General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, GCFR, former President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, had, on Friday, January 29th, 2010, signed a public notice, published in some national dailies, including the LEADERSHIP, for the ‘cancellation of the forty-day fida’u prayer in memory of late Maryam Babangida.’ In the first paragraph of the notice, IBB said: “My Family and I wish to notify all our friends, well-wishers and our fellow compatriots who visited our Residence to console and condole (with) us that the forty-day fida’u prayer for my beloved late wife will not hold because it is not obligatory. We would rather request you all to recall her good deeds and pray for the repose of her soul in Jannatul Firdaus whenever you remember her.”
By this public notice, IBB has shown the way out of wrong beliefs and practices in funeral matters to families of heads of government and people of means in our society. IBB’s message was succinct and mild. His phraseology, choice of words, in describing fida’u as ‘not obligatory’ is understandable; given his experience, sagacity and his witnessed-by-all position as an elder statesman, he will not suffer the resurrection of heated discourse on the occasion of the demise of his beloved consort. But the issue, actually, is not that of obligation (Fard) or supererogation (Sunnah); it is outright innovation!
‘The general masses of Muslims in our time are far from the true and sound understanding of Islam deriving from Allah’s Book and His Messenger’s Sunnah. This paramount ignorance has resulted in numerous wrong beliefs and practices (or bidahs), which are usually based on weak hadIths, misinterpretations, imitation of disbelievers, non-Islamic cultural values, etc.’
Innovation in religion has been described by the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam as ‘an act of misguidance. In pages 13 to 14 of his book, Funerals – Regulations & Exhortations, published by Al-Kitaab & as-Sunnah Publishing, Arlington, Texas, Sheikh Muhammad al-Jibaly summarises the basic criteria of abhorred bidahs as follows:
a) Any statement or action or belief that conflicts with Sunnah – even if it resulted from ijtihad (independent judgement of scholars).
b) Any act that had been prohibited by Allah’s Messenger, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam even if it is done with the intention of pleasing Allah.
c) Any act that requires proof with a clear text or command, but has none. There is an exception to this in acts that were done continuously by a sahabi (companion of the Prophet) without objection from other sahabah.
d) Any practice of the disbelievers that has become associated with an Islamic act of worship.
e) Any act that some scholars – especially those of later generation – state, without any evidence, that it is recommended.
f) Any act of worship that is only described in a weak or fabricated hadith.
g) Excessiveness in worship.
h) Any act of worship that is unrestricted by Allah, but people restrict it to a specific place, time, description, or number.
The Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam had conveyed Allah’s message unto mankind without omission or addition. His companions were his first addressees and recipients of his teachings. Nobody can claim a better understanding of the import of the Prophets’ instructions than his companions. There is virtually no account from the text or the practice of the Messenger of Allah, blessings and peace of Allah be upon him, to support fida’u of 8th-day, 40th-day or even annual remembrances and prayers. ‘During the Prophet’s life time, his wife Khadijah, his son Ibrahim, his three daughters (Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum, and Zaynab), his uncle Hamzah, his cousin Ja’far, and many of his companions, may Allah be pleased with them, died or were killed. Yet, we have no reports of him performing’ any fida’u for them. The companions of the Prophet were never reported to have conducted any such prayer for him or for any person whatsoever. Even the word fida’u is a misnomer that slowly crept into the lexicon of Nigerian Muslims. But our newspapers are replete with paid advertisements of fida’u, and whatnot. What is more disheartening is the annual fida’u prayers organised by some families for the repose of the soul of a deceased member. This is part of the practice of the disbelievers conducted in the name of Islam under the auspices of some so-called Muslim scholars.
The period of mourning, in Islam, does not exceed 3 days. The Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam said, “It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to mourn over a dead person more than three days – except for her husband, where she mourns for four months and ten days. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 2 – Funerals, Janaa’iz, Hadith no. 371)
If the allowed period for mourning the dead is confined to only 3 days according to the Prophet’s instruction, on what basis are people wasting money on paid advertorials, and electronic media air-time heralding the 8th, 40th or annual fida’u prayers for the deceased? The resources expended in these types of gatherings could be put to better use in augmenting the maintenance of the widows and payment of school fees for the orphans left behind by the deceased.
‘Abdullah bin Ja’far, may Allah be pleased with them, reported that the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam allowed the family of Ja’far three days (of mourning), then came to them and said: “Do not weep over my brother after this day.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 28. Combing the Hair. Hadith no. 4, 180)
‘It is recommended for the relatives and neighbours to make for the deceased’s family enough food to suffice them during the peak of their distress. When Allah’s Messenger, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam learnt about the demise of Ja’far, he recommended: “Make food for Ja’far’s family, because a matter has occurred diverting them (from normal life).” (Abu Dawud, Book 14, Funerals, Hadith no 3, 126)
Ash-Shaafi’, may Allah be pleased with him said: ‘I recommend for the deceased’s neighbours or relatives to make food for the deceased’s family that would suffice them during the day and night of death. That is a Sunnah and a thoughtful good act, and is the practice of the generous people before and after us.’
Today, people are not informed about this Sunnah; doing the exact opposite is the vogue – the family of the deceased are required to provide food for people during the period of mourning, and beyond. In short, some ‘mourners’ will camp in the deceased family’s residence until the 40th-day fida’u prayer. Thus, bereavement has another calamity attached to it in our society today: unnecessary financial expenditure!
This cancellation of forty-day fida’u prayer by General IBB has dealt a heavy blow to the avarice of those ‘members of my constituency’ who had, literally, sharpened their teeth to feast on the intercontinental cuisine to be served at the Hilltop Residence. These ‘government Malams’ have not conveyed the true teachings of Islam, on funeral matters, to the people; their preoccupation is to fill their stomachs and pockets to the brim at the expense of the bereaved.
Let us all do as General IBB advised, recall the good deeds of late Maryam, and pray for the repose of her soul in Jannatul Firdaus whenever we remember her.