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Monday, December 12, 2011

Discourse 335. My 5th Anniversary Gift to the Sultan

Discourse 335
By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

My 50th Anniversary Gift to the Sultan

Last week, I saw a number of advertorials in our national dailies congratulating you on the 5th Anniversary of your turbanning as the Sultan of Sokoto. On my part, what I have as your anniversary gift is materially small, but big to the function of your office.

The gift is an iTunes application called Emerald Observatory, Version 1.3.1_r628, produced by Emerald Sequoia LLC (2010) available at Apple Store for just $2. There are newer versions by now I believe. When I acquired it a month ago, I realized that it could tell so many things about the moon and the solar system in general. All the planets and their orbits are represented on its page and one can clearly see when each of them is above the horizon. Because of the unending controversy over moon sighting in Nigeria, I developed interest in the picture of the moon, which is allocated a special window on the top left corner of the page.

Observatory gives an accurate picture of the moon any time of the day as it appears on the horizon throughout the month. When in hiding, the moon is only represented by its shadow. With this application, I was able to monitor the months of Dhul Qidah and Dhul Hijjah every day, seeing the shape of the moon changing everyday, as it grew older.

What is important for me then was to find out how fairly the picture on the page of Observatory compares with the actual moon on the sky. This would enable me decide the degree of trust I would put in the computer application. Each time I open the page, therefore, I could not help but make that comparison.

I was astonished to find that the two were always the same, both in shape and orientation. This accuracy was derived from the wide range of data used in scripting the program. In the words of its inventor, “the astronomical algorithms and data tables used in Emerald Observatory are derived from ‘Lunar Tables and Programs from 4000 B.C. to A.D. 8,000 by Michelle Chapront-Touze & Jean Chapront, and ‘Planetary Programs and Tables from -4000 to +2800’ by Pierre Bretagnon & Jean-Louis Simon.”

My regular reader would now easily predict the direction of my thoughts. It did not take time to convince myself that these kinds of software would be very useful tools in mitigating our problems regarding moon sighting in Nigeria. When mastered, they could become to us what the compass is to the sailor, telling us, even in the comfort of our sitting rooms, when it is possible to see the new crescent.

What is good about such programs is that they are egalitarian. They could be accessed and used by all and sundry since they have saved us the demand for knowledge of algorithms. They make us by-pass the astronomer just as the calculator saves the market woman the pain of using the Reckoner.

The next thing was to think of the problems that could be encountered in using application by among Muslims generally. As is common with all new devices, it is expected that some people would receive it with suspicion. In fact some will out rightly dismiss it as the watch and radio are still dismissed by some groups as European products.

The majority of those who have western education will warmly receive it. In it they will see the replica of many devices they have been using, having known the logic behind its invention. They have been using calculators and even computers with several softwares. This majority will have no problem with any suggestion to use such application to monitor the moon. Surprisingly, it thrilled many who have not been to modern schools when I showed them. The secret here is the picture of the moon on the page that looks exactly as the one they see in the sky above.

Thus, I do not think the software will hit a hard wall. Of course there will always be those who would, in spite of their exposure to modern devices, still resist the use of any computer application in moon sighting, in any way. However, this resistance is customary in history, and is responsible for the lag experienced by the Muslim world in science and technology. Each time a technology is invented in the West, we sadly waste precious times - sometimes centuries - debating the legality of employing it.

Mamluk Egypt and Syria rejected the gunpowder when it was already in use in Europe. Its acceptance and that of other tools of European warfare among the Turks was quicker only because of the threat on the western frontier. That too was only possible after a prolonged debate among jurists on whether the weapons of the ‘infidels’ could be used against them.

Also, the Muslim world would have adopted printing before Gutenberg reinvented it in the 15th Century after it was discovered much earlier by the Chinese. After Sultan Bayezid II issued a decree banning the use of printing Arabic and Turkish texts in the caliphate in 1485. Sultan Selim decreed a death penalty on any Muslim involved in printing. Surprisingly, Jews were permitted to use it in the production of non-Islamic literature. It took 245 years before a mufti issued a fatwa permitting it.

When the imperial permit was given in 1729, it still excluded religious books. Yet, the volumes of the initial books had to carry a copy of "the fatwa from the chief mufti declaring printing to be licit, and certificates of approval from the two chief judges of the empire and other dignitaries," wrote the author of The Middle East, Professor Bernard Lewis. For the next sixteen years until when the government printer Ibrahim Mutafarrika died in 1745, only seventeen books have been published in secular subjects by the imperial press. Two hundred years earlier, not less than a thousand works have been published by the over 200 printing shops in Germany alone. The same fate was suffered by the study of medicine, science and astronomy for most part of those centuries.

But to the advantage of Emerald Observatory and its like, digital technology is now commonplace. Such software will soon be downloadable on non-Apple handsets and even in villages people would start using them directly. Once they are convinced of their fidelity, the masses will not hesitate to consult them on moon related issues. And what perfect consultants they would make!

Those resisting them would have little option, as usual, other than to adopt them too. All over the Muslim world, science and digital technology are increasingly gaining ground in the moon sighting process and many aspects of religion. A month ago, a debate was sparked in Saudi Arabia after an Imam used powerpoit during his Friday congregation sermon.

Time is required, I understand, to make people receptive to new technology. But history has shown, once it sets its foot on a land, technology does not retreat, neither can it be expelled. It gains new converts daily and the number of its disciples continues to increase until those who oppose it become an inconsequential minority. This will be the fate of Emerald Observation and other similar applications on moon sighting. Once with experimentation people find out that it always truly represents the moon in the sky, shi ke nan, their hostility will start to fade and soon would they admit it into the rooms of their hearts as a friend to their religion, not an enemy.

If I were presenting this to your grandfather, Muhammadu Bello, he would have received it with all enthusiasm. Clapperton has attested to Bello’s bent for justice just as he also mentioned his readiness to learn from diverse sources. In My Life, a descendant of Bello, the late Sardauna, told us that when Clapperton was leaving for England at the end of his first visit, Bello requested him to kindly purchase for him Elements of Euclid, arguably the most published book in history after the Bible. Bello lamented that he lost his copy of the famous book during a fire mishap. Clapperton brought it back as a gift from His Majesty, King George IV. If Bello were alive today, he would be happy to see that many of the contents of Euclid’s Elements are today included in the curriculum of all secondary schools in his caliphate. We miss you Bello! If you were alive, no one would have said boko is haram without attracting severe sanctions.

In conclusion, I have a prayer to make. I hope the piety of someone will not make you reject this precious gift. My fears are rooted in the history of a similar object. I remember the sad fate of Dar al-Rasad al-Jadid (House of the New Observatory) and other similar projects in the dying centuries of the Muslim Caliphate. The observatory was built upon the approval of the Sultan in Istanbul in 1575 by the renowned Muslim polymath and royal astronomer, Takiyyuddin al-Rashid. In Civilization: West and the Rest, we learned that it was “a sophisticated facility, on par with the Dyne Tyco Brahe’s more famous observatory, Uraniborg.”

After a comet passed over Istanbul on 11 September 1577, and Takiyyuddin answered that it foretold an Ottoman victory (may be in a bid to save his facility), the Grand Mufti Sheikhul Islam Kadizade “persuaded Sultan that Takiyyuddin prying into the secrets of the heavens was as blasphemous as the planetary tables of the Samarkand astronomer Ulugh Beg, who had supposedly been beheaded for similar temerity. In January 1580, barely five years after its completion, the Sultan ordered the demolition of Takiyyuddin’s observatory.” It took nearly three hundred years for Istanbul to build another observatory in 1868.

Emerald Observatory is even more lucid than Takiyyuddin’s observatory. I only pray that it does not suffer the same fate in hands of Your Eminence.

9 December 2011


Anonymous said...

Allah ya saka da alheri. I will from now on address u as Dr makaranta because u are a school. Indeed islam has suffered most of its setbacks due to refusal of imams to accept innovations one day modern literati will take over religious jurisprudence and islam will have a new face. I am sure u are aware that some ulama still do not believe that man has stepped on the moon.
Suleiman Haruna

Hasheem Abdullahi Tanko Malam-Madori said...

Thank you sir, more power to your elbow. Secondly, how I wished was get my people (including emirs) enlightened to make use of any new invent technological advancement prudently, so that they should avoid thinking of west-brought things are always meant to brainwash/immorals, e g, you taught us through fb while others are busy posting pornography and similar immorals. They first brought their religion and educ. we resisted both while very few of us cleverly took educ. only, and they became our leaders.

Aliyu Rufa'u said...

Dr. Jazakallahu khairan.

Abu Rukkaiyah said...

Dr! Very good work, but i suggested that, this should be addressed to all Emirs, imams, and leaders of Muslims in Nigeria not to our eminence the Sultan of Sokoto only. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

While thanking you for your efforts in bringing this useful tool to light, It appears the main issue you are trying to expostulate is that of using astronomical calculations over actual moonsighting to mark periods of religious significance. A lot has been debated over this, and the tool used (I-phone apps, computers models, calculation tables, websites, etc) does not change the basics of the arguments on both sides. I think it shall be more beneficial for the Ummah, if the Sultan dialogues with Ulama's and other leaders to agree on the method (whether to use calculations, physical sighting, or follow Saudi) of establishing dates for religious activities. This shall serve to foster unity of muslims.

Ismail said...


... Indeed Islam has suffered most of its setbacks due to refusal of imams to accept innovations ...

We are commanded to reject "Innovation" in religion affairs. But technology is not innovation. During the time of our prophet (SWS), they had their own tech and were used to advance Islam. Use of computer and other tech is NOT "Innovation". Every informed Muslim knows this. They accept and use tech in everyday activities. The moon sighting should not be an issue. Allah gave man knowledge. All advances in tech are with permission of Allah. So there is no reason why we should not adopt those that have positive applications in our affairs.

The Emerald Observatory will help in resolving the issue of moon sighting as it will allow everyone to have an observatory in his pocket. Thank you Imam Aliyu. Jazakumlahi Khairan. Ismail

Gidan Kwano said...

Well researched piece Dr. Yet again, you have demonstrated your academic prowess by seeking for a solution an an age long problem. I hope they have a look into your findings and consider its appropriateness.

Usman El-Nafaty said...

Malam, Jazakallahu Khairan. I sincerely pray that this important anniversary gift will reach his Eminence and that he will give it a positive consideration. Though I will consider acquiring Emerald Observatory, I wonder if you have used another PC-based software,'stellarioum' which is available at The software is free and it also resembles the one you describe. May Allah guide the Ummah towards understanding each other on this important issue of moonsighting.
Usman El-Nafaty

Aminu Bayawa said...

Thank you for a good piece as always.
I have to first say I have no problem with use of any application sofware. We however need to understand its limitations and the error magin within which it works. Is there any statistics on its accuracy? The way I understand it from your description is that it models some data collected prevously and based on that predicts current and futute events. The accuracy of the predictions will therefore depend on accuracy of the data, and how well the moded represents the data. Assuming all these are perfect, we are assuming the moon behaves as it used to previously. Is there any evidence to support this? I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

Yaa shehuzzaman fi haazazzaman.Jizakallahu khairan.Allah yasa tanbihin yayi amfani.

chika said...

Allah biyaka.I will suggest our computer expert and other scientists to discuss on application limitation of this softwares.

Faruk Tukur said...

Amin Summa Amin.May Allah give our leaders the wisdom to rule, and may Allah make us good follwers and good Muslim.
And may Allah reward you (Dr. Aliyu) for bringing to us this educative colums that we read gladly.
Faruk Tukur

Dr. A. Bello said...

That's good thought.However, the bone of contention regarding moon sighting is jurisprudence rather than technological. while technology will aid and facilatate religious rights, the question is on whether islamic requirements insist on eye sighting. I believe this issue should be handled jurisprudencially rartheR than technilogically. remember we have being blessed with local/native/ traditional astronomers who are very good in algrothmic calculation of moon orbitting and other related heavenly bodies, however, there calculation is not to be accepted in religious aspects. Therefore the controversy still remain on actual eye sighting or tool sighting? unless this controversy is resolved then observatory can only be used as a means for guidance not religious tool.

Ibrahim Barkindo said...

Salam Dr., thank you for that emportant exposition and a recapitulation of history.I think if somethings are branded in Arabic, some of our local Ulama' will take it; even if it is secular, they will see it as islamic. look at medicine (tibb), calculations (hisab) and the fact that most local scholars are aware of the four elements, the fire, water, air and earth and as a fact they read Euclid (Iqlid) amongst others is a pointer to the fact that what is aceptable to them has to come in a particular way.

we should however try and understand how jurists think and what influence their thoughts. The sun, the moon, the stars, day and night have stated reasons as explained by the Qur'an. kindly expand this write up to explain whether Islam wants us to remain the unlettered people upon whom the Qur'an was revealed or that knowledge of certain disciplines will change how one reckons with the day, the night, months and years, bearing in mind that there is a significant difference between how Islam reckons days, nights, months and years from the 'conventional system'. But the Qur'an in Suratul Kahf approves of both reckonnings as correct. however, Islamic activities cannot be based on solar reckonnings. how important is Allah's statemenet that He made the day visible? (wa jaál nan nahara mubsiratan) do we need calculations or tools to perceive the day or the night? do we need them to perceive the sun or the moon? if the sun and the moon are perceived in ordinary ways by all and sundry, is it not better to task people (taklif) based on what is easily attainable to them than to tie a fundamental aspect of Islam to what is only attainable to a few and with 'hardship'? this is the philosophy of the jurists as explained by Shatibi in Muwafaqat. I think there has to be better explanations to convince the jurists that Taklif depends on 'advanced calculation'; despite the fact that the Prophet SAW said that 'we' are a people that do not read or write but a month is... Salam (Barkindo)

Ibrahim Barkindo said...

JazakalLahu khairan Dr.

I think the Ulama accept these things but in a qualified way; sometimes things have to be in Arabic, even though secular to be accepted by the Ulama. some of the disciplines taught and aspects practiced are secular like medicine (tibb), calculations (hisab) astronomy (ilmul falak). whatever is written in Arabic is elevated to the Islamic status to some.

secondly, I think we need to understand how the jurists think and what influence thier thoughts. Allah says that He made the night dark and the day visible to among other things aid people reckon with the days and nights or to calculate them. the day, the night, the month and year has peculiar formula for reckonning in islam that may not be understood by non-Muslims. the day or monrnig starts at 12.00 a.m. in the conventional system while Islamically it is not the case. I think the reason is that because Allah intends that people can perceive the day and reckon with it even without watches and the night starts at sunset. if this is the case, any person insisting on actual sighting of the moon cannot be said to be wrong because he is talking about knowledge (what is perceived by the senses). calculations are expert opinions and not facts because they are not perceived by the senses and people's experience of it may be different (I mean some may calculate while others may be unable because of differences in acumen). jurists say that legal tasks (taklif) are based on what is practical, achievable and universally obtainable; that is why evidence under islamic law stresses on facts more than opinions and circumstantial issues. you do not need an application to view the moon; if something covers it, resort to calculation: what strong reasons do we have to start with calculation or to rely wholly on it? are these applications universal? does a fundamental aspect of Islam depend on a non-factual proof? once again, I congratulate you for this karatu. Salam

Unknown said...

yes you are right Dr. Tilde but the problem is to get the Ulema accept that technology can be a great asset in determining the moon sighting. That allalong has been the problem because the mallams and their Kings fear thast the Talaka would get "libersted" by also having the 'ability' to detrmine the age of the moon as it were.
Allah Ubangiji Ya saka ma Khairan, mu gode.
MM Maigari, Unguwar Alkali Katsina.

jameelrabo said...

a great gift sir, i hope the sultan will take it with courage.

Dogara said...

Thanks Doc.

I would have thought you would inform us of the final results of your observations. Does it tally with the Saudi "corrected" calendar or does it tally with Northern Nigeria "moon sighted" calendar.

May Allah continue to guide us to the right path.

Anonymous said...

MASHA ALLAHMadallah; Aliyu,Turakin Sarakunann Musulunci.Status elavation? Allah ya sa su ji.

Salman al-farisi Yusuff said...

This is very interesting and I am priviledged to be reading your comments. My name is Dr. Salman al-farisi Yusuff (commonly known as Sarkin Musulmiat Bayero University Kano and the City. I am currently the Imam for the New Jersey State Police and an Adjunct Professor of Comparative World Religionat Fairleigh Dickinson University, Teaneck, New Jersey, U.S.A. I love your gift to the Sultan and also love what the Sultan said last week in his address to Lawyers Association Annual Conference in Nigeria regarding the problems of leadership. Allah ya saka maka da alhairi, Allah ya kiyaye ka da sharin mutun da aljan. Thank you for the superb piece and God bless.

Anonymous said...

thank you but how many will read this your exposee?who reads?

Anonymous said...

Dr. that is what we needed now, but I suggest that our leaders be enligthened about its operation. They should be given time to study it and make comparisons before the real work starts

Anonymous said...

Ya Shab!

Salamu alaikum. This and other controversies are as old as the Islamic religion. They cannot be solved with mathematical precision. Our only prayer is the unity of the Ummah. Wa'atasimu bi habillahi jami'an wala ta farraqu.

Dr Sulleiman Adediran said...

Jazakallah khairan...May Allah continue to increase us in knowledge. We need to accept blessings of Allah as they come in various forms and through various peoples, even where they are non-Muslims as long as it is not contrary to the injunctions of the Holy Qur'an and the Hadith of the Prophet. Allah has endowed human beings with brains to enable us think through problems.... technological breakthroughs belong to this category... After all,we have encouraged to look for knowledge even if it is China.....let's embrace technology if it's not contrary to the Qur'and & hadith

Adam Guru (Balarabe) said...

Dr. May Allah reward u in abundance, and continou to bless muslim umma with pple like u!
But remember no 'ijtihad' if there is verse or an authentic Hadith. This issue is an eged-long controversy, the prophet S.A.W. had related the fasting with sighting when he said: '' SUMOO LI RU'YATIHI...." the question remains (IS THIS TECHNOLOGY SIGHTING BASED OR CALCULATION BASED?)
Allah ya ganar damu.

Jibril Ibrahim said...

Jazakah lah khair. For progressing the discussion in a positive direction