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Pakistanis Split on Ramadan Timetable - 2004-10-15

Pakistan is preparing to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but not everyone in the country will be observing Ramadan at the same time.

Like most Muslims around the world, Pakistanis will observe the holy month through a strict fast during the daylight hours, as the faithful go without even water. Those who smoke do without cigarettes, as they concentrate on spiritual matters.

Because of Pakistan's location east of the Muslim heartland in the Middle East, the new moon marking the beginning of the month often appears a day or so later than in Mecca, Cairo or Damascus, which began the holy month Friday.

"Due to the difference in the horizon, when the moon is sighted in Pakistan, then Ramadan is started. We do not follow any other country. For instance, Saudi Arabia has started Ramadan already," Director of the International Islamic University's Dawa Academy, Khalid Alavi, explained.

The difference in geography means that Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbor to the west, often starts and finishes Ramadan a day earlier.

But some Pakistani religious officials, particularly those near the Afghan border, sometimes see the Ramadan moon early, causing a split in the country's Ramadan timetable.

The city of Peshawar, for instance, usually begins observing the fast on the same day as Afghanistan.

Mr. Alavi says the Pakistani government is eager to work out a consensus, so that all Pakistanis can follow the same Ramadan schedule.

"The committee will sit in Peshawar. They will receive the witnesses from that area, also, so that it is a unanimous decision," he said.

Keeping the fast on the same day for all Pakistanis is important, since the day after Ramadan ends marks the beginning of a major holiday, Eid al-Fitr.

And there is nothing worse than having to wait an extra day to start eating again. (