For God’s sake, there should be no more dispute about the moon sighting in the Gambia

Dear Mr M’bai,

Once again, 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, including Gambians, are eagerly awaiting the holy month of Ramadan with profound enthusiasm. Many Islamic calendars indicate that Ramadan this year will take place from 16th May to 14th June. However, despite with the massive euphoria yet again for me to witness another Ramadan, I am equally concerned about  the arguments concerning the moon sighting, which often occur between Muslims sects in the Gambia.

We must not let these minor disputes cause friction between us. Sadly, they have created a huge division between the Muslims in the Gambia, particularly among the country’s religious scholars.  The core of their argument is actually based on the following:  in Islamic jurisprudence is it permissible for Muslims living in parts of the world like Gambia to follow the sighting of the crystal moon by the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This usually occurs a few hours before the Gambia; consequently, Muslims might start fasting at Ramadan without making their own sighting of the crystal moon.  This concept, which is significantly favoured by the countries in the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), and its charter adopted in 2016 at Istanbul, Turkey, has long been accepted and promoted by those adhering to Wahabi doctrine. This is in contrast to orthodox clerics in the Gambia who dismiss such a concept as blasphemy.

I recognise that in the past few decades, Islamic scholars from the various part of the world have expressed different opinions concerning this ruling. However, the majority of scholars from the Maliki school of thought, which is the dominant one in West Africa, are leaning towards the scholars who believe that it is permissible for Muslims living in different parts of the world to follow the sighting of the crystal moon by the people of Saudi Arabia, regardless of their geographic location.

The issue surrounding the moon is not significant to many Muslims around the world; however, that is not the case in the Gambia.  Unfortunately, due to political interference by the former government which used to support Wahabi scholars in the country, and meddled in the country’s religious matters, the issue surrounding the crystal moon became the cause of all major heated religious discussion in the country.

I have the following suggestions:

  1. The government ought to give instruction to the relevant authorities concerning all religious matters in the country to invite stake-holders such as the Gambia Supreme Islamic council, the Imam Rathb of Banjul, the Gambia Rawdati-le Majalis, and the Murid and Tijan brotherhood living in the Gambia, to an emergency meeting in order to discuss and resolve this dispute once and for all before it’s too late. The clock is ticking.
  2. Meanwhile, while the government is encouraging dialogue, before Islamic scholars could reach any amicable solution concerning this issue, in my opinion, the Ministry of Information and Communication should intervene with a strict warning to public intellectuals, who use radio and television to disseminate information to their audience, not to discuss matters related to the moon sighting until the issue is dealt with effectively. This might sound harsh but I think it would be a huge step towards fostering peace and harmony in the country.

One Gambia, one people

Yaya Sillah

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