Predictably, Eid has caused a split among the clerical community in Pakistan again, but this year a dangerous political element has been added to it. The ulema of Peshawar have celebrated Eid on Sunday while the rest of the country was fasting, an event looked upon with great distaste by Muslims all over the world. In fact the belief is that on Eid only Satan keeps the fast. The NWFP government joined its ulema in making the rest of the country look like the followers of Satan.
The crisis of this Eid has been compounded by the fact that the NWFP government put the country on notice beforehand that it was bound by the “unofficial” moon-sighting of a Peshawar mosque Masjid Qasim Khan, and would defer to the verdict of the ulema of Saudi Arabia who usually issue the edict of Eid a day in advance of the Pakistani Eid. Promptly, the Peshawar mosque ulema declared that moon had been sighted in 44 places in the province on Saturday. The federal Ruet-e-Hilal Committee led by Mufti Munibur Rehman had not even convened yet; and the Mufti lost no time in condemning the NWFP decision to celebrate Eid separately from the rest of the country.

There is a political odour to all this. Despite the ANP government’s decision to unite the territory of the Pashtuns under one Eid separate from the rest of Pakistan, it ended up dividing the ethnic community. The people of FATA, not a part of the NWFP, claimed sightings and celebrated Eid on Sunday, but the Malakand Division, the tribal area inside the province comprising one-fourth of the province’s territory, maintained its tradition of going with the Islamabad committee under Mufti Munibur Rehman. Yet there were unpleasant incidents of some villages breaking away from this pattern too. There is another entire division of Hazara where Eid is not linked to the Peshawar clerics.

The decision of the NWFP government to follow the Peshawar clerics has not produced the desired result, if the result desired was the creation of a “Pakhtunkhwa unity”. An intra-clerical division in the province occurred when the old MMA parties, the Jama’at-e Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), split over the Eid moon. Retired Jama’at chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad decided to go along with the Masjid Qasim Khan verdict; Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI condemned the Peshawar verdict and caused his district, Dera Ismail Khan, to refuse the Sunday Eid. It is yet to be seen whether Qazi Sahib’s decision will cause a split within the Lahore-based Jama’at led by a Karachi-based firebrand amir.

Mufti Munibur Rehman has come out of the scrap a winner if you can look at the quarrel as a game. Some years ago he was physically assaulted by the NWFP ulema during a meeting of the moon-sighting committee. His position was becoming weaker by the day as the Deobandi dominance in Pakistan grew apace. He was under threat from the followers of Al Qaeda in Karachi and was condemned by many Pashtun ulema for having issued a fatwa against suicide-bombing. The NWFP government’s decision to side with the Peshawar ulema has produced unintended results. More lethally, it may have split the population of Balochistan too because of the decision of Maulana Fazlur Rehman to disagree.

Muslims are more literalist today than in the past. Their reluctance to rely on science has split them globally and, in Pakistan’s case, at the national level. Muslim scientists say they can give a mathematically perfect date of appearance of the Shawwal moon many years in advance. They say Muslim calendars can actually lay down the Eid days accurately. But no one listens to them: the rule is to see the moon with the bare eye. Saudi Arabia might have accepted the scientific view on the quiet, resulting in the strange phenomenon of Pakistan fasting on the day when the entire Arab world and the Muslims of Europe and America were celebrating Eid.

As time passes the thin line of the first-day crescent may not be visible at all because of the pollution that goes up daily and covers the evening sky. We may actually be left quarrelling with each other over something that we can longer see, and not because it is not there.