Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Moon Politics

Eid Mubarak everyone. It is customary at the end of the Ramadan month to participate in the the great suspense thriller called Sighting of the Moon. In Pakistan, this heavy burden lies on the shoulders of a bunch of wise men called the Ruet-e-Hilal committee.

They haul up a telescope to the highest building -- in Slammers it is the Saudi-Pak tower -- and everyone waits for them to tell it like it is. The ReH has branches in main cities and further down in the structure, zonal and district committies.
On Sept 30, the wise men, whose GHQ is Karachi, decided to keep the nation in suspense until about 11 pm. The moon was reported elusive in Islamabad and many other cities and Khi said it would announce the final decision after poring over more results. As the clock ticked, Pakistanis reconciled themselves to one more day of fasting, said their tarawiyan -- special prayers during Ramadan -- and were almost preparing to hit the sack when...
Past 10 pm, the NWFP government announced the moon had been definitively sighted in Pesh, and other places in the province, so as far as it was concerned, Eid was on October 1.
An hour later, the wise men in Khi, who had been holding out until the last minute, threw in the towel and also announced an October 1 Eid.
Now all this wouldn't be such a hassle if it were not for several things: a) people working away from their homes return on the last day of fasting so that they can spend Eid with family, but they get blindsided by a last minute announcement like last night's and b) Chand Raat (moon night, literally) is a festival by itself and it has people coming out in the droves for last minute shopping etc, and because of that it's a big thing for trade and business too. This year, Chand Raat was wrecked. Still, the 11 pm announcement sent women screaming out of their homes at that late hour to buy sweets, bangles, footwear, get their hands hennaed etc. while traders wondered how much more business they might have done if the announcement had come slightly earlier.
A friend came up with the interesting wisdom that betting syndicates must have been involved. The longer it took, the higher the odds on betting on October 1, and those who bet on this unlikely possibility, must have cleaned up massive amounts when the announcement finally came, he was certain. As for those who bet on Oct 2, LOSERS! Hmmm...
But as in Monty Python, look on the bright side of life. For the first time in many years, and at least in the two years since I've been here, all of Pakistan is celebrating Eid together on one day. Last year, I think the country had three Eids, and the year before it was two.
But everyone is quite sick and tired of this annual end-of-Ramadan moon politics, and people are asking why not do it scientifically, like the Libyans. There, Gaddhafi or someone says, ok folks, according to all the astronomical evidence we have, this is the day on which the Eid moon is due to rise, tough luck if you can't see it, but it's there somewhere. And everyone goes with this.
Or just follow the Saudis, considering that's where Mecca is. This year, the Saudis and the whole of the middle east celebrated Eid on Sept 30.

1 comment:

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