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Mirwaiz Farooq Appointed to the Panel of Islamic Jurists on Crescent Sighting in J&K

The committee has been formed at a time when the local administration is facing accusations of making attempts to interfere in the religious practices of Kashmiri Muslims.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/HAIDER ISHFAQ/CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Srinagar: With the holy month of fasting less than a fortnight away, moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has been appointed to an advisory committee of top Islamic jurists and other religious leaders and scholars who will take the final call on the vexed issue of crescent sighting in Jammu and Kashmir.

The high-level committee has been formed at a time when the local administration is facing accusations of making attempts to interfere in the religious practices of Kashmiri Muslims following the reading down of Article 370 when the Bharatiya Janta Party-led Union government took direct charge of Jammu and Kashmir.

In a statement on Thursday (February 22), Mufti Nasir-ul-Islam, the Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir, said that after gathering testimonies from the members of the Muslim Personal Law Board and Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, J&K’s official crescent sighting grouping, the ten-member advisory committee shall be consulted before making any announcement.

Although Mirwaiz’s designation in the committee has not been specified, his name figures on the top of the list of its ten members which also includes Maulvi Rehmatullah Mir Qasmi, a founding member of the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB), and MPLB vice-president, Syed Aslam Andrabi.

The statement said that the members of the MPLB appointed in different parts of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh for giving testimonies about the possible sighting of the crescent, will stay in touch with the Grand Mufti on March 10 when the lunar month of Ramzan is expected to start in India and many parts of the world.

In Ramzan, Muslims observe dawn-to-dusk fast for 29 or 30 days, depending on the moon’s rotation (or age) around the earth in different parts of the world.

Since each Islamic day begins at sunset, credible testimonies about the sighting of the crescent at dusk are mandatory for religious leaders to announce the arrival of the month of Ramzan and also Shawwal, the tenth lunar month that follows and whose first day is celebrated as the Eid-ul-Fitr.

“Once any witness (Ruet) is received, the members are supposed to testify its reliability and if deemed true are to accordingly share and convey it to the Grand Mufti, or to any member of the constituted committee,” the statement said, adding that the committee will “discuss the reliability of witnesses before making the final announcement”.

Jammu and Kashmir’s official crescent sighting committee is a poorly-serviced team which lacks the scientific and technical wherewithal to sight the crescent, making it dependent on Pakistan’s official moon sighting committee and also causing a dent in its credibility.

Critics believe that the BJP-led central government wants to decouple the decades-old tradition, wherein people from Kashmir celebrate Eid with Pakistan, because of its political connotations.

Mufti Nazir Qasmi, a noted Islamic scholar in Kashmir, told The Wire that sighting the crescent is difficult in Kashmir because of the region’s peculiar weather conditions that make clouds a persistent feature of skies during the year and especially in the winter months from November to April.

“If Muslims in our neighbourhood announce the sighting of the Eid crescent, we are also obliged under the Shariah (Islamic) law to celebrate the Eid along with them,” Mufti Qasmi, who heads the Islamic jurisprudence wing at the Bandipora seminary, said.

Last year, after a bitter face-off with Kashmir’s ulema and other religious leaders over the alleged attempts to politicise the issue of the crescent sighting, the Wakf board, which is the managing body of major shrines and mosques in Kashmir, had announced that it will set up its own Ruet-e-Hilal committee.

The Wakf board has also faced criticism for allegedly taking control of some Muslim Sufi shrines in Kashmir which were under the management of local bodies, prompting some custodians of these shrines to knock on the doors of the judiciary.

In early 2023, the chairman of Wakf Board and senior BJP leader, Darakshan Andrabi, was snubbed by Maulvi Qasmi, who is part of the new advisory committee on crescent sighting, for allegedly interfering in what he said were “strictly religious matters”.

A team of the National Investigations Agency had raided Maulvi Qasmi, who heads Dar-Ul-Uloom Raheemiya, Kashmir largest Islamic seminary situated in north Kashmir’s Bandipora, in connection with an alleged terror radicalisation case soon after his comments on Andrabi.

Meanwhile, Mirwaiz was disallowed from coming out of his house and leading the congregational Friday prayers at the Jamia Masjid, an official of Anjuman Auqaf, the managing body of the historic shrine  in Srinagar said in a statement.

“Such a hostile attitude of the administration … is not only sad but also causes great grief among the people here. This undue interference in religious affairs not only undermines the basic principles of freedom of religion and belief but also deepens the sense of injustice and alienation among the people, the Auqaf said.

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