The recent pronouncement of the crescent of the month of Rajab, the seventh month of Islamic calendar, by the National Moon Sighting Committee (NMSC) triggered serious controversies, especially from among the Muslim youths.
The NMSC headed by Dr. Hafiz Wali is an organ of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) under the leadership of His eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto. By virtue of his position as the Amir-ul-Mu'mineen (Head of Nigeria's Muslim community) the power to commence and terminate Ramadan fasting lies with the Sultan and by extension, the moon sighting committee. This perhaps could have informed the reactions of some Muslim youths who stormed the NSCIA Facebook page over what they regarded as "misinformation and miscalculation of the month of Rajab".
They contended that contrary to the announcement by the moon sighting committee, Rajab did not start on Thursday March 28 but Wednesday March 27. In addition to running contrary to many other global counting, keen observers claimed to have sighted the moon with their naked eyes! It is very important to note that concern raised by the youths is quite very germane as the disparity, if extended to the month of Sha'aban (the 8th month) may have negative effects on the commencement of Ramadan fasting. This was the fear of the embittered Muslim faithful who are beginning to express doubt about the professional competence of the committee and the accuracy of their counting.
Before now, the commencement and termination of Ramadan fast in Nigeria has always generated a lot of contentions and controversies.
In 2008, some Muslims ignored the announcement of the Sultan to start their fasting on different days. This led to the commencement of the fast in about three different days. The issue further generated heated debate when the Sultan declared that Muslims should observe Eid-el-Adha prayer on the Day of Arafah.
With the help of Allah and collective efforts of the Muslim community, the Muslims re-united for the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Ramadan until 2014 when the leadership of NSCIA again erred by dishing out two directives - first, that Muslims should begin fast on Sunday, June 29, while the second, which came late, around 1am ordered Muslims to begin fasting on Saturday, June 28.
The recent trend of events shows that the NSCIA may not be learning fast enough from its past mistakes. And from indications, NSCIA seems unaware of the massive erosion of trust of its moon sighting committee by the Muslim populace.
Undoubtedly, the committee is populated with people of accomplished personalities. It has experts, professors and erudite Islamic scholars of high repute. It parades the likes of Dr Hafiz Wali, Prof Usma El Nafaty among others with sophisticated technological equipments to make moon sighting easy; but it is obvious that lack of coherence among the eminent members of the committee remains a major stumbling block. Hence, the disparity, arising from the difficulty in getting their thoughts and findings harmonised to arrive at the commencement and termination of Ramadan fasting.
For instance, recently, the Southwest members of the committee under the League of Imams and Alfas allegedly declared Saturday May 27 for the commencement of Ramadan as published in some media contrary to the pronouncement of the National Moon Sighting Committee at the Ibadan interactive session, where they declared, "either Saturday May 27 or Sunday May 28 as the first of Ramadan."
Content analysis of some newspapers revealed that The Nation newspaper headline "Moon sighting committees agree on May 27 for commencement of Ramadan" of May 13 was misleading but the body of the news story which read "May 27 as the possible date" or "would likely commence on May 27" as used by The Punch of the same date was an indication that the committees were misrepresented by the careless headline.
Unfortunately, the report has further divided the committee, going by their leaked group whatsapp chats circulated online with allegations that Yoruba members of the committee "aren't ready to follow the Sunnah of Sighting the moon before and ending Ramadan... because they are used to fixation of Ramadan" which diametrically opposed to the Shari'iah injunction of "fast when you sight the new moon (of Ramadan) and break it when you sight the new moon of (Shawwal) but if the sky is cloudy for you, then observe fast for 30 days."
If the committee must succeed, it must unite the ranks of its members and address trust issues in their midst.
There is also a wide range of communication gap between the body and the Nigerian Muslims. Apart from her website and facebook page which aren't active, her social media engagement is poor. The committee has no Twitter handle, let alone instagram or whatsapp platform where she attends to the concerns of Nigerian Muslims before, during and after Ramadan, except the bulky phone numbers (some of which were never picked or reachable) of their representatives which are usually rolled out on the eve of Ramadan,
NMSC rather than take advantage of modern technology, keep depending on traditional media (television broadcast in particular) as a means of reaching out to the public, in the face of epileptic power supply, forgetting that the world is now a global village where it's easy to engage the populace via social media. Many religious organisations now use the social media to communicate with their members. It is not only cheap but more efficient and effective.
Without doubt, since the unfortunate incidence of 2008, the committee's effort to take advantage of the uniqueness of its position and the auspiciousness of its assignment to unite both the Southern and the Northern Muslims towards a hitch-free Ramadan has been highly commended but the they must improve on their public relations strategy and employ vibrant Muslim youths who would handle their social media for efficient and effective communication.
While we expect sanity to prevail within the NMSC ahead of a unified commencement of this year's Ramadan, it's time the Muslims observed decorum, particularly the youths, in calling the attention of the elders to what they perceive as wrong or untoward. We must adopt the right methodology of correcting mistakes. Muslim youths must learn how to address their leaders in the best manners.
In the Shari'iah, it's the responsibility of the Amir-ul-Mu'mineen (Sultan) to authenticate the sighting of the moon. Even if a trustworthy person sights the moon, it must be presented before the Sultan, who may either accept or reject it, depending on the circumstances and the evidences brought forth.
If the person is certain of sighting the moon but his evidence was rejected by the Sultan, such person could go ahead with his fasting but without announcing it to anyone, not even his family members. If he also sights the moon for the termination of the fast but same was rejected by the Sultan, he must not terminate the fast until the Amir declares, because the power to begin and terminate fasting ultimately lies with the Sultan.
This is the undisputable position of the Shari'iah but many either frivolously reject it or merely feign ignorance due to overzealousness or self conceitedness.
Muslim youths should therefore be calm and learn the manners of correcting elders. They must obey constituted authority, as entrenched in the glorious Qur'an and the prophetic traditions. Nigeria Muslims must trust and repose confidence in the leadership of the Sultan since they have no other body representing them other than NSICA.
This is the only way to preserve our unity. Once destroyed on the altar of such issues as moon sighting, it will no longer be available at the point of need. Indeed, in unity lies our strength.
Finally, both the leaders and followers have roles to play in ensuring uniformity at the commencement and termination of 29 or 30 days fasting. May Allah guide the leaders and the led. May Allah, the Almighty count us among His beloved servants who will observe the fast in sound health.
- Rasheed Abubakar is a journalist and the author of "Hijab and the Nigerian Press". Email: firstname.lastname@example.org