By Rasheed Abubakar
The first day of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan in Nigeria will likely be Thursday, March 23, depending on the sighting of the crescent, Muslim News can authoritatively confirm.
Ramadan fast is determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, which begins with the sighting of the new moon.
Muslims across the world, including Nigeria rely on the testimonies of moon-sighters to determine the start of the month of intense spiritual rejuvenation with a heightened focus on devotion.
According to the National Moon Sighting Committee (NMSC) of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, today, Sunday is the 26th of Sha’aban, 1444 AH corresponding to March 19, 2023.
By this counting, Muslims in Nigeria are expected to search for the new moon of Ramadan after the sunset of Wednesday, the 29th of Sha’aban.
If the moon is sighted in any part of the country, the Muslim faithful will begin fasting on Thursday, 1st of Ramadan, following a nationwide broadcast from the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the NSCIA, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar Sa’ad III.
But if the crescent is not sighted, Thursday will be 30th of Sha’aban and Friday automatically becomes the first day of Ramadan.
Insights into Saudi Arabia moon sighting
Investigations carried out by Muslim News revealed that today, Sunday is 27th of Sha’aban in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Unlike Nigeria, Muslims in the Kingdom are expected to search for the crescent after sunset on Tuesday, being the 29th of Sha’aban, according to the counting released by the Crescents Department of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court.
If the moon is sighted in any part of the country, the Kingdom will commence fasting on Wednesday, 1st of Ramadan, corresponding to March 22, 2023. But if the moon is not sighted, Wednesday will be 30th of Sha’aban and Thursday, automatically becomes the first day of Ramadan.
Possibility of Saudi, Nigeria starting Ramadan same day
Although, Saudi Arabia is ahead of Nigeria in counting with a day interval, there is every possibility that the two countries can still commence fasting the same day.
This is possible if Saudi Arabia starts fasting on Thursday, March 23 after counting Sha’aban to be 30, and Nigeria sights the new moon on Wednesday, the 29th of Sha’aban, declaring Thursday, the beginning of Ramadan.
Rulings on geo-Ramadan moon sighting differences: Sheikh Shafi’i
The development has brought to the fore the debate of using another country, such as Saudi Arabia’s sighted moon to commence fast in another country, like Nigeria, or elsewhere.
The Grand Mufti of Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO), Sheikh Dhikrullahi Shafii said during his live fatawa on social media monitored by Muslim News, that scholars are divided into two over this.
He said using one’s country moon sighting to commence Ramadan is considered the best.
According to him, “The Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali schools of thought are of the opinion that there is no issue around geo-sighting differences. This is because the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) does not differentiate geographical space in its directives, therefore, as an instance, a moon sighted in Malaysia could be used in Nigeria.
“The Hadith says: Establish your fast by sighting the moon, and by so should you terminate it. In fact, the Maliki Mazhab clearly states that if moon is sighted in a place, it is mandatory for other places to follow suit.
“The Shafi’i school of thought however differ as they have a ruling that says every state is bound by its moon-sighting. This is deduced from the happening of Kuraib, who was in Sham when the moon was sighted and started the fast with them.
“While he returned to Hijaz the following day, he discovered they just sighted the moon the night he has already broken for the first day of Ramadan. Then, he went to Abdullah bn Abbas to ask about this, and he responded saying, “No”! That the Rasul (SAW) has commanded every nation should fast with their crescent.”
Sheikh Shafii therefore said majority of scholars support the second view, noting, “Though, whoever goes with the first opinion is not a sinner and his fast is valid.”
How Ramadan crescent is sighted in Nigeria – NMSC
Speaking with Muslim News on the process involved in the sighting of crescent of the holy month in Nigeria, a member technical committee of the National Moon-Sighting Committee (NMSC), Simwal Usman Jibril said;
“Usually, for Ramadan and Shawwal, some members of the National moon-sighting committee will converge at the palace of His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto to receive and verify reports. At the same time, other members do go out to search for the new crescent in their various locations.
“In the same vein, the Sultanate does reach out to all Emirs in their various Emirates to receive the sighting claims. Once a report is received, members of the committee will endeavour to reach out via phone calls to verify the sighting claims and ask some critical questions. If the claims convince the committee, it then forwards its report to His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto.”
Speaking further, Simwal highlighted some of the questions asked during the verification process to include the following: “Was the sun visible before sunset, and was the western horizon clear?The time the crescent was first seen? The time the crescent was last seen before it disappeared? Which side of sunset position was the crescent sighted at? The shape of the crescent (orientation)?”
Unlike other Lunar months, sighting of Ramadan crescent on annual basis in Nigeria has always been stirred with needless controversies from some sections of Muslims, especially in southwest Nigeria.
Muslim News findings can authoritatively confirm that the Mudir of the popular Markaz – Arabic and Islamic Training Centre, Agege, Lagos, Sheikh Habeebullah Adam Al-Ilory has directed his followers to begin fasting on Thursday.
Sheikh Habeeb’s Ramadan declaration
In his recent video being shared on social media, the controversial Islamic scholar made a bold statement, declaring the beginning and termination of Ramadan a week before the commencement of the holy month.
According to him, “…We have concluded to commence our fasting on the 23. So, we will observe Tarawih on the 22. Whether you like it or not, the crescent will be sighted. Fasting commences on 23 and we will conclude our fasting on the 29th of April and Eid will be celebrated on the 30th of April.”
This is not the first time the Mudir of Markaz will be defying the order of the Sultanate to commence and terminate Ramadan fast on different dates. On June 5, 2019, he led thousands of his followers to observe Eid-el-Fitr prayer, against the directive of Head, Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, who had declared, June 4 as Eid-el-Fitr.
During the 2020 Ramadan fast, Sheikh Habeeb, under the guise of the League of Imams and Alfas of southwest Nigeria, otherwise known as Rabitot-ul-Aimmah wal ‘Ulama once again acted in contravention of the decision of the NSCIA, by announcing Saturday, April 25, and Saturday, May 23, 2020 as the beginning and the end of Ramadan 1441 AH
To avoid such a scenario in this year’s Ramadan, leading Muslim scholars in Nigeria concluded that irrespective of when Ramadan starts, the right to announce its beginning and termination is vested with the Sultan of Sokoto, the Amir al-Mu’minin (leader of the faithful) of the Nigerian Muslim community.
Only the Sultan (Amir/Emir) or the overall leader of the believers can announce the beginning and end of Ramadan fast – Imran Eleha
Sheikh Imran Eleha, the President of Daaru Na’im Academy in Lagos, in his response to Sheikh Habeeb’s outburst (though he didn’t mention his name), said, “By this time next week Friday, Ramadan fast would have commenced, in shaa Allah. There are etiquettes of relating with the fast. According to Sunnah, it begins with the sighting of the new moon.
“The Amir of the Muslims will instruct the Ummah to search for the moon and once it’s sighted, it will be reported to him. If he is satisfied with the reports after consultation with his committee (NMSC), he will formally announce the commencement of Ramadan. That’s the Sunnah.”
Speaking further, the respected Islamic scholar, said, “If the moon isn’t sighted, it’s the responsibility of the Amir to further make announcement to the Ummah. Whether Ramadan will complete 30 days or not, it’s the Amir that will make it public. Whoever has an advice relating to the fasting should present it to the head of the Muslims. This is Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).”
Fixing date without sighting crescent is against Sunnah
Sheikh Imran maintained that the habit of fixing a date for Ramadan without searching for the new crescent contradicts the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW), stressing that it’s against the Sunnah for an individual to announce the beginning or termination of fast where the Muslim community has an Amir or a leader.
He therefore urged his fellow Muslim scholars to go back to the Sunnah on Ramadan by respecting the leadership of Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Saad III, noting that doing that will foster unity among Nigerian Muslims.
“We are under the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad III. He is a lover of peace and unity. He has done so much in uniting the Muslims in Nigeria. He is accommodating. He is the only one with the right to make announcement. We should wait for his announcement alone”, he concluded.
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