Monday, September 01, 2008

It's Time To Castrate The Ruet-e-Hilal Committee

The Ruet-e-Hilal committee is a quasi government institution comprising of Islamic scholars that is responsible for 'sighting the moon.' In essence, it's a bunch of really old guys who get together to ascertain whether a new moon is visible or not. This is of significance as the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, and millions of Mulsims depend on the new moon to fulfill various religious rituals.

I've raised this topic because the Ruet-e-Hilal has just announced that the new moon has been sighted, thus signaling the start of Ramzan. The month of Ramzan is the Islamic version of Lent; Muslims across the world will abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during this month. As a result of the committee's pronouncement, an overwhelming majority of 165 Million people will be fasting tomorrow.

The thing is, I spent an hour on my roof, loocated in a sparsely populated area of Karachi, and I couldn't see the moon. On the other hand a bunch of 80 year olds sitting on the roof of Habib Bank Plaza (Pakistan's second tallest building - it has about 20 floors) were able to spot the moon. This just doesn't make sense to me.

It's truly absurd that in this day and age most Muslims base the start of a new month on a bunch of old guys looking at the sky. In fact, it's so absurd that I'm not even going to get into it. Nor am I going to question why the committee is exclusively comprised of old men.

The thing that I don't get is why they sit on top of Habib Bank Plaza. The building is situated in one of the most congested and polluted areas of the country. A cloud of smog envelops this entire area, making it hard to have a clear look at the sky; the situation worsens in the evening, when the marriage of electric lights and smog create an orange glow that further limits visibility. There is then no utility in sitting on top of a building in this area; so why does the Ruet boys continue to meet there and not by the sea, where visibility is much better?

The only thing I can think of is that these guys actually believe that sitting 20 floors high gives them a better view because they're closer to the moon!


Asfandyar said...

You haven't even touched upon the massive dickishness they indulge in when it's time to call Eid.

Ahsan said...


Are you trying to tell me you don't enjoy the spectacle of 4 Eids in two time zones?


I don't know why, but I get the feeling you will get your ass kicked one of these days. Probably sooner rather than later.

Hussain said...

Those gomers on top of the HBL building are not actually looking for the moon. The insanity goes much deeper than that. They have these regional ruet-e-hilal committees in all districts of Pakistan which are looking for the moon independently. If any one of them sights the moon, and if it fulfils the criteria (i think its shahadat by two adult pious men) then they call the gomers in Karachi or whereever they are meeting up to have their twice a year mufta and then after a thirty minute speech which should take thirty seconds, the chief maulvi will announce that its eid tomorrow. Usually the moon is sighted in NWFP and Baluchistan; might have to do something with astronomy but am not sure.

Misanthrope said...

Didn't they also start sending up gomers in a helicopter to look for the moon as well?

Anonymous said...


PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Sights Moon

Farhatullah Babar

Chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari sighted the moon today from his dorm room in Oxford, England. Mr. Bhutto Zardari said, "The medicinal weed I smoked this evening has enhanced my moon sighting capabilities."

Therefore, the first day of fasting will be on Tuesday, 2 September, 2008. Co-chairman of PPP Asif Zardari explained that the chairman will not be fasting as he hasn't yet reached puberty. Zardari is also exempt from fasting due to the NRO. Islamically, he is also exempt because he is clinically insane.

AKS said...

@ Hussain

This system makes no sense to me. Isn't the ruet-e-hilal committee entirely premised on the principle that a moon has to be visible to a person unaided by any instrument? If so, how do they justify pronouncing the start of Ramzan when the moon was only visible in Badin?

I mean, if it's okay for the majority of the country to begin fasting when the moon is clearly not visible, why can't we just get a bunch of astronomers to draw up a calendar?

@ Ahsan

I hope not, I really wouldn't like getting my ass kicked.

To be honest, I really wasn't trying to be annoyingly confrontational with the title; just couldn't think of a better headline explaining that the institution needed to be stripped of its powers, owing to its stupidity.

Tazeen said...

Ummm I spotted a few maulana in the committee with jet black beards, there can be three possibilities for that.
(a)They are not 80-year-old.
(b) They are actually 80-year-old but have a life time supply of kala kola which their 3rd wife lovingly put on their beards before the committee ka salana ijlas.
(c) They are old fuddy duddies who have found the fountain of youth and can still sport jet black beards at the ripe old age of 80.

PS: On my way back to home, i heard a Mufti Naeem Shah on radio who tried giving a geographical reasons (and we thought that lunar patterns can only be studied in astronomy) why countries in our EAST and WEST have ramzan a day or two ahead of us. Thank God it was in Urdu and on a local radio show, otherwise rahi sahi izzat bhi jaate pakistaniyon ki

Ahsan said...


Can I ask what you were doing on your roof for an hour?

zeyneddine said...

Most posts on this blog are entertaining reads, but this is off the mark. Age is not a factor in sighting the moon. According to Islamic traditions: ahadith, Muslims are not supposed to use astronomical caluculations to determine Eid/Ramadan/Lunar calendar. The Ruet-e-Hilal committee that meets at the Habib Bank Plaza is only a zonal subcomittee. The moon can be sighted anywhere along the longitude to determine the lunar calendar. Khayr, I arent supporting the committee, rather I am trying to clear some misperceptions you have and might have led other readers to have.

AKS said...

@ zeyneddine

Thanks for your comments and your kind words on the blog.

I never said that being old is a requirement (I'm guessing being pious is more important) but that the committee is generally, but not always, comprised of old men.

I'm also not one to dismiss traditions because they're antiquated; I think traditions play an important part in shaping your identity. But the sighting of the moon isn't some meaningless tradition, it has a very real impact on the lives of Muslims, and Muslim dominated societies. A bit of certainty would be good, especially in a global economic environment. (I'm personally really beginning to value the ability to plan in advance.) I think it's important for us to realize that some traditions do need to be challenged.

In any case the point of my post was not to chastise the principle of 'moon sighting,' but rather to highlight the inadequacy and absurdity of having Habib Bank Plaza as a make shift observatory.

@ Ahsan

Dude, I looking for the moon. What did you think I was doing, hitting the tennis ball against the wall and imagining I'd just taken a blinder at point?

zeyneddine said...

its highly doubtful any government functionary in Pakistan will be pious. So old becomes a suitable replacement for pious.
I would use the word "understand" the significance of the traditions, not "challenge" them. By traditions, I meant the sunnah, and the sunnah states that the lunar calendar should be based on Moon sighting, not calculations. There is wisdom in such a sunnah, but that is beyond this discussion.
In a country with incredible absurdities, I found the choice of Habib Bank minimally absurd. The committee ofcourse has to make a spectacle of their *duties*.