Newspapers all over the country reported on Friday that “the President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar said this year’s fasting begins Saturday since the Ramadan crescent was not sighted on Thursday, Sha’aban 29, 1430. Consequently, the Sultan declared Friday the 30th of Sha’aban, and Saturday 1st of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar…as it was established that the crescent was not sighted in any part of Nigeria within the time agreed…”
Here in Kano, the Emir, Alhaji Ado Bayero, speaking on behalf of the Sultan, also announced that Ramadan fasting now begins Saturday. The Emir said: “This followed the decision of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs that the crescent of the moon of Ramadan was not sighted anywhere in Nigeria Thursday, hence the decision to this effect. By this announcement, Muslims in Nigeria will commence the one-month long Saturday.”
What relief! What Ma Sha Allah! What Alhamdu Lillah!
In our collective Nigerian Muslim memories, we rarely, if ever, missed starting the Ramadan fasting the very next day after the day of Duban Fari (Hausa for roughly First Night of Expecting the Ramadan Crescent), meaning the 29th night of Sha’aban. Whatever the weather may be, sunny or cloudy, fine or rainy, or anything, somebody somewhere would see the crescent of the moon. Excellent eyesight, those sharp-eyed Nigerian Muslims.
The poor, wretched ‘sighting’ masses, with their ward or village heads in tow, would troop to the Sultan or the Shehu of Borno or the Emir of Zazzau or the Etsu Nupe or the Attah Igala and swear by Allah that they have seen, or sighted, the crescent of the moon. No worries if these old, tired eyes had seen better days; no worries if some of these eyes were glaucoma-challenged; no worries if, were they to be screened by the Federal Road Safety Commission for the purpose of driving licences, some of these eyes would fail. No worries: they had seen that tiny, fragile, crescent-shaped crescent. An apparition, almost.
In my short memory, the most crescent-friendly Muslim areas have been Sokoto (no wonder: Seat of the Caliphate); Zazzau; Kano; and especially Bida (apologies to senior colleague Mohammed Haruna). If the authorities said: “Look for the crescent tonight as Duban Fari,” some Hausa or Fulani or Kanuri or Nupe would not only look for it, they would actually ‘see’ it. So blessed are we all, hindsight and foresight.
To be sure, one is not arguing that it is a universal given that all the Muslim world must start the fast on the same day; no. To wit, the Prophet of Islam Muhammad, upon whom be peace, had said: “Do not fast till you see the new moon, and do not break the fast till you see it, but if the weather is cloudy, calculate [Sha’aban to be thirty days].” (Sahih Muslim, Book 006, Number 2363).
In the book How to Make the Most of Ramadan, circulated freely on the Internet, the author cautions: “It is very important to start the best month in the Islamic year correctly. It is very clear in the Qur’an and Sunnah that we should look for the moon, and if it is sighted then the month has started. It is also clear that we should look for the moon in our own country of residence.”
It should be added that when Syria (then Seat of the Caliphate) and Madina fasted on different days, the great companion of the Prophet Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) was of the opinion that each country should depend on its own sighting.
But many modern scholars are quick to argue that in those days there was no fast means communication as we have today, and so contiguous countries and territories can today use the sighting of each other, based on the communication between them. And they quote the famous Hadith of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, to the effect that ‘Wisdom is the lost property of the believer’, translating Wisdom here to mean modern technology.
To illustrate this great debate, let us look at the quandary of Muslims in the most scientifically-advanced nation, the United States: In a statement signed by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, Chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) www.fiqhcouncil.org: “First day of Ramadan will be Saturday, August 22, 2009. FCNA recognizes astronomical calculation as an acceptable Shar’i method for determining the beginning of lunar months including the months of Ramadan and Shawwal. FCNA uses Makkah al-Mukarramah as a conventional point…On the basis of this method the 1st of Ramadan will be Saturday, August 22, 2009..”
To balance FCNA’s statement, www.when-is.com/ramadan-2009.asp says: “The dates provided by the Fiqh Council of North America for the start of Ramadan are based on astronomical calculations and not on the actual sighting of the moon with the naked eyes. This approach is accepted by many, but is still being hotly debated…The date of Ramadan may vary from country to country, depending on whether the moon has been sighted or not…”
Another source (www.moonsighting.com) quotes the chief opposer to FCNA’s scientific method, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, whose systematic opposition is contained in his article ‘Cesarean Moon Births’. He challenged the use of astronomical calculations in confirming the Islamic months as totally un-Islamic. In his writing, Shaikh Yusuf insinuated that “such a position was nothing short of deliberately opposing the ‘infallible’ (mutawatir) commandments of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and was equal to following the pitfalls of the Children of Israel all the way to their lizard hole…”
The Sultan of Sokoto is exactly corroborated by Saudi Arabia, where the Royal Court quoted the Saudi Supreme Court as announcing that Saturday will be the first day of Ramadan 1430H…“As per Prophet Muhammad’s instructions when nobody reports to have spotted the crescent of Ramadan, and as nobody has made such a report Thursday evening, Friday will be considered the 30th of the month of Sha’aban, hence Saturday will be the first day of Ramadan 1430H…”
Wallahu A’alam. No matter. Let the debate continue while we continue absorb the bounties of Ramadan, as narrated by the Holy Prophet, upon whom be peace:
“There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasting will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it.”
“Allah the Exalted has said: ‘All actions a human being does are for himself except fasting. It is done for My sake, and I will give a reward for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied 10 times.”
“When the month of Ramadhan starts, the gates of mercy are opened and the gates of Hell are locked and the devils are chained.”
Welcome, O Ramadan!