Once again, the Muslim world is on the march. Once again, the spiritual rendezvous is here. You and I owe much gratitude to the Almighty for the uncommon privileges He has afforded us. We should be thankful to Him for preserving our lives so that we could partake of His bounties and blessings the more. We should be grateful to Him that while others are underground, we are in ‘over-ground’; while some are in permanent ‘isolation’, in eternal quarantine, we are on terrestrial earth, under temporary lockdown. Brethren, hardly is there a station, a location or a situation here on earth that does not gesture to a station or situation in the hereafter. To be under temporary lockdown is probably better than being under temporary lock up.
Now while the above holds true, it is highly instructive that this year’s month of fasting begins next week. We all know that our fasting begins and ends not in line with the contraption that is the Gregorian calendar. Rather it begins and ends according to the lunar calendar. The latter is based on the phases of the moon whose twelve months approximately add up to three hundred and fifty-four days. The calendar therefore is usually eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. It usually moves backward approximately eleven days each year in relation to the Gregorian calendar.
The very first implication in this for the Muslim world is that the first day of the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, usually moves backward by about eleven days each year. Thus, Muslims across the world experience Ramadan differently from year to year. Whenever Ramadan falls in the winter, it becomes much easier to fast: the days are shorter, which means you the believer does not have to fast for long hours. The weather is cooler and thus abstinence from eating and drinking brings little discomfort for the faithful.
However, whenever Ramadan falls in the summer, fasting is usually very difficult. In many Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, summer temperatures can reach levels usually reserved for the deepest bowels of hell. The first time I travelled to Sudan, I wondered what water pots stationed along the streets and roads were meant for. However, as soon there was a change in weather, I became wiser and better informed.
Besides, there are countries in northern Europe such as Iceland, Norway, and Sweden where the day lasts longer than ‘normal’. In such countries, including Britain, fasting can last an average of between fifteen and twenty hours or more in the summer. May His name be glorified! There are places in our world particularly above the Arctic Circle where the sun never actually sets in the summer. In these cases, believers in such locations can embark on fasting by following the sighting of the moon in the closest Muslim country or by following the timing in Makkah (Saudi Arabia).
But the kernel of today’s sermon inheres in the necessity for you and me to work with those in authority particularly on the beginning and ending of the month of fasting. This note of caution or appeal becomes necessary because of the embarrassment that refusal to follow constituted authorities usually cause the Ummah on an annual basis. There have been instances in the past when consequent upon the announcement of the sighting of the moon by the Sultan for the commencement of fasting, some overzealous Muslims would say until they sight the moon themselves and physically too, they would not join the Muslim commonwealth in observing fasting. There have equally been instances in the past when some among our brethren would not begin fasting three days after the entire Muslim world have commenced the exercise. These practices constitute grievous infractions of the divine order – O you who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you… (Quran 4: 59).
But that is not all. Refusal to follow directives usually given by the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) on the beginning and ending of month of fasting belies all pretences to knowledge and understanding of Islam which those who engage in these practices usually plead for their action. May it then be pleaded that the best way to begin the righteous act of fasting in the month of Ramadan is probably that of acquiescing to established authorities insofar as they do not enjoin disbelief in the Almighty. Let us all strive to preserve unity of the Ummah which Ramadan comes in part to teach us. The month of Ramadan comes with rare blessings that should not be frittered away through indulgence in empty erudition and vacuous postulations. May it please Him the Almighty to cure the world of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies
Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.