After years of embaressing divisions, Nigerian Muslims, largely polarised along ethnic lines, are striving to unify their rank on the start and end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
“We are particularly sad at the perennial divisions among Muslims at the approach of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Adha,” Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, traditionally regarded as leader of Nigerian Muslim community, told IslamOnline.net.
“Islam is one, so our unity as Muslims is not negotiable,” he stressed.
“For this reason we feel there is need for Nigerian Muslims to speak with one voice on core issues affecting the ummah.”
He regretted that for several years Muslims in north and south Nigeria were divided on the start and end of Ramadan.
“The event of last year was an embarrassment.”
Last year, Markaz, arguably Nigeria’s largest center of Islamic study and most respected Muslim institution in the South, ordered the commencement of fasting relying on meteorological predictions.
Muslims in the north began their fasting after the reported barefaced sighting of the moon by faithfuls.
Abdullahi Shuaib, coordinator of the Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO), said the new initiative involves everybody who is concerned with the division and recognizes the need to adress the situation.
“Every region is represented, including our Igbo brothers from the South-East.”
Sheikh Abeebullah Adam, director of Markaz and spokesman of the League of Imams and Alfas of South Western Nigeria, agrees.
“All of us naturally bought into the idea of unity by the Sultan because that is what we have always called for,” he told IOL.
The Sultan of Sokoto is the automatic President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the country’s most influential Muslim umbrella body.
“As Muslims we are brothers and nothing stops us from speaking with one voice and mutual respect.”
This sincere desire to reach inter-Muslim unity led to consultations and the eventual formation of the National Forum of Islamic Scholars.
“The group is charged with resolving knotty issues and emerge with a consensus. And insha Allah we hope to achieve unity through this Forum,” hopes Sultan Abubakar.
He said a committee of experts has also been established to deliberate on the strategies to ensure Nigerian Muslims begin and terminate fasting on the same date “using means acceptable in Shariah.”
He said the committee is due to give reports soon on the modalities for sighting the moon.
Shuaib, the CIO coordinator and the spokesman for the Forum, said they are not ruling out any methods for deciding the fasting date.
“The use of both scientific and traditional method of moon-sighting would be adopted with premium placed heavily on the Sharia’h,” he asserted.
“The Committee resolved to recommend to the National Executive Council of NSCIA the establishment of four meteorological centres nationwide at the regional and local levels for searching and verifying the moon-sighting.”
Sheikh Adam, the director of Markaz and spokesman of the League of Imams and Alfas of South Western Nigeria, agrees.
“I am a member of the sub-committee on moon-sighting, and we are working from this end (South) to ensure things work out smoothly this year,” he said.
“We hope to send our findings to the center very soon, while the Sultan does the announcement of the official date to avoid confusion.”
The Sokoto Sultan is traditionally regarded as leader of Nigerian Muslim community, although the disparity in religious celebrations and other ethnic tensions have brought his leadership under question over the years.
His largely ceremonial role includes declaring the timing of Muslim holidays, such Ramadan and 'Eid.
Retired Grand Qadi of Kwara State Abdulqadir Orire, top notch of Jamaiyyatu Nasrul Islam (JNI), is very hopeful about the unity efforts.
“We are going to begin and terminate our fasting this year [together], and from there resolve other differences and difficulties befuddling the ummah.”