Ramadan fasting without congregational tarawih
Brethren, the month of Ramadan is usually a month of discovery. It is one in which the worshipper realizes the angelic in his nature.
Al-Mawardi, the legist, once posits that what humanizes us is not essentially our passion or emotion. Rather it is our ability to do that which the angels in their celestial majesties usually do; it is our capability to ascend to the highest levels in spiritual vocation. Again, we are humans partly because we have the potentials to descend into that abyss in which even the animals would shudder to contemplate. Thus, when Ramadan begins and we evacuate our earthly privations, when the month of fasting begins and you encounter, in refreshingly new ways, Islam in the Muslims, you remember the wisdom that informed the creation of the homo sapiens by the Almighty. Put differently, Ramadan brings the lesson home to you that among the creatures of the Almighty it is only humans who can by themselves decide to forsake food, sexual relations and sleeping for His sake; it is humans who can laugh and cry all at the same time.
But my reference above to the realization of Islam in the Muslims in the month of Ramadan has a tinge of irony into it. It means among others that I am saying that before Ramadan Islam is encountered in some Muslims in its absence. Before Ramadan, you could have come across Muslims who are complete anti-thesis of what Islam stands for. Before Ramadan, you could have had an interface with some Muslims who negate the noble messages of the last testament (the Quran).
Before Ramadan, you could have had issues with some Muslims whose Islam begins and ends in the names they bear. These are subjects and characters whose faith in The Faithful (the Almighty) is transient and feeble; these are character whose affiliation with the crescent usually occasion recriminations. But brethren, what type of Islam are we expected to practice?
I ask: what type of Muslims are we supposed to be? Are we supposed to be Ramadan Muslims whose connection with his Creator only finds relevance in the month of self-abnegation? Or are we supposed to be Muslims whose practice of the faith would, in line with Quran 2 verse 208, recognize no separation between the sacred and the profane? Brethren, is it possible to practice Islam in full or by half: a version of Islam in the month of Ramadan and the other which invalidates the letters of the religion in our interactional and social lives?
The above reflections appear to be relevant today when we are beginning this year’s Month of Ramadan. Yes. This year’s month of fasting in the Islamic world is unique. It is one in which, unless and until the Almighty causes a positive change all around the world, we shall be fasting without congregating for the nightly prayers otherwise known as Tarawih. Yes. The Fatwa Committee of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the sequel to a review of existing authentic sources on Islamic law and jurisprudence and pursuant to its affirmation of government’s directives on restrictions of movement as a strategy against the global COVID-19 pandemic, has advised that Muslim Ummah should avoid congregating in the mosques for Tarawih sessions during this month.
The Fatwa Committee posits further that if observance of Jumuah prayers-an obligatory religious duty- could be put on hold for the same reason of avoiding the spread of the disease, then the avoidance of tarawih and tafsir sessions in the congregation – meritorious (Mandub) acts in Islam- should, therefore, occasion no incredulity.
But this is Nigeria. This is about Islamo-Nigeriana. During the past weeks, we have seen how some Ulamah have refused to abide by the directives on the restriction of movement. We have seen how some Muslim youths in Katsina burnt down a police station after they were prevented from congregating in the mosque for Jumuah prayers. It is therefore arguable to say that the advisory from NSCIA would most likely be heeded by a large majority of Nigerian Muslims while some others would choose to do otherwise.
I, therefore, wish to appeal, if I may, that we should all heed the advisory from the NSCIA and comply fully with the government’s directives with reference to the on-going battle against coronavirus. Obedience to the Almighty in Islam gains credence and validity through obedience to constituted authorities insofar as the latter do not command infractions against the will of the Creator.
Let us strive to observe this year’s fasting the best way we can. Let us increase our acts of penitence. Let us seek forgiveness of our sins more frequently this month. COVID-19 is a metaphor. It is a signifier for the unknown for unknowable.
Afis Ayinde Oladosu is a Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural StudiesDean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.
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