ISLAMABAD - Federal Minister for Science and Technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain on Tuesday constituted a five-member committee to prepare lunar calendar for the next five years.

According to a notification issued here by the Ministry, the committee comprised representatives from the Ministry of Science and Technology, COMSATS University of Islamabad, two officials of Meteorology Department and Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).

The committee would determine the exact dates of Ramazan, Eidul Fitr, Eidul Azha and Muharram for the next five years with 100 percent accuracy through technology.

The minister said that the committee has been formed to end disputes related to crescent sightings. “This will end uncertainty about moon sighting,” the minister said.

The religious festivals are marred by controversy and confusion year after year in the country of 200 million.

Fawad constitutes panel to prepare lunar calendar for next five years

Federal Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry announced the committee of astronomers and meteorologists, who would utilise scientific approach to predict when the fasting month of Ramazan begins, rather than rely on clerics with telescopes — a method that consumed nearly Rs3.06 million for moon sighting for Muharram, Ramazan, Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha last year.

The committee is comprised of Scientific Adviser Dr Mohammad Tariq Masood, Suparco’s Ghulam Murtaza, and three officials from Meteorological Department, namely Waqar Ahmad, Nadeem Faisal and Abu Nasan.

The calendar by the scientific committee would require approval of the federal government before its implementation. However, the government is expected to face harsh criticism from the country’s Islamic scholars who argue that the moon must be physically seen to decide the beginning of the fasting month. The earlier announcement by Chaudhry has already provoked the ire of the clerics, especially by the state-run moon-sighting committee.

Mufti Munibur Rehman, the chief of the central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, asked the minister to refrain from commenting on “religious matters” and appealed to the premier to let “only concerned ministers speak on religious issues”. The cleric added: “Our moon-sighting announcements have never been wrong. Everyone bears witness when the moon is sighted.” Every year in Pakistan, as in many other Islamic countries, members of the moon-sighting committee gather to view the new moon through a telescope and collect evidence from across the country to formally announce the new moon to mark the beginning of Ramazan and Eid. It is because Muslims follow a lunar calendar and a moon-sighting method that leads to different dates in different countries. Astronomers believe modern technology can help solve this problem. “The calculations about new moon are absolutely accurate and are universally accepted,” says Air Commodore (retd) Khalid Marwat, president of the Karachi Astronomers’ Society. “However, seeing the new crescent moon can be tricky since it’s quite faint and sometimes not visible to the naked eye because of haze, clouds or air pollution.”

Despite modern techniques and calculations, many scholars maintain that seeing the moon with the naked eye should be the condition for announcing the start of new months. This belief is based on the tradition since the times of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) some 1,400 years ago. Most countries follow Saudi Arabia’s traditional moon-sighting system. Other states follow local sighting, accept neighbour countries’ sighting or have their own criteria.

Two Muslim associations, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and European Council of Fatwa and Research (ECFR), recognise astronomical calculation as the standard to determine the beginning of months. For these scholars, the presence of moon above horizon at sunset is the basis. “It is sufficient to know that the new moon is on the horizon, irrespective of its sighting,” according to FCNA.