Monday 5th December, 2011 was 10th of Muharram, 1433, and day in which the Muslim Consultative Forum (MCF) hosted Iftaar of the Ashuraa fast and discussion at the main hall of the Abuja National Mosque Conference Hall.
The Executive Secretary of the National Mosque, Alhaji Abubakar Ibrahim Jega, stood in for the chairman of the discussion session, General A B Mamman (rtd). In his remarks as chairman, the E.S welcomed everybody to the Iftaar and congratulated the organisers for having the reward of all participants. Quoting copiously, in flawless Arabic and translating into English, from the hadeeth and the Glorious Qur’an, that ‘whoever feeds a fasting Muslim, will have his reward and the reward of that person without diminishing anything of the recompense of the Muslim he feeds (hadeeth).’
He drew our attention to the importance of the subject of that evening’s discourse, “The Prospects of Islamic Banking in Nigeria & Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah”, the benefit of which cuts across ethnicity and creed. Whatever we do, the chairman contends, Allah is aware of it and shall reward us accordingly; ‘…and whatever good you send forth for your souls you shall find it in Allah’s Presence, – yes, better and greater, in Reward… (Al-Muzzammil 73: 20)’. The chairman concluded his short remarks by urging participants to do their part in disseminating the message of economic empowerment, in as much as Allah has adjured us to “Help one another in righteousness and piety…not to help one another in sin and rancour… (Al-Maa’idah 5: 3)”.
Therefore we should see our involvement in helping raise the lot of others economically as sadaqah jaariyah the reward of which continues to accrue to one’s scale of deeds even after their death (hadeeth).
One will not be faulted in viewing the chairman’s remarks, (which he delivered offhandedly and without looking at any notes), as a succinct keynote address of some sort as it encompassed the prime points of the two papers presented afterwards – the one on The Prospects of Islamic Banking In Nigeria, and the other on Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah.
The gist of the first paper by Dr Bashir Aliyu, Special Adviser to the CBN Governor on Islamic Banking, could be something like: May Allah reward the sponsors of this Ashuraa Iftaar for their resoluteness in reviving this sunnah. Reward in ibaadah comes in the same proportion to what you expect from Allah for it, and the extent of your resoluteness in it.
Today’s Iftaar reminds of what we did, in the early 1980s, as a small band of Muslim youth, of observing I’tikaaf during Ramadan at a time when it was virtually unpractised. At the end of the I’tikaaf we paid a visit to one of the Muslim scholars in Kano who received us well and said: ‘Expect an immense recompense from Allah for starting this practice; you will receive the reward of those who will emulate what you’ve started………….’
We are indeed a favoured Ummah; we begin each year with Ashuraa, and we end the year with Arafah – two events at the end of which our sins are blotted out.
Ribaa (interest) is proscribed by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Muslims have been more steadfast in their abhorrence against ribaa than the other two. Secular, irreligious and so-called advanced countries have allowed, nay encouraged the enactment of Islamic banks, a financial system devoid of interest. Therefore, the Muslim Ummah in Nigeria has every right to demand for it.
There is legal basis for the establishment of Islamic banks in Nigeria in as much as the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act of 1991 as amended has stated that no bank should be registered with Christian, Muslim or regional appellation without the written consent of the CBN governor. The condition to be met here is the written assent of the CBN governor. And yes, we have banks in this country named after regions and communities in the past. As against what many people divined, the issue of Islamic banking in Nigeria was not something that the current CBN Governor smuggled into the system; the daft for the promulgation of Islamic banking was released in March 2009, months before his appointment as head of the apex bank.
Islamic banking has come to stay. Even by CIA’s records Muslims form 50% of Nigeria’s 160 million populations; we are speaking of more than 80 million people, most of whom have been repelled by ribaa from dealing with conventional banks.
Non-Muslims also benefit from Islamic banking. Gulf Africa Bank of Kenya, for instance, has 20% non-Muslim clients; while OCBC Al Amin Bank of Malaysia has 50% non-Muslim depositors! Actually, what people need is an honest and reliable system where they can deposit money, and access funds for business without the strings of interest. It is heartening to note that Christian bodies are inviting experts of Islamic banking to educate their flock on the modus operandi of the system.
The Ummah should not allow this effort to fail; we must change our attitude. Look at the kind of money Muslims spend each year to perform Umrah and Hajj. The least of what you will pay for an Umrah package is N250, 000. How much do you think we can save were the Muslims to decide not to go to Umrah for only one year and put the funds in an Islamic bank for example?
Now we have choice for halal over haraam; it is either now, or we may wait for a very long time before we get another chance, if at all.
Let me conclude with this: I have been inundated by calls and text-messages over a fatwa on the internet concerning the sighting of Muharram crescent; that today, Monday 5th December, 2011 is the 9th and not the 10th of Muharram 1433. I saw the said fatwa. Many people, on account of this, did not fast yesterday. They fast today and will also fast tomorrow.
The principle is that every region is bound by its own sighting. The scholars in Saudi Arabia are not compelling visitors to the site to work according to the Saudi sighting of the crescent. Our problem is that we generalise what should be confined, and confine what should be generalised. As far as our sighting in Nigeria is concerned, today is 10th Muharram 1433.
On the Ashuraa fast Ibn Al Qayyim is of the opinion, based on the hadeeth that says: ‘fast a day before, and a day after…’, that one can fast on the 9th, 10th and 11th of Muharram. Therefore, the thread in the variations of how we observed the fast is very thin indeed. What is interesting is that all of us have fasted today; those who observed yesterday in the fast and those who will fast tomorrow are all within the mark given Ibn Al Qayyim’s position above.
The second topic, Developing An Economic Empowerment Scheme For The Ummah, was handled by Dr Abubakar Al-Hassan of Bayero University (BUK), Kano. His presentation elicited discussion on what the Ummah does, rather than just say, to economically empower itself and be able to intervene in programmes like Education, Health, Capacity Building, Rehabilitation and other related programmes of the community. Of course well done is by far better than well said! He spoke about how the Ummah could raise a lot of money by donating a trifle out of their earnings. This is not a mere idea; the lecturer has a practical experience in the BUK mosque which is maintained by extracting pittance out of the wages of the Muslim workforce in the university. For years since the commencement of this experiment, worshippers in the mosque are not importuned for sadaqah after every salaah for the upkeep of the masjid.
Given the number of people standing trial for stealing, (I beg your pardon), embezzling from 70 to 200 billion of our commonwealth, why should we be considered poor? We are not.
The Muslim Consultative Forum’s Ashuraa Iftaar concluded, therefore, that if 1 million Muslims would contribute N1, 000 (one thousand naira) monthly, the Ummah can boast of N12 billion in a year. With this kind of money there is no goal or project that will be beyond the reach of the Muslim community; and yes, we can! Millions of Muslims can afford to give N1, 000 every month – nickels and dimes if you consider what we spend daily on phone recharge cards.
Let me digress. Since I came to Abuja, I’ve not been a member of any Muslim organisation. As a scholar I’ve always been at the disposal of all Muslim associations in Nigeria vis-à-vis paper presentation and participation in programmes. I envy, in a good and Islamic way, the commitment to da’wah and the honesty of members of Islamic bodies. Muslim Consultative Forum (MCF) is the only body that I am a proud member of but it is not an organisation in the sense in which I alluded to above; rather it is a forum for all members of Islamic organisations to come together and share ideas and experiences on what has worked for them in their activities, and proffer solutions to changes confronting the Ummah. We can belong to any Muslim body we desire, but MCF is where we converge, bring our organisational strength and pool resources for the benefit of Islam and its own!
In this regard, MCF has started sending e-mails to brothers and sisters requesting them to express interest in contributing to this empowerment scheme. An Expression of Interest Form is attached to the mail where the addressees are to fill in their contact details and how they intend to disburse the voluntary contribution of N1, 000 only. The fund will be made into a WAQF (endowment) by and for the Ummah.
I am part and parcel of this initiative; I am also a contributor to the fund because I firmly believe that it will work. If you have not received our mail and you want to be part of this history kindly send me an e-mail (email@example.com), or to Umoru Jafaru (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the National Mosque, Abuja; we will in reply send you the Expression of Interest Form and other details.
There is practically no limit to what the human mind can achieve once it is set to it. I have heard of whole mosques built from a percentage of the monthly salaries of the Muslim staff in a university. I know of a project in Lugbe by the Movement for Islamic Culture and Awareness (MICA), Abuja. This project has seen them pooling funds with which they acquired land and have built the first phase of an ambitious and state of the art Islamic centre which shall be available to all Muslims. A large percentage of the more than 10 million naira raised and expended so far came from voluntary donations from the members and well-wishers.
A smart fellow once remarked that Muslims in Nigeria are individually rich but collectively poor. How true those words ring! Some of the richest men in Africa and the whole world are Muslims from Nigeria. So, what exactly is wrong with us? How does a fish thirst in the midst of water? For me, I think it is a matter of orientation. The average Muslim thinks of giving that crisp 50 naira to the mosque management fund and 10 naira to the hapless beggar some of whom have made begging a form of art. We hardly think of sustainability and long term development and growth. It is time we did; if we don’t we have only ourselves to blame.
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