IMAM Abdullahi Shuaib is the Executive Director/CEO, Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation; and a member of the National Moon-Sighting Committee (NMSC) of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), in his interview with RASHEED ABUBAKAR speaks on the preparation for the 1436 A.H (2015) Ramadan fast, and the procedures in searching for the new moon…
How prepared is the moon sighting committee for this year's Ramadan fast?
The National Moon-Sighting Committee (NMSC) of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has always been up to its task. We have been very consistent with the task given to us. Since last year to date, the Committee meets regularly at least every month and we do submit our monthly Moon-Sighting Report to His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto who is the President-General, NSCIA vide the office of the Secretary-General, NSCIA. Importantly, it should be mentioned that a few days ago, a high-powered members of the Technical Sub-Committee of the NMSC led by our Chairman, Dr. Hafiz Wali took some proactive measures to visit some of our respected traditional leaders with a view to ensuring that the Muslim Ummah speaks with one voice on moon-sighting issue. We hope to sustain this approach of interacting with the leaders of the Muslim Communities across the country on moon-sighting issues insha Allah.
There were controversies last year over sighting of moon which questioned the credibility of the committee. Some people said the commencement of fasting in Nigeria is by consensus, and not based on moon sighting?
What's your take on this? Point of correction, there is nothing wrong with the credibility of the NMSC. As a matter of fact, members of the Committee are accomplished personalities. We have experts, professors and Islamic scholars of high repute as members of the Committee with over 20 years experience on moon-sighting. It will be uncharitable for any person to try to impugn on the credibility of the Committee. Having said that, the NMSC does not carry out its work based on consensus.
As mentioned earlier, we search for the new crescent every month across the six geo-political zones of the country and reports to the Secretary-General, NSCIA who has been very very supportive just like His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto. To be specific, when the lunar moon is 27 of each month, we send out information to all our members across the country as well as some individual(s) and organisations with passion for moon-sighting to search for the new crescent on the 29th evening of its cycle and revert to the NMSC with their reports either positive or negative.
Having received all the sighted reports, the NMSC collates and then make its recommendation based on the sighted report (either positive or negative) to the appropriate quarters for dissemination. Therefore, the NMSC does not submit its report based on consensus. Rather its report is usually based on actual moon-sighted (positive or negative) and also in accordance with astronomical calculation.
Why do you think Nigerian Muslims, particularly societies or organizations should have confidence in the leadership of the committee?
From the foregoing explanation given about the pedigree of members of the NMSC and their modus openradis, I want to appeal to all and sundry to be patient with the leadership of the Muslim Ummah especially on moon-sighting issue. It is very embarrassing to note that we have a National Moon-Sighting Committee inaugurated by the number one citizen of the Nigerian Ummah, and yet some individuals/organisations are not prepared to cooperate with the Committee but ready to undermine its function.
The Qur'an enjoins us to cooperate on piety and righteousness and avoid actions that may lead to bickering, enmity and controversy. Once again, I appeal to all and sundry to give the leadership of the NMSC a chance to perform its duty for the sake of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us the procedures in moon sighting?
First and foremost, you must be knowledgeable about when to search for the new crescent. The NMSC has its own criteria for moon-sighting which are based on the understanding that scientific methods would be used to enhance the method prescribed by Shari’ah to validate the birth of the new moon and sunset; while sufficient time between both would be given as practiced globally particularly in many Islamic Countries. That the scientific methods of moon-sighting are to be complementary and supportive to the Sharia’ah system while the latter remains paramount. To be specific, the NMSC set out its guidelines for moon-sighting as follows:
Sighting of the crescent (hilal) must be by actual human naked eye or aided eyes in accordance with the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who said: “Fast upon sighting it, and break the fast upon sighting it, and should it be obscured, then complete thirty days of Sha’baan.” Bukhari and Muslim (see Hadith 1221 of Riyadus Saliheen). Also, the Prophet (SAW) after seeing the hilal used to supplicate that “O God, cause this new moon to come upon us in safety and sound faith, security and submission. My Lord and your Lord is Allah.” Tirmidhi (In adhkar of Nawawi Hadiths nos. 473 – 474).
Again, after seeing the crescent, the Prophet (SAW) used to say: “A crescent of goodness and guidance, a crescent of goodness and guidance, a crescent of goodness and guidance. I believe in the One who created you; I believe in the One who created you; I believe in the One who created you. Praise be to the One who caused the previous month to depart and brought us this month.” Abu Dawoud (In adhkar of Nawawi Hadith nos 475).
From the two aforementioned supplications of the Prophet (SAW) especially the statements “My Lord and your Lord is Allah” and “I believe in the One who created you” the Prophet (SWT) clearly indicated that he was addressing the moon directly i.e. while looking at it. Also for this criterion, modern instruments such as telescopes, binoculars, and astronomical calculations etc can be used to assist and verify the accuracy of the sighting.
Sighting must be after conjunction (moon birth): Scientifically and logically, a baby can only be seen after its birth! Hence the moon must have been born (i.e. after conjunction) and be present in the sky above the horizon, before it can be seen. With advances in scientific knowledge in astronomy, the time of conjunction (or completely dark Astronomical New moon) can be exactly computed. If the sky is clear, sighting must be seen by a large number of people. This is in accordance with a report credited to Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad required a large number of witnesses (for a town) when the sky was clear.
Large group of observers vs Individual (solo) Observer: It is easy for an individual to mistake an artificial object in the sky for positive appearance of new crescent, even before conjunction (stories abound on how people have mistaken artificial objects for new crescent and unknowingly the Authorities had accepted such reports in the past). Hence report should be accepted from groups of people consisting of at least 12 members, as it will be hard to agree on false sighting and the basis of these submission is as follows:
During the period of Pious Predecessors the following incident was reported of Hadrat Anas (RA) (then at a very old age) claiming to have seen a crescent when everybody else at the same location could not see it. Then on removing the white hair from his eyebrow of Hadrat Anas (RA), was asked to see again. Now he could see no ‘crescent’. (See Aujaz al Masalik v.5, p.21, Tantawi’s Irshad p.154, Bain Al-Sunnah wal Ijtihad by Nimr p.50 etc.).
Report of sighting by individuals is to be verified by competent scholars in both fiqh and astronomy such that the solo observer must be made to answer the following questions: the exact time of the sighting, when the crescent was first sighted? The position of the crescent to the sunset point at the time of sighting: was it at the right of the sunset point? Was it at the left of the sunset point? Orientation of the crescent (direction to which the crescent horns point to)
As we welcome the blessed month, what's your candid advice to Nigerian Muslims?
Muslims should be focused on the goal of Ramadhan which is Taqwa. In other words, all our intentions and actions should be Taqwa-driven at all times.