Total Pageviews

Monday, October 17, 2011

Discourse 332: Revolt of the Emirs

Discourse 332
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

Revolt of the Emirs

It is not in the tradition of a sitting aristocrat to revolt, more so if he is an Emir in an era when the institution is stripped of all its major functions but saddled with the enormous task of ensuring security of life and property. So when some royal fathers decided to breakaway from the tradition of waiting for the Sultan to announce the sighting of the crescent during the last Ramadan and do it themselves, little did they know that we the masses were watching with keen interest.

The revolt, if we may call it so, is more surprising when it came from emirates that are the closest to the Sultan in history, geography and government, given their long standing mutual associations under the Sokoto Caliphate, the defunct Northern Nigeria, Northwestern State and Sokoto State. In all these, the Sultan served as their Chairman. More importantly, the Sultan is their leader under the national Muslim umbrellas of Jama’atu Nasril Islam and Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. If there would be a revolt, we the masses would expect it to come from quarters more distant to the monarch than from these direct cousins of his.

To be fair to the dissenting Emirs, however, the practice of a Sultan announcing the commencement or ending of Ramadan is a recent one. It was not possible, administratively and logistically, for him to carry out that role in the pre-colonial era. The Sokoto Caliphate was a loose confederation of states. The centre at Sokoto did not have direct administrative influence over the periphery. Its authority was largely moral, as an acknowledgement of the founding role played by Usman Danfodio. Hardly did any Sultan dictated who would become an Emir or what expedition would he carry out. Annually, the Emirs would pay him a tribute, represented by a delegation carrying a number of gifts to Sokoto.

It was the loose link between Sokoto and the Emirates or, say, the lack of a strong federation that made it easier for a handful of soldiers under the command of few British officers to bring the caliphate to its knees in the last quarter of the 19th Century before they capped it with the subordination of Sokoto in 1903. If there were a strong federation, possibly – possibly – the contemporary history of Northern Nigeria would have been different today.

But what could not be done during the pre-colonial era became possible after the British conquest. Roads were opened and communication became enhanced. The entire North came under the authority of the British as a Protectorate. The British, for the purpose of indirect rule, decided to reinforce the authority of the Sultan not only by bringing the Fulani Emirs from Kebbi to Adamawa under his ceremonial leadership but also those in the old Kanem-Borno Caliphate and some hitherto independent Emirates like Yauri and chiefdoms that are not even Muslim. The Sultan thus became the Chairman of the Council of Chiefs in the defunct Northern region.

Regarding religious matters, the Sultan’s authority was further armored through Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the organ that Sardauna created to oversee the interests of Islam separate from the official administrative machinery of the regional government. The Sultan became its President. When the Supreme Council of Islamic affairs was later created as a sort of an expanded Jama’atu Nasril Islam, the domain of Sultan’s influence on religious matters now went beyond the North to include Muslims throughout the federation.

It is from these roots that the Sultan derived his present moral authority on matters of Islam in Nigeria. In all these functions and positions, the Sultan is deputized by the Shehu of Borno, then followed by the Emir of Gwandu, then of Kano and so on.

So the decision of some Emirs to announce the moon sighting independent of the Sultan can be seen as a reincarnation of their jurisdiction during the pre-colonial era, which is supported by the fact that the authority of the Sultan over Nigerian Muslims today is simply moral, not political. When authority is spoken of in terms of rights, one cannot help but conclude that they have the right to do so.

However, a judicious mind will not fail to discern that sometimes exercising a right may not be in the best interest of it's owner. He lends it to someone, if he is wise, in order to reclaim it with profit in the long run. In my view, this is just one of those times.

It is in the best interest of Islam and the Emirs themselves to be seen to speak with one authority, in this case to follow the ruling of the Sultan. Unity is a fundamental principle of Islam. It does not make any sense, no matter the level of disagreement, for different emirates in the same country to observe Ramadan and the Eid on different days in the 21st Cemtury. It was possible under the Sokoto Caliphate only because of the absence of effective means of communication. In fact the entire idea of the Caliphate being a loose federation was a child of necessity. If Danfodio had cars, planes, tarred roads, emails, and telephones in addition to the military hardware that we have these days, he would have adopted a system that accords the centre of the Caliphate greater power. It was just impossible for the ordinary Fulani man he was to effectively administer a territory so vast as the Sokoto Caliphate directly from the centre. He understood his limitations and abided by them. May God bless him!

Today we live in an environment where not only Nigeria but also the whole world is on the verge of becoming a small village. Muslims all over the country, nay, throughout the world, are increasingly becoming aware of happenings around the globe with great ease that was never contemplated by their ancestors. The communication gaps, geographical challenges and military handicaps that allowed the Emirs their independence in the days of the Caliphate have ceased to exist. In their place, a fused community of Muslims stretching from Sokoto to the Atlantic has emerged with a moral leadership that is no longer flat but hierarchical with the Sultan at the top. Nigerians have become used to that notion. Reverting to the olden pre-colonial order brings some discomfort amongst us – the followers.

The revolt especially is coming at a time when the unity among the traditional rulers in the country is needed most. Security is fast deteriorating; discontent among us – the masses – is at record high; yet, belief that the traditional rulers can fix some of the problems, despite their financial and political limitations, is prevalent. A crack in their ranks at this time would certainly be ominous.

So far we have discussed the political aspect of the problem. The religious one is more contentious. While the Sultan is working hard to see that Nigerian Muslims – from both North and South – unite in matters of their religion, there is a tremendous pressure on him and the Emirs that is coming from some ulama who want the status quo to be maintained. On the other when it comes to moon sighting Such ulama do not give a hoot if Northern Nigerian Muslims always find themselves on one side and the rest of the world. This cannot just be correct. The moon is one, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. There cannot be one crescent for Northern Nigeria and another for the rest of the world. This defies common sense. Period.

The problem we have been having in this part of the world for decades now is that of false testimonies. Since Islam bases the moon sighting on the testimony of two people, Nigerians being what we are, there has never been a shortage of people that would come over claiming to have sighted the crescent even when it cannot there. The Sultan would thus announce the Ramadan moon always 29 for over 40 years, until some Emirs started to revolt a decade ago against what appears to be clearly irrational. When he was enthroned, the present Sultan started to introduce caution into the matter and some sanity started to prevail. It is an irony that another set of Emirs is now crucifying him for doing exactly what we earlier called for.

Some ulama use the secular nature of the country to undermine the moral authority of the Sultan. This started during the Sardauna era, given the cold war that existed then between him – a Sokoto prince – and the then Sultan. This year some of the ulama said the sultan should not be obeyed because he is violating the rules of God: "nobody should be obeyed in violation to God." Such ulama and their groups exert pressure on their emirs who then became tempted to abandon the cause of unity and assert their independence from the Sultan.

I have followed the debate on moon sighting that took place this year on an Internet forum called the Nigerian Muslim Network which went on for some weeks after Sallah. There were testimonies from two reliable people that attempted to verify the reports of moon sightings in Zuru for example. One of them said the person he met was not steady in his testimony. The second, upon his failure to get to a specific person that will categorically affirm that he saw the new moon, passed what I regard as indicting statement about the behaviour of some Muslims in this country.

This is with the benefit of hindsight, though. The damage has already been done. People have sworn by Allah before the Emirs that they have seen the crescent and the Emirs announced that the moon is sighted, only for the rest of the universe to report the contrary. Rather than swim in such murky waters, if I were an Emir, I would prefer to enjoy the comfort of riding on the boat of the Sultan.

The issue of announcing the sighting of the crescent in Islamic tradition, like all collective obligations, is the jurisdiction of the authorities, not the ulama. Some scholars of the past insist that even the person who saw the moon must continue fasting until the authorities declare the moon sighted. This has been the practice throughout history and it is reiterated in recent literature – like the scholastic declarations in Fatawa al-Lajnatul Da'imah Lil Buhuthil 'Ilmiyyah Wal Ifta made by reputable Saudi ulama.

Given the difficulties posed by our widespread dishonesty in the contemporary world, many countries have resorted to supporting human vision in moon sighting with astronomical aids in form of calculations and equipment – like telescopes. The calculations give an idea of the days the moon is most likely to be seen while the telescopes support vision directly.

Despite these attempts there are still controversies in those countries, proving that the issue of moon sighting even in the Information Age is far from simple. The dilemma is that, on the one hand, we lack the honesty to unreservedly implement the prophetic tradition of accepting the testimonies of any two “trustworthy” people. Where people are many, knowing who is reliable becomes difficult. On the other, scientific methods themselves cannot be totally – 100 per cent – faultless.

In Nigeria, the Sultan is trying to draw his conclusions from various sources, including common sense. His task can only be made more difficult when other royal fathers decide to go their own ways.

Lastly, we must not forget that Sallah is not only for the Muslims. It is one of our public holidays and the nation can declare it only once. The need for harmony is therefore more imperative. Supporting the Sultan, from the foregoing, will definitely take us closer to the solution, which we hope to arrive at one day. Dissent can only take us backwards, perhaps centuries ago, when we have the capacity to leave that to our ancestors.

17 October 2011

Dear Readers,

I think I will chip in some points at this moment. First, I appeal to all of us to please calm down and dialogue gently in a cool manner. I have realized for a decade now that whenever the issue of moon sighting is brought up on this page and other fora tempers would easily rise and we quickly forget that we are dialoguing. Softly, softly, please. I believe we will one day get over this problem, but only when we dialogue intelligently.

Two. Whether it appeals to our egalitarian mindset or not, Islam has apportioned responsibilities to various categories of people. Obedience is for the ordinary followers, like me. If it is announced that the moon Is sighted, we follow. Some things are for the ulama, in this case educating people on the guidelines of moon sighting in Islam from what they understand to be authentic. Then rulers, no matter their age, moral standing or the type of seat they occupy, are saddled with the hard task of issuing directives regarding collective obligations like this one. When do we start fasting and when do we observe Eid is determined by their announcement or that of a body or person they delegated it to. This has been the practice throughout the history of Islam and I appeal to us to please abide by it. Islam is not politics. In no country would any Malam be allowed to announce the commencement or end of fasting, unless he is delegated by the ruler. I just cannot understand why we in Nigeria - and now our sister country Niger - are choosing to be different. Of course we all trust our local Imams more than our leaders because their spiritual domain is much easier to handle than that of a ruler.

Three. I do not agree that logic is out of the question here. Logic is very much of it because we are discussing a phenomenon that is both natural and physical. Let us not bring to Islam the dogmatic attitude that destroyed the Church in Europe. The human mind will always repel any illogicality in the physical world, no matter it's desire to believe it. That mind will continue to probe it until it finds the solution. Brothers, please let us open our minds. It is really illogical for a moon to be sighted in Nigeria alone, and not even in countries behind it with several hours or even days.. This is possible only in two cases:

It is either sometimes the sightings are false, as the many reports that reach the Emirs and are dropped, or they are actually true, like the one our brothers have reported in Tambuwal, Zuru, Yauri, Birnin Kebbi, etc. If what they have seen is actually a moon, then i strongly suspect that it must be an old one that was yet to go into hiding. It just can't be new moon! That is why I titled my first essay on moon sighting on this page in 2000 or so "Nigeria is Sighting the Wrong Moon." There is just no way the crescent would be seen today and then it dissppears thereafter to be seen again only two days later... It is just impossible. The ulama and astronimers know very well that a hiding of the old moon for at least a day precedes the emergence of a new moon. This is there in virtually all books of tafsir. That is the reason behind the old and prevailing belief that the crescent cannot be sighted in the western horizon on the day the moon was seen in the East in the morning. And science has confirmed this. There cannot be a day between morning and evening. Without a night? Come on my brothers!

Please let us investigate this physical phenomenon deeply and openly. We must be wrong somewhere. Otherwise the world is laughing at us. Agreed our noble Prophet has said we should start fasting and end it with the sighting of the new moon. By now this is common knowledge.

Finally comes the issue of process. When the sighting is wrong, there will always be a controversy even if we have the best process in place. May God reward both Dr. Gwandu and the Sultan and bless them. Both do not see the moon themselves but rely on the news to reach them from the bottom and then take a decision. But we may be feeding them with the wrong information as I explained above. I dont believe that the problem is with any of them. It is right here, where we are, at the bottom, where we sight the 'moon'.

The first step is to get our science of the moon right before the next outing. When we are clear about what we should sight, then it will be easy to arrive at a process of adopting any report that will lead to an announcement that does not put us at odd with the rest of the world. And to know the science, logic is inevitable.
There is the strong need


belyus said...

It is disheartening to note that at this most challenging era when Muslims unity is highly needed some divisive ulamas ofter dividing the umma, are bent to tear apart the remnants of our religious leadership. Surprisingly they are the very people who have been preaching the near-impossibility of religious practice without authoritative leadership. As far as I am concern, Sultan is the amirul mumineen in Nigeria as we have no better and and more responsible leadership. Any emir or ulama that disobey him on a matter of religion is rebellious to the religion.

Anonymous said...

This issue of moonsighting is becoming a very seious problem among muslims in Northern Nigeria, not even southern Nigeria. But honestly, some of these emirs had no choice but to announce the sighting of the moon in the various communities since the moon had been sighted live in these areas by not just one or two poeple but by many. There is a need for the sultan, all emirs and other stakeholders to look for a final solution to this division so that muslims will remain united and would not be laughing stocks for other faithfuls.

Anonymous said...

'...The issue of announcing the sighting of the crescent in Islamic tradition, like all collective obligations, is the jurisdiction of the authorities, not the ulama..'

The above qoute has no basis in Islam. 'Ulil amri minkum' does not refer to traditional rulers who get to their position by accident of birth. In Bauchi for instance, what makes the Emir of Bauchi a better authority in Islam than the Governor of Bauchi? Between the Sultan of Sokoto and Imam of your local mosque, behind who will you be more comfortable praying? Why do you think, will be a different?

belyus said...

No any system is perfect, but the custodians of the sultanates are by far more responsible than the politicians or even the divisive ulamas who only struggle for relevance. It amazed me when anonymous is assessing the prayers of others. What make u think yours is better? In the opinion of few myopic, we can live without leadership because of a minor difference. This is incredible!

Anonymous said...

I am at a loss Dr. On one hand you inferred that Muslims in northern Nigeria lack honesty and sincerity to be believed if they testify that they have sighted the moon. On the other hand, you imply that only the Sultan is an honest and sincere person and we should believe him.

I am afraid that this time around Dr. Tilde you will not carry many of us along. Many universally acknowledged sincere individuals like the late Prof. Abubakar Gwandu have parted ways with the Sultan on this issue.

May be it is the person of the Sultan that is really the problem this time around.

Anonymous said...

The last comment says it all.It is a fact that most Muslims trust their local Imams more than the Emirs, whose moral standing has gone with the wind.

Nasiru Yauri said...

This is an issue on which logic cannot and will not prevail. Fasting is a deeply-rooted religious practice and Muslims look forward to its acceptance from Allah. To achieve that, clear injunctions must be followed. There are clear injunctions with respect to the sighting of the moon especially in the traditions of the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) accepted news of the sighting of the moon from at least two persons who have seen it and reported to him. On a particular occasion, a non-Muslim has reported the sighting of the moon to the Prophet, and he accepted it.
Muslims have sighted the moon and reported to the Sultan who refused to make the announcement. Their first duty is to Allah, not to the Sultan. I dont need to give you any quotations from the Quran or refer you to the Sunnah, because you know the injunction once the crescent is sighted. These Emirs you refer to are leaders themselves, and should not mislead their people. What kind of Emir will receive reports of moon sighting from credible people within his jurisdiction and refusae to make the announcement, simply because the Sultanate has responded negatively to the report? In many of the locations, there were groups pointing to the crescent to anyone who cares to see. THERE WAS NO DOUBT THAT THE CRESCENT WAS CITED BY MANY. There were so many reports and we can still give you names of people (including dattijai) who sighted the crescent in Sokoto, Tambuwal, Yauri, Gwandu, Bunza, Koko, Kamba, Zuru, Wurno and so on...

Jamilu Abdullahi said...

This is avery important topic you've brought up DR, and i would like to commend your effort sir, simillarly. Islam recognises leadership and followership, i believe the muslim ummah must come to unite and understand their responsibilities each. which i believe the sultan is exercising one of his in announcing the citation of moon/crescent.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde said...

I have written a postscript at the bottom of the article above to cater for the issues raised in the comments above. The material could not fit in here because of it's length. Just scroll up and the postscript is there. Thanks.

Hammadu Kakara said...

It cannot be better said! I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the courage of Dr. Tile to trigger up this educative discourse. And this is the right time Muslims in Nigeria, and even Niger, ponder, reflect and come up with acceptable ideas that logically, scientifically and religiously can guide our Moonsighting ppolicy. I believe Dr. Tilde is not inferring that Muslim community in Nigeria cannot be trusted when it comes to moonsighting. But equally one must not deceive oneself that the level of dihonesty in the community is higher than the historical antecedents we use to sight of the Prophetic era. Finally, hasn't late Sheikh Gummi said it appropriately that Nigeria has large Muslim community but with high rate of 'illitracy and broadening, intellectual minds'? Hopely, this kind of Discourse will trigger up further intellectual analysis and end up forcing many a Muslim back to 'school'. For, one can not partake in this discourse with an 'empty head'. Thanks, Dr. Tilde.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde said...

I have received two or three additional comments which are just repeating what earlier commentators have said. No one seems to address the issue at hand that is reflected in the postscript: which type of moon are we observing in Nigeria? Is it the new moon (waxing crescent) or the old one (the waning crescent) which also appears on the western horizon just minutes after the sun sets on the 28th usually, after it is seen in the morning in the eastern horizon?

I sincerely believe that repeating the same thing on the process will not help us if we have a fundamental problem of differentiating between the new crescent and the waning one. Otherwise people, both the reliable and the unrelliable, will always see the waning crescent and report it honestly as a new one. We then announce it as a new moon. The following day hardly anybody would see it on the horizon because it has gone into "hiding" as Muslim scholars would call it. When the rest of world announces the sighting of a new crescent we discover that we are ahead of it by a day or two.

Please let us reflect on this. This will lead us to noticing that the days of first observation announced are usually not the correct day to start looking for the new moon. Anybody with basic knowledge about phases of the moon will not find this difficult to understand and contribute in the discussion. Our geographers and other scientists should please make effort and come in.

Let us resolve the issue of "which" moon that will determine the "when" to look for it before we come the "how" that deals with the bureaucracy of verifiying and announcing the sighting.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Please let us not be bias and blame those emirs. They tried their best to see things goes fine. If you can remember before we don't have moon sighting committee, those emirs were left with that task. they were listened to, why not now, why duplication of authority? Please our leaders should try to unite us, not to separate us. Thank you.

Sulaiman said...

Dr. Thanks for bringing this up, its very Interesting, I guees the issue now is, Is it the waxing crescent or the waning crescent that was sighted ? People have definately seen the Moon and Some Emirs are only left with two options,(Either annouce the Moon sighting and leave according to the prophetic tradition or Shut their doors from their masses who reported seeing the Moon)
I guees we need People to come out and eduacate us or rather start an serious Educational persuit to free ourself from the yolk of ignorance. Something serious needs to start before the next Ramadan, May Allah help us acheived the right thing.

Rano Icon said...

Dr. Aliyu,
You have said it all politically and religiously. My view is that it is really more appropriate for Sultan to announce the sighting of the new moon. You talked about need for unity among the ummah, but that unity should be for a purpose and collective interest.
You elaborately talked about history of Caliphate before, after colonization and most recently with specific reference to how the Sultan and the Emirs cooperate, also you did talk about the divergent point which is reality on ground today. What you failed to address is how common man view those happenings and his stand. This may likely tells you or links you to Ulama involvement in the whole issue. I am opined that common man trust is more with Ulama than their respective traditional rulers. People always look unto Ulama for spiritual, moral and religious guidance. The Ulama are easily accessible to them, and always ever ready to assist in that dimension. In contrast people today see their traditional rulers as entertainers during festivals and also as custodian of traditions not RELIGION.
For that unity to exist, deliberate efforts must be made by Jama'atul Nasral Islam and Supreme council of Islamic affairs to reconcile Sultan, Emirs, Ulama and their followers.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde said...

This article has continued to attract readers. Last week one of the emirates sponsored a paid advert in the Daily Trust to repudiate the article. I havent seen the advertorial yet but all the same I strongly feel that my follow up article "For Astronomy and National Observatory" has further clarified the issues. I have requested the publisher of the Trust to allow the publication of the follow up article. I hope he grants my request. The article has been on this blog since a week after the publication of Revolt of the Emirs.

One thing I wanted to comment on is about the old moon issue. Actually the waning moon is almost impossible to see on the western horizon as I tried to concede to explain the moon 'sighted' in the Northwest that Sunday. But what else remains but to discredit such a sighting which implies that the new moon was seen even before the conjunction? It is like saying a girl gave birth without pregnancy. You need a miracle to achieve that. Anyway, the opinion of some ulama on this situation is stated in the follow up article.