Moonsighting Controversy: Islamic Group, Ogun Cleric Pass Votes of Confidence on Sultan

Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar

As controversy continues to rage over the sighting of the new month of Shawwal in Nigeria, an Islamic organisation, the Muslim Rights Concern [MURIC], has backed the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, saying he did the right thing by announcing an end to the annual Ramadan fast on Saturday.

There was confusion on Saturday night over whether the new moon of Shawwal was sighted in Nigeria to mark the end of the Muslim Ramadan fast.

Sultan Abubakar, who is also the President of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA], had around midnight on Saturday announced the sighting of the new moon and therefore the end of Ramadan.

”The new month of Shawwal was sighted in different places within Nigeria and therefore tomorrow (Sunday) is the first day of Shawwal equivalent to 27 July 2014,” the Sultan said in an announcement aired on the Nigerian Television Authority [NTA].

But when contacted after the Sultan’s announcement, the Secretary-General of the organisation, Is-haq Oloyede, a professor of Islamic Studies, told PREMIUM TIMES he was not aware the moon had been sighted.

“I spoke to the Sultan about four times tonight and he did not tell me that the moon has been sighted,” Mr. Oloyede told PREMIUM TIMES. “In any case, any such claim is ridiculous and unscientific. It cannot be right.

“The National Moon-Sighting Committee has not informed us of any credible sighting of the moon. Rather, they said the moon wasn’t sighted. The new moon was only born at 11:45 P.M. tonight (Saturday) and it will take several hours for it to be sighted.

“Is our own sky different? Is our own moon manufactured in Nigeria?” he said.

However, MURIC in a statement by its executive director, Ishaq Akintola, on Sunday, said there was no need for controversy at all because the moon was sighted in eleven states in Nigeria and the sighting was reported to the Sultan.

“We believe that he acted rightly by going ahead to make the announcement,” MURIC said.

“Nigerian Muslims have no reason to doubt the sincerity of His Eminence. This is a man who has demonstrated great leadership qualities. He has always been consulting Muslim leaders all over the country.”

The organisation also said unlike the era before him, the Sultan has held regular meetings with Muslim leaders.

“He is definitely not an armchair President-General of the NSCIA because he has been all over Nigeria, travelling almost every week to attend Islamic occasions as far away as Enugu, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Ijebu, Ile-Ife, Auchi, Benin, Kogi, Minna, Maiduguri, etc.

“He has demonstrated good intention at all times. He has also been demonized by detractors and enemies of Nigeria because they saw dynamism in him. For these reasons alone we believe that Sultan Abubakar III deserves to be heard and obeyed,” MURIC said.

Moonsighting Committee subservient to the Sultan

MURIC also said the National Committee on Moonsighting was created by the Sultan and whoever sits as chairman of the committee acts on the Sultan’s behalf.

“While we have great respect for members of the committee who differed in their opinion, we hold that the technical expertise of the members of the committee pales in significance in the face of the need for the overall unity of the Muslim Ummah,” the group said.

“In our humble opinion, what is responsible for the seeming disparity is the fact that the whole Ramadan exercise itself started on a controversial note. Some started on Saturday 28th June, 2014 while others started on Sunday 29th June. This was acknowledged in the NSCIA press statement two days ago. Therefore there was no premeditated desire to disobey or disagree with the Sultan.

“The NSCIA Secretary General, Professor Ishaq Oloyede has done a marvellous job in reforming the NSCIA secretariat and he has very cordial relations with the Sultan.  In like manner, all members of the Moonsighting Committee have great respect for the person of the Sultan.

“We therefore have no modicum of doubt that this is a minor issue. We assure Nigerians that it is a mere family affair which will not generate any bad blood. Muslims are one brotherhood and we will get over this sooner than anyone can imagine.

“The committee was created by the Sultan and it will meet the Sultan to resolve grey areas particularly for the purpose of ensuring that it will not be repeated in future.

“Finally, MURIC registers a resounding vote of confidence in the leadership of His Eminence, Sultan Abubakar III.”

Saudi Arabia can’t dictate to us

In a similar vein, a Nigerian Islamic Cleric and the Chief Imam of Ibara Housing Estate, in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital,  Fatai Opebiyi, has backed the Sultan for announcing an end to the Ramadan fast on Saturday.

Mr. Opebiyi also kicked against the notion that Saudi Arabia is the only competent country to announce the sighting of the moon to mark the end of Ramadan.

Mr. Opebiyi made the declaration on Sunday during his sermon after the Eid-el-Fitr prayer held at the Ibara Government Reservation Area, GRA, Abeokuta. He said that there was no need for any controversy over the sighting of the moon to commence or end the Ramadan fasting.

The Islamic cleric said that Muslim faithful should have faith in the ability of constituted authorities in the Nigerian Muslim Ummah to giving accurate information about moonsighting.

Mr. Opebiyi called on Muslims to shun ethnicity, saying Northern Muslims have established institutions for sighting the new moon unlike their counterpart from the South.

He said Nigeria cannot be relying on Saudi Arabia and other countries to sight the moon for it.

“Are you a citizen of Saudi, Kuwait or Dubai? Your brothers sighted the moon and you said you can’t trust them, whereas they practice Islam better than you,” the Imam said.

He also faulted the position of the Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Ishaq Oloyede, who, in an interview, directed Muslims to continue fasting on Sunday.

“During Ramadhan, Hausa people are in the desert looking for the moon while many of us preoccupied ourselves with other things in the South.

They know the meaning of lies, they understand it better than us, we are one. It is a misunderstanding for anyone to insist that until he sees the moon himself he will not fast or break fast,” Mr. Opebiyi said.

He asked Muslims to be careful and cautious in celebrating, saying indulging in forbidden things like alcohol will destroy their Ramadan


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