Today is Eid-el-Fitr or simply Sallah in Nigeria. The Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) had last Friday evening announced that no information was received about the sighting of the moon, which made Saturday, May 23, 2020 to be 30th day of Ramadan. He therefore declared Sunday, May 24, 2020 as Eid-el-Fitr being the 1st day of the Islamic Lunar month of Shawwal. Nonetheless, reports of moon sighting in parts of the country emerged yesterday morning. Owing to the controversy that trailed the reports, we urge the NSCIA to rework its existing internal mechanisms on moon sighting to avert similar confusions.
In an earlier statement issued on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 by Prof Salisu Shehu, Deputy Secretary-General of the NSCIA, the Sultan asked all Muslims to perform the Eid in their homes. However, he advised Muslims in states that permit the Eid prayer to hold in mosques to do so in strict observance of social distancing rules. The Secretary-General of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu in a press statement issued on Thursday May 21, 2020 equally urged Muslims to perform the Eid prayer at home.
Few Days before Sultan’s pronouncement, Governor Nasiru Ahmed El-Rufai of Kaduna State had affirmed that existing restriction measures against the spread of COVID-19 in the state would remain during Sallah. He thus advised Muslims to remain law-abiding and observe the Eid in their homes. The Northern Governors Forum (NGF) through the forum’s Chairman and Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, had earlier expressed concern over the spread of COVID-19 in the north; stating that “northern Nigeria now has about 54 per cent of national cases and 70 per cent of new infections”.
Amidst NGF’s apprehensions, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State lifted the ban on congregational and Eid prayers even though Kano leads with COVID-19 cases. Ganduje’s directive came soon after the SGF and head of the PTF on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced President Muhammadu Buhari’s extension of the lockdown in Kano by two weeks. Ganduje’s inexplicable decision was opposed by the Kano State Council of Ulamas. The head of the Council, Shaykh Ibrahim Khalil, said government should have put the rising cases of coronavirus in Kano State into consideration before taking the decision.
While we encourage decision-makers to consult widely with religious and public health officials on matters of COVID-19, there is so much knowledge gap to be filled by scholars in their preaching activities. Muslims who erroneously believe that the ban on congregational prayers under COVID-19 pandemic is an infringement on their rights need to be properly educated. Ordinarily, a Muslim is prohibited from going for Friday congregational prayer after eating garlic which isn’t a disease. The Prophet, peace be upon him, also said in an authenticated hadith that “a believer who stays at home during a pandemic gets the reward of a martyr”. Besides, Qur’an 4:59 requires Muslims to obey Allah, the Prophet and those charged with authority amongst them. The observance of the Eid prayer at home as directed by relevant authorities is thus in line with this Qur’anic verse.
We need to stay safe during Sallah before we could think of meeting all other life requirements beyond it. Muslims are urged to observe social distancing and other rules of personal hygiene including the use of nose masks and hand sanitizers. Exchange of visits during Sallah should be minimized for now. Few minutes of phone calls can take the place of physical visits to relations.