Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhary has been in the public eye for a while now, and not always for completely uncontroversial reasons. One reason is his expansive background. Making a career as a spokesman for political parties one after the other, especially since being part entails badmouthing the opponents, takes a special sort of talent, no doubt, but that is something that seems to come naturally to him. And while he did stand out as minister for information in the present PTI administration, he also lost a few friends among reporters and correspondents who found him very engaging on the campaign trail but relatively less so, to put it very mildly, once the party won the election. Yet he's undergone something of a reinvention as science and technology minister, especially in advocating the use of scientific methods in the rather sensitive matter of moon sighting for some of our holy months. Others in the same position never dared to take such steps for far too long, out of fear of upsetting the conservative religious lobby and effectively stirring up a hornet's nest, even as that left us as perhaps the only country relying solely on centuries-old prescriptions to date our most sacred religious events.

That is why all his value addition to the business of moon sighting must be appreciated. It's not just that the country must submit to obscure rituals that are no longer relevant for some of the year's most important events rather it's that the government must also pay millions upon millions every year just to keep the structure of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee intact. It almost beggars belief that we pay so much money every year just to ensure that we keep ourselves from progressing. The minister must also be lauded for the way in which he handled the religious lobby. While the ministry presented all the scientific evidence and laid out the pattern of the moon's development and likely places of sighting, it also said quite clearly that it appreciated the Committee's mandate and understood that the latter had the final say in the matter. Then it let public opinion, not to mention instances of sighting from just about the places the ministry mentioned, snowball on its own and influence the final decision, which seemed initially to tilt in favour of extending the holy month by one day. And that, largely, was based on the trend that Eid here usually comes one day after it graces the Gulf region. All that should no longer be the guiding principle, thanks to the perseverance of the federal minister for science and technology.

Surely, the time has come to put all such matters to rest once and for all. Why, for example, has any sitting government never had the heart to introduce such scientific practices in religious matters? Why can't we take our cue from friends in other Muslim countries, as we do in so many other matters, and put our best foot forward in this department as well? In all Gulf countries, for example, science not ancient customs dictates the lunar calendar now. There are ceremonies, some also for moon sighting, but they are never allowed to contradict or interfere with what has already been announced, since the decisions are based on solid scientific methodologies. And rarely does any other government cave into the demands of far right lobbies as easily as ours does. Since that not just keeps us anchored in a bygone era, but also eats up precious state resources in doing so, the time was never more ripe for a reset.

And it's not just our religious lobby that could do with a dose of some science and technology. We need to adopt such practices across the board, especially to enhance manufacturing and production and add value to exports. Only countries that will trim losses quickly and add efficiency by adopting the latest technology in the market will survive in the new world thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic. That economies of all countries are under unprecedented stress is a grim reality. And the smaller ones, needless to say, are in danger of being completely wiped out. The last thing they can afford is to spend lavishly to satisfy the fancies of a precious few just because it gives them the false impression of still living by the tenets of a glorious past. Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhary has done the right thing by showing to his cabinet colleagues in particular the right way at just the right time so that such initiatives are appreciated and adopted whenever and wherever they are needed.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020