Sunday, December 18, 2011

MUSLIM CONSULTATIVE FORRUM’S ASHURA IFTAAR




Monday 5th December, 2011 was 10th of Muharram, 1433, and day in which the Muslim Consultative Forum (MCF) hosted Iftaar of the Ashuraa fast and discussion at the main hall of the Abuja National Mosque Conference Hall.

The Executive Secretary of the National Mosque, Alhaji Abubakar Ibrahim Jega, stood in for the chairman of the discussion session, General A B Mamman (rtd). In his remarks as chairman, the E.S welcomed everybody to the Iftaar and congratulated the organisers for having the reward of all participants. Quoting copiously, in flawless Arabic and translating into English, from the hadeeth and the Glorious Qur’an, that ‘whoever feeds a fasting Muslim, will have his reward and the reward of that person without diminishing anything of the recompense of the Muslim he feeds (hadeeth).’ He drew our attention to the importance of the subject of that evening’s discourse, “The Prospects of Islamic Banking in Nigeria & Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah”, the benefit of which cuts across ethnicity and creed. Whatever we do, the chairman contends, Allah is aware of it and shall reward us accordingly; ‘…and whatever good you send forth for your souls you shall find it in Allah's Presence, - yes, better and greater, in Reward… (Al-Muzzammil 73: 20)’. The chairman concluded his short remarks by urging participants to do their part in disseminating the message of economic empowerment, in as much as Allah has adjured us toHelp one another in righteousness and piety…not to help one another in sin and rancour… (Al-Maa’idah 5: 3)”. Therefore we should see our involvement in helping raise the lot of others economically as sadaqah jaariyah the reward of which continues to accrue to one’s scale of deeds even after their death (hadeeth).

One will not be faulted in viewing the chairman’s remarks, (which he delivered offhandedly and without looking at any notes), as a succinct keynote address of some sort as it encompassed the prime points of the two papers presented afterwards - the one on The Prospects of Islamic Banking In Nigeria, and the other on Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah.

The gist of the first paper by Dr Bashir Aliyu, Special Adviser to the CBN Governor on Islamic Banking, could be something like: May Allah reward the sponsors of this Ashuraa Iftaar for their resoluteness in reviving this sunnah.  Reward in ibaadah comes in the same proportion to what you expect from Allah for it, and the extent of your resoluteness in it. Today’s Iftaar reminds of what we did, in the early 1980s, as a small band of Muslim youth, of observing I’tikaaf during Ramadan at a time when it was virtually unpractised. At the end of the I’tikaaf we paid a visit to one of the Muslim scholars in Kano who received us well and said: ‘Expect an immense recompense from Allah for starting this practice; you will receive the reward of those who will emulate what you’ve started………….’

We are indeed a favoured Ummah; we begin each year with Ashuraa, and we end the year with Arafah – two events at the end of which our sins are blotted out.

Ribaa (interest) is proscribed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Muslims have been more steadfast in their abhorrence against ribaa than the other two. Secular, irreligious and so-called advanced countries have allowed, nay encouraged the enactment of Islamic banks, a financial system devoid of interest. Therefore, the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria has every right to demand for it.

There is legal basis for the establishment of Islamic banks in Nigeria in as much as the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act of 1991 as amended has stated that no bank should be registered with Christian, Muslim or regional appellation without the written consent of the CBN governor. The condition to be met here is the written assent of the CBN governor. And yes, we have banks in this country named after regions and communities in the past. As against what many people divined, the issue of Islamic banking in Nigeria was not something that the current CBN Governor smuggled into the system; the daft for the promulgation of Islamic banking was released in March 2009, months before his appointment as head of the apex bank.

Islamic banking has come to stay. Even by CIA’s records Muslims form 50% of Nigeria’s 160 million populations; we are speaking of more than 80 million people, most of whom have been repelled by ribaa from dealing with conventional banks.

Non-Muslims also benefit from Islamic banking. Gulf Africa Bank of Kenya, for instance, has 20% non-Muslim clients; while OCBC Al Amin Bank of Malaysia has 50% non-Muslim depositors! Actually, what people need is an honest and reliable system where they can deposit money, and access funds for business without the strings of interest. It is heartening to note that Christian bodies are inviting experts of Islamic banking to educate their flock on the modus operandi of the system.

The Ummah should not allow this effort to fail; we must change our attitude. Look at the kind of money Muslims spend each year to perform Umrah and Hajj. The least of what you will pay for an Umrah package is N250, 000. How much do you think we can save were the Muslims to decide not to go to Umrah for only one year and put the funds in an Islamic bank for example?

Now we have choice for halal over haraam; it is either now, or we may wait for a very long time before we get another chance, if at all.

Let me conclude with this: I have been inundated by calls and text-messages over a fatwa on the internet concerning the sighting of Muharram crescent; that today, Monday 5th December, 2011 is the 9th and not the 10th of Muharram 1433. I saw the said fatwa. Many people, on account of this, did not fast yesterday. They fast today and will also fast tomorrow.

The principle is that every region is bound by its own sighting. The scholars in Saudi Arabia are not compelling visitors to the site to work according to the Saudi sighting of the crescent. Our problem is that we generalise what should be confined, and confine what should be generalised. As far as our sighting in Nigeria is concerned, today is 10th Muharram 1433.

On the Ashuraa fast Ibn Al Qayyim is of the opinion, based on the hadeeth that says: ‘fast a day before, and a day after…’, that one can fast on the 9th, 10th and 11th of Muharram. Therefore, the thread in the variations of how we observed the fast is very thin indeed. What is interesting is that all of us have fasted today; those who observed yesterday in the fast and those who will fast tomorrow are all within the mark given Ibn Al Qayyim’s position above.



The second topic, Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah, was handled by Dr Abubakar Al-Hassan of Bayero University (BUK), Kano. His presentation elicited discussion on what the Ummah does, rather than just say, to economically empower itself and be able to intervene in programmes like Education, Health, Capacity Building, Rehabilitation and other related programmes of the community. Of course well done is by far better than well said! He spoke about how the Ummah could raise a lot of money by donating a trifle out of their earnings. This is not a mere idea; the lecturer has a practical experience in the BUK mosque which is maintained by extracting pittance out of the wages of the Muslim workforce in the university. For years since the commencement of this experiment, worshippers in the mosque are not importuned for sadaqah after every salaah for the upkeep of the masjid.

Given the number of people standing trial for stealing, (I beg your pardon), embezzling from 70 to 200 billion of our commonwealth, why should we be considered poor? We are not.

The Muslim Consultative Forum’s Ashuraa Iftaar concluded, therefore, that if 1 million Muslims would contribute N1, 000 (one thousand naira) monthly, the Ummah can boast of N12 billion in a year. With this kind of money there is no goal or project that will be beyond the reach of the Muslim community; and yes, we can! Millions of Muslims can afford to give N1, 000 every month – nickels and dimes if you consider what we spend daily on phone recharge cards.

Let me digress. Since I came to Abuja, I’ve not been a member of any Muslim organisation. As a scholar I’ve always been at the disposal of all Muslim associations in Nigeria vis-à-vis paper presentation and participation in programmes. I envy, in a good and Islamic way, the commitment to da’wah and the honesty of members of Islamic bodies. Muslim Consultative Forum (MCF) is the only body that I am a proud member of but it is not an organisation in the sense in which I alluded to above; rather it is a forum for all members of Islamic organisations to come together and share ideas and experiences on what has worked for them in their activities, and proffer solutions to changes confronting the Ummah. We can belong to any Muslim body we desire, but MCF is where we converge, bring our organisational strength and pool resources for the benefit of Islam and its own!

In this regard, MCF has started sending e-mails to brothers and sisters requesting them to express interest in contributing to this empowerment scheme. An Expression of Interest Form is attached to the mail where the addressees are to fill in their contact details and how they intend to disburse the voluntary contribution of N1, 000 only. The fund will be made into a WAQF (endowment) by and for the Ummah.

I am part and parcel of this initiative; I am also a contributor to the fund because I firmly believe that it will work. If you have not received our mail and you want to be part of this history kindly send me an e-mail (deedat@gmail.com), or to Umoru Jafaru (aigbejab@gmail.com) at the National Mosque, Abuja; we will in reply send you the Expression of Interest Form and other details.

There is practically no limit to what the human mind can achieve once it is set to it. I have heard of whole mosques built from a percentage of the monthly salaries of the Muslim staff in a university. I know of a project in Lugbe by the Movement for Islamic Culture and Awareness (MICA), Abuja. This project has seen them pooling funds with which they acquired land and have built the first phase of an ambitious and state of the art Islamic centre which shall be available to all Muslims. A large percentage of the more than 10 million naira raised and expended so far came from voluntary donations from the members and well-wishers.

A smart fellow once remarked that Muslims in Nigeria are individually rich but collectively poor. How true those words ring! Some of the richest men in Africa and the whole world are Muslims from Nigeria. So, what exactly is wrong with us? How does a fish thirst in the midst of water? For me, I think it is a matter of orientation. The average Muslim thinks of giving that crisp 50 naira to the mosque management fund and 10 naira to the hapless beggar some of whom have made begging a form of art. We hardly think of sustainability and long term development and growth. It is time we did; if we don't we have only ourselves to blame.




Thursday, December 1, 2011

AMEERUL MU’MINEEN



The second Caliph, Umar Ibn Al Khattaab, may Allah be pleased with him, once set out for Sham, whose people went out to receive him. They met a man riding a camel, sitting on a covering of coarse wool, hanging his feet through the two sides of the saddle, without a stirrup. They approached him and asked him: “Where is the Ameerul Mu’mineen, Commander of the Believers? Did you meet his procession on the way?” He answered them with a smile: “The Ameerul Mu’mineen is in front of you.”

They proceeded in search for him, but later they learnt that the Ameerul Mu’mineen had arrived in Ailah, where he alighted. They returned hurriedly and entered upon the Ameerul Mu’mineen, who was sitting with the people. But, they were nearly shocked by surprise, for the Ameerul Mu’mineen was no more than the same man who had been riding the camel, whom they met earlier and asked about the Ameerul Mu’mineen and he said to them that “The Ameerul Mu’mineen is in front of you.”

Reminiscent of the above narrative, our own Ameerul Mu’mineen, His Eminence, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar III, was touring the tents at Minaa during 2010 hajj (as he did during 2011 hajj also), saying salaam to pilgrims and asking after their welfare. He came into our group’s tents (I was not there, unfortunately, but our media consultants have preserved what happened on video), greeted the hajjis who responded to him as you would respond to anybody who extends salaam to you. In the spirit of hajj, His Eminence was moving with just about two people; no retinue; he was simply dressed in two pairs of ihraam, not in royal tunic and without turban. Until he finished the session and left, nobody recognised His Eminence but a pilgrim military-comrade who said to his fellow hajjis: “It appears you did not know that the person who just left is (Ameerul Mu’mineen), His Eminence, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar…”

                                                            His Eminence, Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar III

Instinctively, they all stood up, searched for and located the tent of His Eminence and paid homage. They expressed compunction for not recognising him when he came to them when, actually, they should be the ones to come and show their respect. “There is no blame on you;” Declared His Eminence, “I was just performing my duty. The essence of hajj, as you all know, is for us to view ourselves as equal as the teeth of a comb; we are all pilgrims. May Allah accept our hajj.”

Before the group dispersed, somebody suggested a brief personal introduction of members; His Eminence assented. The spiritual leader of our group, when it was his turn, said: ‘I am Sa’id Ishaq, Ameerul Hajj of Comerel….’

His Eminence interjected jokingly and said: “Ameerul Hajj? No, call yourself ‘leader of Comerel delegation’. There is only one Ameerul Hajj!”

Everybody laughed and left the presence of His Eminence well-pleased.

As the permanent Ameerul Hajj of the Nigerian hajj contingent, His Eminence does not content himself with receiving field reports from hajj inspection teams, or engage in ceaseless series of meetings far removed from the realities on ground; he desires physical assessment, to see things for himself and take appropriate action.

His Eminence has now introduced and inaugurated, unprecedented in the history of Islam in Nigeria, a 30 man National Council of Ulema on hajj activities and other matters affecting the Ummah. This council is not like anything we knew in the past about select-few committees that accompany the ameerul hajj or be part of the Federal Government delegation to hajj. His Eminence’s council is indeed unique; it is as if His Eminence got a special inspiration from Allah on this council; nothing of this nature has ever been seen in this country that is aimed at uniting the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria. Every group is represented: Tijjaniyyah, Kadiriyyah, Izala (Jos and that of Kaduna), Ansarudeen, Anwarudeen, Nawarudeen and Nasfat among others. No region or ethnic group was neglected; Muslim scholars, big Sheikhs and small Ustaz, the aged and the young, from the North, South and East were fully represented. No more cries of marginalization on Islamic activities from any Muslim group in this country.

Members of this council have now strengthened their bond as brethren in Faith. Their coming together under His Eminence’s council has wiped away any rancour lurking in their hearts and made them cast away hair-splitting argumentations that had stirred up unnecessary disunity among the Ummah. Now matters among these scholars are decided by consensus; fatwa on hajj and any other issues are based on agreed upon juristic authorities, researched and authenticated by all of them before it is given out as the position of the National Council of Ulama.

His Eminence should be supported by all in his peace and reconciliation initiative among the Muslims in Nigeria. Thanks to His Eminence’s council, I now see myself, not as a member of Izala, Darika or any group, but as a Muslim in Nigeria, a brother to all Muslims irrespective of their understanding or whatever emblem they attach to their original identity as Muslims.

If His Eminence smiles; that is a natural disposition of a persona full of tenderness for the mu’mineen Allah has placed under his care. If he laughs; that comes from a genuine feeling from a heart overflowing with love for all peoples – Christians and Muslims. I once tarried in the presence of His Eminence for about two hours; different classes of people coming and going - from royalties, ambassadors from foreign lands to everyday people, paying homage to the Ameerul Mu’mineen. He was jovial, full of life and cheerful. His mobile phone rang; he picked: “Hello” he said answering the call.  Suddenly he became more cheerful. We could not overhear the responses from the other side, but His Eminence kept responding to whoever called with jocundity the like of which I have not seen in him either during my long sojourn during that or earlier visits: “Well, I’m out of Sokoto, but you are there at the right time; just wait for me to come and give you the kalimah….” At this point His Eminence laughed heartily, and then ended by saying: “I’m sure you are posted to Sokoto so you can tread the right path…; as soon as I return, you shall pronounce the shahaadah…” This he said amidst more laughter and even blitheness. Everybody there was anxious to know who could excite such vivaciousness in His Eminence; and with whom could he converse so freely over the telephone. “That was Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese.” His Eminence announced to us.

This is the sublime example of interfaith harmony! Religious leaders, our Ameerul Mu’mineen has shown, are to set the tone, by words and deeds, for peaceful co-existence that followers might emulate. With the likes of the above telephone communication there will be no room for apprehension; no issue will be difficult to discuss, and solution could be proffered on how best to blight the embers of religious hatred.

On Sunday 4th December and the following day, Monday 5th December, the Muslims of this planet will observe the taasuu’aa and ‘aashuuraa voluntary fasts. Both days are two of the best days on earth. We are expected to shun any form of fighting or violence in the month of Muharram in which they fall. When we fast, please remember to supplicate to Allah for our various needs and our collective needs as Muslims and as a nation; remember to ask Allah to guide our Ameerul Mu’mineen, the Sultan, and to protect him.

There are only two celebrations in Islam, the Feast of Slaughter, Eidul Adhaa, and the Feast of Breaking the Fast, Eidul Fitr. I have noted with some trepidation that there are plans to celebrate the Sultan’s fifth year in office. I think the National Council of Ulema I mentioned earlier should take note of this and educate us all on the subject of anniversaries and celebrations in Islam generally. I have written this piece not as a congratulatory message on His Eminence’s fifth anniversary as Sultan; that would be acting against my beliefs and convictions, but as a way of expressing what I have always felt about the leadership style of our Ameerul Mu’mineen. Allah gives wisdom to whom He wills; the best of those who lead are those who earn your loyalty and respect not those who demand them. Indeed, Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain was spot on when she said “Being in power is like being a lady, if you have to tell people you are, you are not”.