on Saturday. "It is now up to people themselves when they want to celebrate Eid. We can't force because it is a religious issue."

Newspapers slammed the clerics for stirring controversy and urged the government to take steps to ensure harmony during religious festivals.

"The explanations for wanting Eid on a particular day may vary, but the most common of these pertain to a desire to see the entire Pakistani nation celebrate the festival together," The Dawn newspaper said in an editorial yesterday. "One country, many Eids, feeds not just jokes but also a never-ending lament which casts Pakistan as an irreconcilable land of cynics, sects and hastier-than-thou types," it added.

"Why is central government sleeping? Is it too hard to formulate a strict law which ensures single-day Eid celebration countrywide?" Zia Pasha said in comments posted on the website of the Express Tribune newspaper.

"Legislation is urgent need of the hour."