ISLAMABAD: In a bid to ensure that the holy month of Ramazan and Eidul Fitr are observed on the same day across the country, the ministry of religious affairs has sought a meeting with Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai of Peshawar’s Masjid Qasim Ali Khan on May 31.
But the ministry, or any other federal and provincial department for that matter, will be helpless if Mufti Popalzai decides not to accept the decisions of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.
“If he declines the official request and refuses to accept the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee’s decision, there will be two different dates for the beginning of Ramazan and possibly Eid as well. We cannot do anything, because there is no law in this regard,” a senior official from the ministry of religious affairs told Dawn.
The ministry’s representatives had met the officials of provincial government in 2015 to discuss the matter, where Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Religious Affairs Habib ur Rehman had asked the federal government to specify what laws Mufti Popalzai was violating.
The mufti himself had also criticised the federal government for breaching the 18th constitutional amendment, as religious issues are now a provincial subject.
Though the demand has not been made by any of the four provinces yet, Mufti Popalzai had asked that the Ruet-i-Hilal committees be also devolved to the provinces.
The KP minister’s question was then put to the ministries of law and interior. “It took around a year for us to figure out that the role of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee was not to impart religious education, but relates to the Hijri calendar.”
“Just like Pakistan Standard Time, Ruet-i-Hilal committees cannot be devolved to provinces,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Religious Affairs spokesperson Noor Zaman told Dawn the government had decided to curb the practice of private individuals or groups announcing dates for religious occasions, such as Ramazan or Eid.
“The ministry has finalised rules regarding the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee, based on a National Assembly resolution from 1974. These will include punishments for those who violate the decisions of the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee,” the spokesman said, adding that this reference was likely to be forwarded to the law ministry next week.
The two main proposals to be placed before Mufti Popalzai are: an invitation for Masjid Qasim Khan to send representatives to the central and provincial Ruet-i-Hilal Committees, and to accept the committee’s decisions.
Even though the Ruet-i-Hilal Committee has been in existence for over four decades, the first official notification of moon-sighting for both Ramazan and Eidul fitr was issued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in 2015.
The committee is scheduled to meet in Karachi to sight the Ramazan moon, but Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Mohammad Yousuf has offered to shift the venue to Peshawar if Mufti Popalzai agreed to join the meeting.
However, Ruet-i-Hilal Committee Chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman downplayed the idea of holding the meeting in Peshawar, saying that the KP assembly has already announced it would follow the decisions of the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.
“We have held meetings in Peshawar too and last year it was held in Islamabad, but despite this, they made a mockery of the national religious festival — I cannot comment any further,” he said.
He said the decision was made after serious deliberations involving all segments of society from across the country, and that the committee’s decisions should be binding for the sake of national cohesion.