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Eid: The Unending Controversy Over Moon Sighting

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Sheikh Musa Lukwa delivering sermon





By Abubakar Auwal

It will appear that the annual controversy that always trails the sighting of the moon of Shawwal is here again. Daily Trust learnt that some Muslim communities in Sokoto and some parts of the country have observed the Eid prayer on Sunday as against the instruction of Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar who declared Monday, May, 2nd as the Sallah day.

According to the Sultan, there were no reports on the sighting of the new moon of Shawwal, 1443AH received by the National Sighting Committee from its sub-committees across the country as at 8pm on Saturday.

The Sultan, therefore, said the month of Ramadan completed its 30 days circle, thus declaring Monday as the first day of Shawwal, which would be Sallah day.

However, on Sunday, some Muslims who are followers of  a renowned Islamic Scholar in the state, Sheikh Musa Lukwa converged on the Eid ground at Mabera just outside the Sokoto metropolis and observed the two units of Eid prayer.

The prayer was held around 8am and the fiery clergy challenged anybody who thought they were wrong to a public debate.

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Why we disobeyed Sultan

In an interview with Daily Trust, Sheik Lukwa said the group had received credible reports on the sighting of the new moon in some parts of Nigeria and beyond.

According to him, the moon was sighted in five states of the Niger Republic adding that he saw a video clip of the Nigerien  President declaring Sunday as Sallah day.

“And the moon was sighted in Afghanistan, Mali and many African countries and they observed their Eid today.

“Even in Sokoto, the new crescent was sighted in a community called Fakku in Kebbe Local Government Area by eight persons including the Cheif Imam of the community, who we have confirmed from.

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“And 50 persons have confirmed sighting of the new moon at Wauru village in Gada Local Government Area.

Sheikh Musa Lukwa delivering sermon

“A lecturer at the Usman Danfodiyo University, Dr Maigari also confirmed the sighting of the new moon at the main campus of the university and there were reports on the sighting from about 10 communities in Jega, Kebbi State, which was confirmed by the Chief Imam of Jega, Malam Bashar.

“So we observed our Eid in compliance with the instruction of the Holy Prophet who asked us to break the fast at the sighting of the new moon.

“It is agreed that obedience to our leaders, especially, the Sultan is compulsory for every Muslim but on condition that he did not disobey Allah and His Prophet (SAW).

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“You can’t take decision based on scientific evidence by astronauts because it is against our religion and even Imam Malik discouraged this,” he said.

On whether they have reported the matter to the Committee on Moon Sighting, he said there was no need because its members had already made up their minds.

He recalled many instances where such reports were turned down by the committee.

“In 2011, a similar incident happened. The new moon was sighted in many places and this was duly reported to the committee and when it presented its report to the Sultan, he rejected it. This was the reason why the then chairman of the committee, late Professor A. A. Gwandu resigned.

“And there was a time, the moon was sighted at Mabera area and it was communicated to the village head of Mabera who in turn forwarded the report to the District Head of Gagi and the District head called the Secretary of the Palace severally without response.

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“He then wrote to the Sultan but the Sultan replied that the new moon would only be sighted the next day. I saw the reply,” he alleged.

“We can’t obey someone who is disobeying Allah and His Prophet (SAW),” he insisted.

Daily Trust reports that this was not the first time Lukwa led Eid prayers in defiance of the Sultan.

Why the controversy lingers

Daily Trust learnt that controversy over moon sighting has been on for decades, according to a former Public Relations Officer to the Sultanate Council who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that in the recent past before the coming of this Sultan, there was hardly a time the North and the South, particularly Yoruba land began and ended fasting at the same time.

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“One recalled that, during the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida, while he and northern members of his cabinet, the members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council and his largely northern Muslims co-worshippers followed the Sultan proclamation, thronged to Obalande Eid ground to observe the two raka’at Eid prayer, other Muslims in the South, particularly in the Yorubaland would always celebrate their own a day later.

“So there was always discrepancy on the day of celebrating Eid-el-Fitr.

“Efforts were made during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki to harmonise the day, leading to a national conference that brought together Islamic jurists and scholars to tackle the matter.

“Part of what was agreed at the conference was that  Nigeria should stop following the sighting of the moon in Saudi Arabia and rely on its own sighting.

“What appears to be the problem now is Nigeria’s following Saudi’s sighting, which does not go well with some Muslims in this country who felt since we are not located in one place, our sighting may not necessarily tally with that of Saudi Arabia.

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“The present Sultan inherited this problem as the two before him also did.’’

He said  there was a national conference on moon sighting organised by Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Jama’atul Nasril Islam and the Sokoto State government in 2012, which led to the setting up of a national committee on moon sighting by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs headed by the Sultan.

The committee is to, among others, collate and harmonise the result of different moon sighting committees in the country along with other measures, which include the deployment of modern information and communication technology to assist in the sighting.

“The committee comprises members from all the 36 states including Abuja. They include first class emirs, clerics, academics, professionals, experts in physics, surveyors and Imams.

“Each state has a national officer and a delegate to the committee who are made up of knowledgeable Islamic scholars. In a state where there is no Emir, leading clerics were picked.

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“The terms of reference of the committee include,  drawing up standards for moon sighting in Nigeria based on Shari’ah; to harmonise the Shari’ah and scientific method of moon sighting with the view to making a credible announcement of the commencement and termination of each lunar month.’’

Others are to facilitate the setting up of observatory sighting positions in strategic areas across the country; to identify, collate and harmonise the result of the different moon sighting committees in the country and make monthly announcements on the commencement and termination of each lunar month through the office of the President General, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and the media committee.’’

The PRO noted that the Sultan has been able to address the hitherto lingering disparities between the north and the South in terms of commencement and termination of lunar months, particularly Ramadan.

“The issue is not whether we are following Saudi or not. It is that of doing what is right. In 2020, he (the Sultan) was accused of following Saudi and the two ended up getting it right,” he concluded.

When contacted, the Secretary to the Sultanate Council, Sa’idu Maccido said they would present Sheikh Lukwa’s matter to the council for necessary action.

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However, the state Commissioner of Police, Kamal Okunlola said the police could not do anything about the issue since every Nigerian has the right to worship at his own time.

(Originally published in Daily Trust)

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