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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

THE MOON WAS SIGHTED?




Some people said they sighted the new crescent for Ramadan on Monday the 8th of July 2013, and because of that, they started their fast of Ramadan on Tuesday the 9th of July.


The Chairman, Advisory Committee on religious affairs of the Sokoto Sultanate Council, Professor Sambo Wali Junaid, had, on July 8th, issued a statement urging Muslims to watch out for the new moon of Ramadan.
‘’This is to inform you,” the statement said, “that Monday July 8, 2013 is the 29th day of Sha’aban 1434 AH and shall be the day to start looking for the new moon of Ramadan”.


In addition, another statement was issued on the same day by the Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Professor Is’haq Oloyede, calling on the Muslims all over Nigeria to look out for the new crescent of Ramadan.
In both statements, telephone numbers were given to members of the public who sight the crescent to communicate same to Muslim leaders.
In his own statement, Professor Oloyede requested whoever is ‘able to sight the crescent’ to call any of the following Muslim authorities:


“The President-General of NSCIA and the Sultan of Sokoto Tel: 08036470422           
“The Deputy President-General (North) of the NSCIA and the Shehu of Borno 08037855555, 08023549558  
“The Deputy President-General (South) of the NSCIA and Aare Muslumi of Yoruba Land      Tel: 08027780076
“The Emir of Gwandu and all other Emirs Tel. 08036154369
“The Lamido of Adamawa Tel. 0756344449
“The Esu Nupe Tel. 08039668707
“The Otaru of Auchi
“The Deputy Secretary-General (South) of NSCIA (Sheikh Adam Idoko)   Tel: 08036759892
“The President of the League of Imams and Alfas in Yoruba Land: Chief Imam of Osogbo Tel. 08035740333
“The Baba Adini of Lagos, Sheikh Hafiz Abou Tel. 08033085292 and
“The Chairman, National Moon Sighting Committee, Dr Hafis Wali Tel: 08036009090, 08034540120, 08023037478.”


The members of the National Moon Sighting Committee of NSCIA were in Abuja on the night of July 8th. People kept calling them to ask for information on whether the crescent was sighted. None of the callers had said the moon was sighted anywhere. Similar was the case with most of the names mentioned above. Many of them formed a quasi-crescent-sighting-committee around them to wait for the news of sighting of the new moon. There was no information whatsoever that the crescent was sighted anywhere in Nigeria.


That this committee’s members were not trying to sight the moon themselves is a matter for another day. One would expect a moon sighting committee to have vehicles and men who will be all over the country in far-flung places armed with their binoculars and communication devices, to inform His Eminence, the Sultan or anyone saddled with the responsibility of getting that information confirmed and disseminated without hitch should they sight the moon. One would also expect everyone to look out for it; including the said leaders. As I have mentioned, that is for another day.
On Tuesday the 9th of June, the Secretary-General, NSCIA, Professor Oloyede was reported in the media to have said, “The council has asked all Muslims to look for the moon and throughout the country, the moon has not been sighted anywhere and the Prophet has said that when the moon is not sighted you count Shaaban to be 30 days and consequently 30 days of Shaaban is tomorrow and whether the moon is sighted or not Ramadan starts on Wednesday.”


Thus, the majority of the Ummah, the community of Muslims in Nigeria started observing the fast of Ramadan on the 10th July, 2013. Very few Muslims commenced their fast ahead of the rest of the Ummah, on Tuesday, because, according to them, they sighted the crescent on Monday night. The question here is, why did not these few make any attempt to reach Muslim leaders as requested by the Sokoto Sultanate Council and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)? Is it possible for anyone who sighted the crescent not to be able to contact any of the names or any of the telephone numbers published in the media?


Some people say that the leadership of NSCIA prefers Saudi Arabia’s sighting of the moon to our local, Nigerian one; that at the critical time people need to reach His Eminence, the Sultan to pass information on sighting the moon, the lines will not be reachable. How come, the same people said, that every year the final position of His Eminence on commencement of fasting was communicated around 11pm to 12midnight, but that this year the position was known by NTA Network’s news time, by 9pm? To these people, this unusually early announcement, especially on a day that Saudi Arabia declared that Ramadan will start the next day, Wednesday 10th July, further buttressed their assertion that NSCIA is determined on making Nigerian Muslims follow the Saudi sighting.


I hope NSCIA will clear the air on the above for the benefit of those who do not know. The National Moon Sighting Committee of NSCIA is composed of scholars who know that Nigerian Muslims are to go by their own, and not Saudi Arabia’s, sighting of the moon in commencing or ending Ramadan. Why will NSCIA and the Sokoto Sultanate Council request Muslims to look out for the crescent and give all the above contacts if there was any design to stifle any information on sighting the moon in Nigeria from reaching His Eminence, the Sultan? No Muslim, not even regular Muslims, let alone leaders, in their right senses will allow themselves to be part of any such design.


Whatever you do, no matter how pure your intention is there will be dissenting voices. In the past people said the Sultanate and indeed the NSCIA served no purpose in Nigeria other than make Muslims start and end Ramadan fast on false information on sighting of the moon; such announcement, according to some people, did not take into account the fact that, from astronomical data, the moon was not born and thus was not possible for anybody to see it. Now even with the on-going reform by the current leadership in the area of moon sighting with all the safeguards in ascertaining that claimants to seeing a new crescent have actually seen it, people are now raising the issue of preference to Saudi sighting.


Let the leadership of the Ummah in Nigeria fear Allah on this matter and know that the fast and one of the pillars of Islam, of more than 100 million Muslims is at stake if any wrong information was entertained on sighting of the crescent. Majority of the Ummah is with the leadership. We hear and we obey. The few of our brethren who chose to be ahead of the majority in commencing Ramadan based on their own sighting which, purportedly, was not communicated to the leaders, should know that the unity of the Muslims must be preserved in all circumstances. Nobody can declare their fast as invalid but let them at least ensure that their act of righteousness does cause disunity of the Ummah. They will do well to attend the Eid prayer of the majority regardless of when they (the minority) celebrate their own Eid. This would give the impression of Muslim unity, and increase the number of Muslims at all Eid festivals.


On the part of the leadership, starting with His Eminence, the Sultan, my advice is to be as open-minded and receptive as possible about this and other matters; to examine any claim of a sighting critically and even if there was a prior announcement that the crescent was not sighted, a confirmed sighting is too weighty to discard. This is an act we do for Allah’s sake alone and He rewards it; let it be that His obedience is supreme. The gravity of bearing the sins of about 100 million people is too much for anyone to ignore if there was a genuine sighting that was discarded. The followers bear no sin in such case; just the leaders who disregarded a true claim.


As for the followers; I urge all to fear Allah; not as a matter of choice but as a matter of course. If no one sighted the moon, let regional, ethnic or other considerations not push you to declare a sighting. The case of some so-called scholars having meetings months before Ramadan to determine when they would start their fasting is untenable and unIslamic. Also, regional leaders and Imams should verify any claim like Allah’s messenger (PBUH) used to do. If there is still disparity in sighting dates after this, know that there is no problem except for the mischief makers who see the different dates as an opportunity to impugn what is well known to be dynamic.


The start and end of the fasting month are strictly based on sighting. If, for example, the moon is sighted in Lagos and the news of that does not get to Abuja in time, and if Abuja had cloudy skies that night, it is going to mean a disparity in dates. This is not a division of the Ummah, it is clearly a meteorological issue. The same people who seek to amplify a molehill into a mountain this way have forgotten that even the five daily prayers are not said at the same time in all mosques in Nigeria let alone the rest of the world with varying time zones and daylight lengths. For example, London, which is just an hour behind Nigeria in the time zones sometimes, witnesses Maghrib at 9pm.
Lastly, on the issue of moon sighting, let us reflect on this hadeeth:


Abu Hurayrah narrated, as reported in the Jaami’ of at-Tirmidhi (2/37), that the beloved Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said, “The fast [starts] on the day that you all are fasting, and the [Eid] al-Fitr is the day that you all break the fast (i.e., stop fasting).”


Imām at-Tirmidhi commented on this hadeeth and said, “This has been interpreted to mean that one fasts and celebrates the Eid with the group of Muslims and their majority.” The famous Yemeni scholar al-San`ani wrote in his Subul al-Salaam, “This hadeeth proves that what counts for claiming that it is 'Īd is that the people agree to the fact that it is Eid. And so, if a single person sees the crescent (but is not followed for some reason), he still must still follow the community (and not his sighting).” And the great student of Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, wrote regarding this hadeeth, “This is a refutation of those who claim that someone who knows when the moon is born by astronomical calculations should follow it in starting and finishing the fast, ignoring the rest of the people. Another interpretation of this tradition is that one who witnesses the crescent and whose sighting is subsequently rejected by the judge should not fast, just like the people are not fasting” (Tahdheeb al-Sunan vol 3 pg 214).


In other words, what this hadeeth tells us is that what's important regarding the beginning and end of Ramadan is not when the moon is sighted or not, but rather following the community of Muslims and keeping the local Ummah unified. Therefore, even if the crescent was 'born' and could have been sighted, if the community does not fast on a particular day, for whatever reason, then it is not permissible for an individual to break away from the community and fast or break his fast separate from them.


Of course, there are other contrary opinions like that of those who say the one who has sighted the moon and whose testimony was rejected is still bound to fast. This is Islam; no one is forced to take an opinion in the secondary matters. Each scholar who takes a different stance is also bound to respect the opinion of the others as they must respect his too. When there is dearth of relevant knowledge, what you get is the kind of chaos some people are causing now. Yes, fast when you see it (the crescent) and stop fast when you see it (the crescent) but do not let it cause a problem with those who would rather follow the leader of the Ummah and vice versa.



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