It is quite unfortunate that I have to write this letter to you in English even though I know you will not be able to read it because you understand the Arabic language better. Unfortunately I am also deficient when it comes to Arabic language so I will would rather you permit me to write in English language where I find so much comfort. Moreover, with people like Hajj Khuzaima and Sheikh Arimayaw close to you, I am sure they will be able to do a perfect job of relaying the message I seek to carry across to you.
Secondly, I wish to also crave your indulgence to make this letter an open one even though I would have wished you were the only one who read it. I have to make it an open letter so that posterity will appreciate that this generation of Muslims were not an ungrateful one who only found delight in chastising others. Despite the many attacks on your eminent person and household, a few of us still stood by you and just as the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him) was shielded by his companions when the people of Taif subjected him to stoning and severe beatings, some of us will always protect your image and that includes, respectfully informing you when we think you go wrong.
Sheikh, do not bother your mind trying to know who I am because it will be an effort in futility. At your age, I know your mind is occupied with more important things and identifying me is not one of them especially in this period. Growing up, I was not really one of your admirers even though you were and still are our national chief Imam. I grew up in a Sunni-Salafi Muslim home so we did not really bother about you or what you said. For us, we were only concerned about what Saudi Arabia would say or do. As a young boy growing up, the only memory I had about you was that of a leader Muslims in Ghana who did not work with the teachings of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). I still remember how we use to chastise you for many things especially your declaration of Eid-ul Fitr celebration day when you knew very well that the moon played a major role in determining when the Eid-ul Fitr day would be.
I only had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with you for the first time in 2015 when the Ghana Muslim Student’s Association chapter of my school, Accra Polytechnic now Accra Technical University, decided to pay you a visit in your house at Fadama. When my eyes met yours, I was so happy even though from childhood, I did not hear a lot of good things about you. I remember how you advised us and explained certain verses in the Quran for us. Your personal assistant, Hajj Khuzaima, was the translator for the day. Apart from this close meeting with you, I have never had the opportunity to meet or shake your hands again but I have met you at various programs and admired you from afar. I wait for a day when I will enjoy the warmth of your hug.
I also wish to make it clear that I am not a Sheikh nor an authority when it comes to Islamic issues. I was not able to even complete my makaranta classes. I have not memorized the Quran after many years of trying to. I do not speak Arabic language neither do I understand it. In short, I am just a Muslim trying so hard to understand my religion.
Sheikh, I know my long introduction might seem boring to you but trust me, this letter will make no sense without it. On my behalf and on behalf of the many people who believe in what I am writing, I write to do just one thing, render an unqualified apology to you. Don’t bother your mind to guess what I am sorry for because we have erred against you many times. For the purpose of this letter, I am apologizing specifically for the insult and humiliation we have subjected you to over many decades relative to your decisions to declare the day for Eid-ul Fitr day before the moon is sought for and if sighted, a day agreed.
Bukhari and Muslim reported on the authority of Abdullah Ibn Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) that the messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “ do not fast till you see the new moon, and do not break fast till you see it; but if the weather is cloudy complete it (thirty days).”
I know for a fact that you know the above hadtih and many that relate to it. Every muslim understands this hadith to mean starting fast at the sight of the moon and whether Ramadan will be twenty-nine days or thirty days is dependent on the sighting of the moon. So ordinarily, it is on the twenty ninth day of Ramadan that the moon is sought for and if its sighted, the next day becomes Eid-ul Fitr and if otherwise, the fast is completed to become thirty days.
Sheikh, I am not trying to tell you what you already know but I am informing you of what a lot of Muslims out there say about you. It is because of this that, anytime you declare Eid-ul Fitr during the twenty-fifth day of Ramadan, it comes as a surprise and source of worry for many. According to them, you are going against the Sunnah. I used to also have this perception until I decided to ask questions. Per my asking of some scholars and watching scholars around the world, I was surprised to know that great scholars like Sheikh Muhammad Hassan Shabany, Imam Tirmidhi, Sheikh-ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah opined that for the purpose of the unity of Muslims, especially in a country where they are the minority, they can fix a date for Eid-ul Fitr without necessarily sighting the moon. For the purpose of reference and with respect to Sheikh Ukasha of United State of America, we can confirm this in the twenty fifth section of book Majmu’a of Sheikh-ul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah pages 112 to 126 speaks on this issue. Many other books have spoken about this including the book of Subulus Salaam and Islamic rulings regarding the hadith about sighting the moon for fast as given by Imam Tirmidhi and Imam Hassan.
Sheikh, I still did not understand all this issue until the PPF Research and Peace Institute headed by a young industrious young man, Alhaji Abdulsalam Mohammed Daaru, visited the chairman of the national Hilal Committee, Sheikh Gedel, before last year’s Ramadan in his house. With him that day was Mr. Abdul-Rahim Attoh who has a lot of knowledge about moon sighting. His explanation made so much sense but I will not focus on his religious reasons. I want to focus on the one reason he gave that made sense to me so much. Permit me to paraphrase him please. He made mention of how in the past, Muslims had to go to school or work even on Eid days. There was nothing like holiday for Muslims until the inception of the fourth republic of Ghana. The government granted Muslims two holidays for Eid-ul Fitr and Eid-ul Adha respectively. However, because Muslims used the lunar calendar, It was difficult for government to tell exactly when these religious festivals will fall on so the onus lied on the office of the national Chief Imam to give prior notice to the government. Per information available to me, this notice must be done in writing and sent to the presidency before about two weeks to the actual date. Determining the date for the Eid-Ul Adha was not so much of a big deal but Eid-ul Fitr was. Whether or not Ramadan will be twenty nine or thirty depended on sighting the moon on the twenty ninth day. It will be impossible to tell government to grant us a holiday the twenty ninth day of Ramadan should the moon be sighted. Government will then have to prepare a communiqué to all government agencies during that night which is impossible.
There are Muslims in the public and private sectors like, doctors, teachers, bankers and many more that will need a holiday to be declared before they miss a day at work. There are also our children in boarding houses in Senior High Schools that need approval from the heads of their institution before they can come home for this religious festival. Imagine if the moon was sighted in the night and students have to go home that night to observe this celebration the next morning. To save us all this trouble and for the purpose of unity in worship, the Chief Imam with the national Hilal committee agreed that, we will inform the government that Ramadan will be thirty days because that’s the most we can fast so they grant us the holiday to allow our students and various muslim workers get ready for this day and also allow government prepare to. Is this difficult to understand?
Sheikh, I think I have written too much but as I said earlier, we are sorry for insulting you every year just as we are doing this year. However, I think you should ask the Hilal Committee to up their game and try as much as possible to make people understand this issue. I can assure you that the insults will continue unabated but I know you to be a man of courage. You have survived it for years and this year won’t be an exception.
As for the young scholars insulting you, I pity them because they don’t know that to take a decision in a land where Muslims are minority, you consider various factors and not only religious factors. Let them continue to mock and insult you but I can assure them that when the leaders of today are no more, they will step into their shoes and will be served with the same dish they served you.
Sheikh, we are sorry. I know I will be insulted for writing this letter to you but I will endure it, I put my head on the chopper. Just as the companions of the Prophet were aggravated that the Prophet asked them to return to Madina without performing Hajj because the people of Makkah refused them entry, so shall your decisions not make sense to some of us now but when victory finally arrives, you will walk through Makkah and the enemies will watch you in dismay and even surrender to you but I know you will repeat the word of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), “Leave, you have all been forgiven”
Abdul-Rahim Naa Ninche
Editor: The writer is a blogger and socio-Islamic commentator