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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Momodou Lamin Touray (President, Supreme Islamic Council)

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He has just been re-elected to serve another five years as the president of the Supreme Islamic Council of The Gambia. In this edition of the Bantaba, fellow Gunjur native, Standard editor Sainey Darboe talks to Imam Touray about the faith of Muhammad, its adherents in the Gambia and related matters.

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Mr President, please tell us about the importance of Ramadan in Islam?

I seek refuge from satan the accursed enemy. In the name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. All praises are for Allah. We praise Him and seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil of ourselves and the wickedness of our own deeds. Whosoever Allah guides, s/he cannot be led astray and whoever Allah misguides none can guide him. I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah. He is alone without any partner and I bear witness that Muhammad (salallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is His slave and Messenger. Allah blesses him and sends peace upon him, his household, and his companions and all those who follow them in righteousness till the Day of Judgment. Ramadan is one among many obligations from Allah’s commandments to His creation (human beings and jinns) who believed in Him in order for them to do good acts and increase their worship of Him in it.  And their steps in this obedience and prayer would reach Allah and Allah is a Creator Who is mighty and is unimaginably supreme. And the reward He has prepared for His servants is equally big if the fasting is done for the sake of Him. That is why fasting should be done in an excellent and exemplary manner so as to match and reap its abundant reward. The followers of the prophet have a lot of blessings from Allah due to the prophet’s importance with Allah (subhanahu wata’ala). And it is due to this status that we are also blessed. Allah said: “You [true believers in Islamic monotheism, and real followers of the prophet and his sunnah] are the best of people ever raised up from this mankind; you enjoin al-ma’ruf (i.e Islamic monotheism and all that Islam has ordained) and forbid al-munkar (polytheism, disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden); and you believe in Allah.[Al-Imran 3:181].

Allah subhanahu wata’ala has given us such festivals or seasons of worship as Ramadan to the followers of His prophet in a recurring manner to be reminding human beings about the existence of Allah, the Most High. And so that this reminding would profit them and to also strengthen their belief in Allah. Among the seasons and festivals of Allah’s worship the most important month is Ramadan. The whole month consisting of 29 or 30 days is full of the rewards for good deeds which are multiplied many times. Nobody can exhaustively narrate them all. The prophet narrated in a hadith which has summarised a lot of benefits in Ramadan. It was reported by Salman al-Farsi. This hadith can be found in the book of Al-Baihaqi. In that hadith, Salman al-Farsi narrated that the prophet one day during a Friday sermon said: “O sons of Adam! a blessed month has come before you. A month in which there is a night that is better than 1,000 nights of worship. And this is ‘laylatul Qadr’ (the Night of Power). Ramadan is a month in which anyone who increases his or her goods especially in sunnah acts, Allah rewards them with deeds of compulsory acts. If you hear good deeds of compulsory worships, these are rewards which are beyond description of words if they are accepted by Allah. For example, when the Prophet said: ‘Two rak’ahs of prayers (sunnah rak’ahs) before the dawn prayer is better than the world and its content’. And this is not a compulsory prayer. So if this is the case; what of the reward of the wajib or compulsory ones? No one can determine that. The son of Adam in his or her calculus cannot go beyond the world and its content in any counting and if the two rak’ahs of fajr prayer is better than the world and its content, what of the dawn prayer itself and other compulsory prayers?  That is why you will see two people who performed the same deed but Allah would reward one and leave the other out. This is because the latter did not indicate his ‘intention’ while the former did. And this is why it is paramount for Muslims to make intention for their actions. This is also why ‘zakat’ which is a fundamental principle in Islam is only counted when you have intended it. If not you can give out D500 to a person as charity but yet still it would not constitute zak’at because you never intended the zak’at to be a part of the D500. The prophet said if anyone does something in this month in order to get closer to Allah, those deeds would be rewarded in accordance with the rewards for compulsory ones. If you perform the task of compulsory deeds in Ramadan Allah will reward you 70 times. For example, if you pray the zuhr prayer in this Ramadan and you do another outside Ramadan, the reward of the Zuhr prayer you did in Ramadan is more than the one without Ramadan 70 times. So it is only in Ramadan that one can get this favour because after Ramadan it is finished. And this means if you pray Isha after Ramadan you will only get the deed for isha. And if you do zuhr you will only get the reward for zuhr. Similarly subhi and so forth. The prophet added: “If anyone gives something to the one fasting to beak his fast, in Ramadan, Allah will reward the person three times. First He will forgive your sins, second he will save you from the hellfire and third, he will reward you equal to the one you have given the gift to without reducing a single thing or anything from his reward.” 

When he said this, the sahaba told him that they were very poor people and as a result they would not be able to feed the poor in Ramadan, the prophet clarified that: “Even if it is with a date, orange, mango, apple, banana, you will attain the same reward.” Furthermore, even if you give the person a cup of tea to break his fast, or even a cup of sour milk you will be rewarded. So here the shari’ah is encouraging us to keep doing this act for people in need.

 

But what accounts for the persistent discord among Muslims regarding the commencement and conclusion of Ramadan in this country?

The reasons for lack of unity in the sighting of the moon for the commencement or marking the end of Ramadan are numerous. And politics constitutes a bigger chunk of it. When I say politics I am not referring to the Gambian context. I mean world politics. The Islamic world used to be one government throughout the world. But this government was at one time fought by the unbelievers and it was defeated. Subsequently, the Muslim empire was divided with some of the Muslim countries being colonised by the English, French, Italians and Portuguese just to name a few. And this was done within a strategic framework which would hardly allow these countries to be united; and because their cultures are not the same too. The English brought in their culture, the French brought theirs, the Italians and the Portuguese ditto. After so many years of colonisation, efforts were made and these countries returned to self-rule. But to us we normally say we fought to gain our independence, yes, we had our independence but they gave it to us. And when they were doing that, they never gave us our independence through ignorance. They put in place strategies which even after being independent we will be submissive to them. And that is why they also left these countries in the hands of leaders who always listen to them. And in countries whose change of governments led to a ruler who had ideas contrary to their dictates, they would put in plans to make sure he is removed, whether through means to achieve his death, coup d’etat or other means but they must devise some methods against that president. But the ones who are ready to work with them will always remain in power. So after the era of colonisation with each country having its president, the different citizens of these countries also saw themselves different from others. For example, there is a close relationship between the peoples of The Gambia and Senegal. But when colonialism came, we saw ourselves as English people and the Senegalese as French. In fact, you will witness some dumb people in The Gambia saying ‘I don’t know who does this Senegalese think he is or of himself’ and the Senegalese would also say ‘I don’t know who these Gambians think they are’. Senegal’s sighting of the moon or The Gambia’s should not be used as a ploy for unnecessary claims and arguments. The person who sights the moon in Senegal might be your uncle, maybe he is your father’s brother, maybe he is your brother, may be he is your cousin. Because of this, each country stresses their own rules of procedures for their programmes and festivities at the expense of cooperation to an extent which has gravely affected even the religion of Islam. It is because of such reasons now you would have The Gambia’s moon sighting, Senegal’s, Mauritania’s, Mali’s, and Sierra Leone’s et cetera. Elsewhere, citizens of countries such as America and Canada which are bigger than our countries put together due to their large sizes see themselves as one country. The sighting of the moon in New York would not render another state with a time difference of 6 hours to say they would not keep fast. This cannot happen or be formed in their minds because they know that they live in the same country. But for us, since we gained independence we term ourselves as different, whether it is the atmosphere, culture and government as well as country. And the degree to which it is affecting us in so many things is the same way it is affecting us in terms of our religion. The second is due to a lack of understanding and this is the worst of all problems.  Whereby there is reasonable logic for the Muslims to know that there is only one moon on the face of this earth. Muslims should understand this and that is why for the sake of ease if it is sighted in any part of the world and that information did not reach you, Allah would forgive you. This is because you did not hear and you did not   sight the moon and you did not hear that somebody has sighted it. If you did not see the moon and also you did not hear anybody sighting it, there is no problem for you. But if the moon is sighted in any part of the world and its news has reached you and the news is reliable, if you refuse to fast, bear in mind that you have deliberately missed a day’s fasting in Ramadan. This is an understanding that all Muslims should have at the back of their minds because this is what is written in the books we have here. That is why any responsible person who does a study or research on the matter, this would become plain to you and you should dare not dispute this fact. The third problem centres around certain imams who do not have any clue on what responsibility is all about. This is because for you to make a decision on either your followers should keep fast or not needs a lot of consultation and enquiries. But the majority of them do not know this more so regard this to be their wajib. If you have been sent one   million dalasis via a bank and you went there to collect it but when the cashier got into the computer there were some missing information in your claim, for you to collect that money would be extremely difficult. And you badly needed that money, the strides and struggles you would spend in order to collect this money is in fact far less than the efforts an imam is supposed to take plus the information he should be armed with or possess before passing any order pertaining to whether or not people in his area should fast. Before someone would refuse to fast because it is the imam who said there is no fasting, before somebody would break his fast because the imam said so, the amount of information needed for such decision to be made is not a small matter and is not a joke and is no playing matter. For this Ramadan, I can say 90% of people in the country fasted according to the official decision of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council. But despite this, I can also say I have heard about an imam who is within distance from the village that sighted the moon but refused to reference the decision of GSIC due to lots of arguments associated with that which would be difficult for one to take, because of problems of authority, for one to accept or realise that this is the person that has authority, could cause them to do everything within their capability to say ‘ Imam Touray is the one directing us to fast, who is he’? But better still even if he does not say this, another person could view this to be a form of demotion for his authority in his community and considers that for someone to give him an order for him to pass on to his people becomes difficult to accept. They think their capacity and position is too important for someone to be ordering them to do this and that. The Gambia does not get such problems but there are countries that have large majlis and followers who do not readily accept or are not prepared to accept this. So this is how their issues are. In fact, there are times when one big  majlis would sight the moon and the other would blatantly refuse to follow them in fasting together simply because if they follow them in this that would mean they are ordered from the majlis where the  information is coming from.

 

Interview to be continued next week

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