Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moon Sighting in Cyberspace ; A Web Site Lets Pakistani Computer Users Track the New Moon for End Of

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Moon Sighting in Cyberspace ; A Web Site Lets Pakistani Computer Users Track the New Moon for End Of

Article excerpt

In previous years, Muslims here would climb their rooftops to witness the new moon signaling the end of Ramadan. This year, the Internet gave moon-watchers a hand in calculating the precise start of the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr, ending a month of fasting.

During much of the past week, for those of Pakistan's estimated 150,000 computer users with access to the Web site, one of the favorite sites has been www.moonsighting.com. But for many Pakistanis, it represents yet another example of Western values invading daily life.

Yasin Lakhani, a prominent Pakistani stockbroker, notes: "This is an example of how the Web site is changing the society in Pakistan. Science has taken over tradition, and it shows that the old system is changing."

For years, sighting the new moon has been driven by religious tradition which required at least four adult Muslims to have viewed the moon, before the central Ruet-I-hilal (moon sighting) committee, mainly consisting of religious clergy, would announce publicly that Eid could be celebrated.

However, times have changed. The moonsighting Web site uses scientific evidence gathered from observatories to not only predict when the birth of the new moon could take place, but also when it would appear in different parts of the world.

But how far can science change some of the most well established traditions?

Women still paint their hands and feet with henna as they venture out to the bazaars during the last few days of Ramadan. The multi- colored glass bangles sold for the holiday can cost the equivalent of a day's wages for a common laborer.

In a country whose population of 140 million is 95 percent Muslim - and overwhelmingly poor- Web-aided lunar prediction makes little impact.

"Most people can not even afford meat during an average day. For Pakistan's poor, what joy can come from using computer," says waiter Tariq Khan. …

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