By Ibrahim M. Attahir
In the Name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful. May Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon His Prophet.
On many occasions I heard people saying that Nigerians forget issues and events easily. The unnecessary dispute generated by the issue of moon sighting at the end of Ramadan, 1441 fasting confirmed to me how Nigerians easily forget happenings. That was not the first time that some Muslims claimed that they sighted the crescent and the approving authority (His Eminence the Sultan) did not act on it. However, even people that hitherto faulted those refusing to obey the Sultan got confused.
I was taken aback with the rude manner in which some Muslims reacted. Some of them went too extreme to refer to His Eminence as the Emir of Sokoto (Sakkwato). It may not be out of place to put the issues in proper perspective.
I know only four Sultans of Sakkwato. The present one is outstanding in many respects. He brought reforms in Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and JNI by injecting younger generation and professionals in their management. He shows great interest in Islamic, Muslim and national affairs. He brought sanity in the issue of moon sighting. Before his time, we only heard of call to look out for Ramadan, Shawwal and Dhul Hijjah. It was in his time that the National Moon Sighting Committee (NMSC) became very active all-year-round.
Presently, the Sultan makes declaration for sighting of all the 12 lunar months. Before his time, there was no extant procedure followed in the process of verifying the claim of moon sighting. I recall that in the past there was an occasion that Muslims waited for the announcement of moon sighting or lack of it beyond midnight. That situation attracted serious criticisms in editorials of media houses.
The Sultan has also succeeded in unifying northern and southern parts of the country which mostly used to start fasting and observe the festivals on different days.
Even if the Sultan does not do anything for Islam and Muslims, he deserves our respect even for historical reasons. His great grandparents made great contributions to Islam.
Their scholarly, religious, political and social reforms remain indelible on the sand of history in Nigeria and beyond. Personally, I have respect for the traditional rulers because they are not opportunists. It is either they are the first settlers in a community or they conquered the community.
In some cases, you find that they liberated the inhabitants of the community from incessant attacks of other communities or they defeated wild animals that constituted a great threat to the locality. In all the above scenarios, only an ingrate will not appreciate and reciprocate the kind gesture.
The moon sighting is a religious issue and there is enough guidance in the books of Islamic jurisprudence about it. It is pertinent to distinguish between religious rites that are individual in nature and the ones that are communal. For example, if I want to pray in my house from midnight to dawn, the Sultan or the government has no business with it.
Even in case of congregational prayers, under normal circumstances, nobody is given the power to regulate a particular time when a community should observe the prayer within the prescribed period.
One community may pray Zuhr at 12.30pm, another community at 12.45pm, another community at 1.00pm, another at 1.15pm, another at 1.30pm and so on. Imam Muslim narrated that during the time of the Prophet (SAW) one of his companions, Mu’adh Ibn Jabal used to pray Isha’ with the Prophet and go back to his community to lead his own people in the same prayer.
However, in religious rites that affect the whole city/town or substantial part of it or rights of others are involved, the approach is totally different. That is the wisdom in seeking for ruler’s permission before starting Friday Prayers. A religious rite like Hajj is an international affair.
It involves so many government agencies at home and in the host country. It has specific time and place. An individual cannot go about it the way or time he wants. Eid prayer is one of such rites.
Therefore, the Prophet (SAW) gave a guideline on the issue. Tirmidhi narrated from A’ishah (RA) that the Prophet said, “(Eid) Al-Fitr is the day people (of the community) celebrate (it) and (Eid) Al-Adhaa is the day people (of the community) celebrate (it).”
While commenting on this Hadith, Imam Tirmidhiy stated, “Some scholars interpreted this Hadith that fasting and celebration of Eid should be with the mainstream Muslims”.
In Nigeria, the Federal Government takes into cognizance the days declared for Eid by His Eminence, the Sultan in declaring public holidays for the two festivals. Such arrangement enables the state governments to make security arrangements for the religious rites and the subsequent celebrations. It is still fresh in our minds that there were instances that Muslims were attacked at the Eid ground in troubled states.
Therefore, it is wrong for groups and individuals to insist on celebrating the Eid on a different day.
Decision Making in Islam
Decision making process under Islamic system of leadership (judicial, military, political, administrative, etc) is human nature. Therefore, even the Prophet (SAW) followed the human process and method in taking his decisions.
For example, in judicial matters, when adjudicating on a dispute between disputants, he listened to their claims and counter-claims and asked them to establish the allegations by way of evidence or take oath, as the case may be, in accordance with the general principles of Islamic law.
The Prophet (SAW) stated in the Hadith of Ummu Salamah which was narrated by Muslim that, “You bring to me, for (judgment) your disputes, some of you perhaps being more eloquent in their plea than others, so I give judgment on their behalf according to what I hear from them. (Bear in mind, in my judgment) if I slice off anything for him from the right his brother, he should not accept that, for I sliced off for him a portion from the Hell”.
The Prophet (SAW) clearly indicated that he acted based on the evidence he heard from the disputants. His decision could be contrary to the reality of what transpired between the parties.
Another example is the case of Li’an which the Prophet (SAW) determined. He stated that either of them (the husband or the wife) was lying. But revelation did not categorically identify the liar. The verses revealed in connection with that incident of Li’an are more or less emphasizing the procedure of adjudication (i.e. taking five oaths by both of them).
One of the few occasions when revelation came in relation to a judicial matter is the famous case of Tu’mah/Tu’aimah Ibn Ubairaq.
According to scholars of Tafsir, it was the cause of revelation of not less than 17 verses in Chapter 4 of the Glorious Qur’an. However, the verses more or less give guidance on some general principles.
Also in the case of moon sighting, the Prophet relied upon evidence given by the person that sighted the crescent to make declaration for commencement of fasting. Revelation did not come to inform the Prophet (SAW) about the commencement of fasting.
In military matters too, the Prophet (SAW) received divine guidance on the general principles and ethics of war. However, the way a particular battle was to be approached was not based on revelation. The Prophet would consult the Sahabah before arriving at a decision.
There were consultations before the Prophet (SAW) took decision on the battle of Uhud where views differ between the young and the elderly Sahabah as to whether Madinah would be defended from within or the Muslims would go out to confront the Quraish forces outside the city. The Prophet (SAW) preferred the opinion of the elders but decided in favour of the view of the younger Sahabah.
At a point, the younger ones felt like they pressurized the Prophet (SAW) to decide according to their opinion and they wanted to back out. In the Battle of the Ditch or Battle of the Confederates/Allied Forces, the Prophet relied on the advice of Salmaan Al-Faarisiy that a ditch be dug around Madinah to fortify it from the invading forces. During the treaty of Hudaibiyyah, the Prophet (SAW) also consulted the Sahabah.
In political and administrative matters as well as all other matters in which there is no clear and specific revelation, the Prophet (SAW) was enjoined to consult the Sahaaba in line with Chapter 3, verse 159 of the Glorious Qur’an. When the Prophet (SAW) appointed Mu’adh bin Jabal to Yemen for an assignment, he enjoined him to exercise juristic reasoning in arriving at a decision on issues he could not find in the Qur’an and Hadith.
Therefore, Muslim jurists opine that a leader should have juristic capacity to assist him in taking decisions. Where he does not have the capacity, he should have jurists among his advisers. An example was given with Umar Ibn AbdulAziz (RA) when he made the seven leading jurists of Madinah his advisers. It follows that in the modern type of governance, a leader should have power to issue proclamations, regulations, executive orders, etc in as much as the regulations or proclamations do not run contrary to any text (Nass) or consensus of opinion of the jurists Muslims are obliged to obey the leader. It should not be expected that a leader must be right in all his decisions. Therefore, even if the leader is found to have committed an error of judgment, that will not be a justification to disobey him.
The guidelines or procedures for the proper regulation of the moon sighting issued by the Sultan are justified unless the contrary is established. Before this Sultan, I doubt if there was any verifiable procedure for the moon sighting.
Fortunately, the time of this Sultan coincides with the information technology revolution. I know that members of the Astro-Qibla Initiative (ASQIN) play key role in the National Moon Sighting Committee (NMSC).
The approach of ASQIN is both Islamic and scientific. It is the only group that I know that goes far outside the cities to monitor sighting of the moon and time of other religious rites. They use WhatssApp platform of the group to coordinate the moon sighting teams from across the states. Updates are given from each city, town or village from at least 15 minutes before sunset up to some minutes after sunset.
The picture of the western horizon from the location with the name or names of those involved as well as their pictures is given. You can identify those you know among them.
The approach of those challenging the Sultan on the issue of moon sighting may lead to confusion. They want to be making their own declaration of moon sighting even where the Sultan declares that there is no sighting of the moon. There were occasions when some Emirs went ahead and made declaration before the Sultan.
The funniest was when a State House of Assembly went out of its way and made declaration of moon sighting. There were occasions when religious scholars also made their own declaration contrary to what the Sultan declared. Their argument is always that they got reports that their followers sighted the moon.
The books of Maliki School of jurisprudence which most of us follow in this part of the world are very clear as to what a person that sighted the moon but whose evidence was rejected by the authorities should do. There is nothing novel in it.
It is an irony that those scholars or traditional rulers who feel comfortable to disobey the Sultan will be the last to tolerate dissent in their domain. We have seen that deviant groups who rebel against the authorities never allow anyone under them to undermine their own authority. Obedience to leadership is universal not among human beings, but even among animals and insects. The Glorious Qur’an in Chapter 27, Verse 18 states that: “Until when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said “O ants enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not”.
A community without leadership is not up to the level of animal kingdom. Even drunkards have leadership and they obey it.
We have seen that Islam provides for decision making process to be human. Therefore, there may be mistakes here and there. Even if the Sultan after making necessary consultations makes an error in his decision, that cannot be a justification for disobeying him. Those that prompt Muslims to disobey him are also liable to mistakes. After all, an honest mistake by a leader in course of Ijtihaad after he was properly advised attracts reward for him.