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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Mufti Muneeb’s days numbered as govt plans to regulate moon sighting body

New law proposes fines, punishment for unilateral moon sighting announcements

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has sent a draft bill to the law ministry for restructuring the country’s Ruet-e-Hilal (moon sighting) Committee. According to sources, under the new law, the moon sighting committee will be provided legal cover, and anyone unilaterally announcing the sighting of the moon would be punished or fined.

Pakistan has a Ruet-e-Hilal (moon-sighting) committee comprising various religious scholars. The body formed in 1974 was tasked with announcing religious holidays based on witnesses across the country who had sighted the moon. As the government is going to pass a new bill, there are speculations that Mufti Muneeb’s days are numbered.

A new bill related to the country’s moon-sighting committee, established in light of a resolution of the National Assembly (NA) in 1974, was sent to the Ministry of Law and Justice by the religious affairs ministry earlier this week. The new regulations will define the tenure of Ruet-e-Hilal Committee’s (RHC) chairman and procedures for its appointment.

Sources add that the committee will be declared as the state-authorised moon-sighting committee, while strict penalties will be imposed on other non-governmental bodies over making announcements for crescent sightings.

Read More: Will Fawad Chaudhry resign?

The new legislation will also block ways for moon sighting announcements by any other ministry in the country. Over making self-announcement for moon sighting, the violators can face five-year jail or Rs50,000 to Rs200,000 fines.

Fawad-Muneed controversy: Are Mufti Muneeb’s days numbered?

The moon sighting committee came under limelight after Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, Chairman Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, and Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, Federal Minister for Science and Technology, clashed over the Eid. The former insisted on using witnesses to sight the moon, and the later strongly opposed it, advocating for use of new technology.

Fawad Chaudhry, at the time, had said that his ministry had formalized a system for moon sighting and sent it to the legislative affairs ministry for approval; adding that the ministry forwarded it to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) as well. “Now it is their and the cabinet’s job if they want to impose it or not,” said the minister.

The minister believes that if people continue to rely on sighting the moon with the naked eye, the country will “never be able to determine a single or certain Eid because it will be different every time and it will go on like this”.

“If you say you want to see it from the naked eye, then the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee should comprise men and women of 20 to 22 years age whose eyesight [is perfect],” said the minister.

On the other hand, Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman slammed Fawad for interfering in religious matters. Talking to the media after announcing sighting of the Shawwal moon, he said, “Fawad Hussain Chaudhry is just nobody and he should not interfere in affairs of the Ruet Committee”.

Mufti Muneeb said that Prime Minister Imran Khan should take notice of Fawad Chaudhry’s interference in affairs of the Ruet Committee. He said that Fawad Chaudhry has his own deprivations and frustrations. Mufti also condemned Fawad Chaudhry’s interference in Sharia-related matters.

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He asked Fawad Chaudhry to tell the nation on oath how many prayers he offered and how many times he had been on fasting in the holy month of Ramazan. He also demanded that there should be a ban on Fawad Chaudhry and he should not be allowed to interfere in the affairs of other departments. There was an outrage on social media after he made these comments – condemning him for speculating on another person’s religious practices.

Experts say that the authorities must pay attention to the moon sighting event in Pakistan and must ensure that all the latest scientific tools are used to see the moon in the 21st century. Notably, many Muslim-majority countries including the UAE and Turkey follow a pre-decided lunar calendar to mark religious holidays and festivals.