Open letter to the president

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By Baba Abubakar Drammeh
President, Majmouatou Rawdatul Majaalis

Dear Mr President,

Muslim annual celebrations and occasions such as Ramadan, Eid Fitr, Eid Adha, Ashura, which are determined based on the sighting of the crescent of the Muslim Hijiri Calendar, are the subject-matter of this message I am delivering to you, Your Excellency Adama Barrow.

I am making the matter the purpose of my thought because of the unhealthy religious and social divide it has engendered since it became the government-sanctioned norm to mark Muslim events in The Gambia based on the sighting of the crescent by another country, namely, Saudi Arabia.


Muslims have, since time immemorial, had divergent viewpoints when it comes to the day the moon is sighted. However, Muslim leaders finally agreed that each country should perform its Muslim religious occasions and celebrations of the Hijiri Calendar at the same time in the same country based on its own sighting of the moon. Such a decision is predicated on the Sharia simply because the Muslim events and occasions in question are rituals like any other Muslim ritual that is performed for divine reward.

Mr President,

In a genuine bid to drive through this point, allow me to narrate to you a short anecdote that elucidates how the matter is anchored on a prophetic injunction and a faithful translation thereof by none other than a close companion and next of kin of the Holy Prophet (pbuh).

During Abdullah Ibn Abbas’ lifetime, a gentleman called, Kuraib, went on a mission to the Governor of Syria in Damascus at the time, Mu’awiyah. Kuraib was in Damascus when the crescent was sighted on the eve of Friday and he together with the inhabitants of Damascus fasted the following day including Mu’awiya.

On his return to Madina towards the end of Ramadan, Kuraib narrated, in a conversation with Abdullah Ibn Abbas, that he, Kuraib, was among those, including the Governor, Mua’wiya, who sighted the crescent. Abdullah Ibn Abbas said that they, however, the inhabitants of Madina, saw the crescent on the eve of Saturday and started fasting the following day. He added: “We would continue fasting until the 30th day of Ramadan unless we sight the crescent”. Kuraib asked: “Shouldn’t we be satisfied with the sighting and fasting of the Governor, Mua’wiya”? Abdullah Ibn Abbas answered: “No, that was what the Prophet (pbuh) instructed us to do”. This story is collated from Imam Muslim’s book of authentic hadiths.

Mr President,

Abdullah Ibn Abbas was in Madina while Mu’awiya was in Damascus. The distance between the two cities is much closer than the distance between Saudi Arabia and The Gambia. The two cities are in the same time zone while Banjul and Madina are in different time zones that are separated by three good hours. Furthermore, Ibn Abbas was a companion of the Prophet (pbuh) and was among the members of the Prophet’s household who were born and bred therein. If such a person abstains from going by the sighting of the Syrians, what should we other Muslims do if not to emulate him, who is an embodiment of the Prophet’s deeds, utterances and acquiescence?

This is why bonafide scholars of the entire Muslim world decreed that each country should go by its own sighting. This is, I believe, what Abdullah Ibn Abbas also opined over 1400 years ago. Why should someone else without scholarly authority come up with something different and requires us to follow suit?

Mr President,

When Kuraib was asked by Abdullah Ibn Abbas if he, Kuraib, was among the persons who sighted the moon? He said: “Yes and Mu’awiya was also among them”. Abdullah Ibn Abbas said: “As for me, I will continue to fast until I see the crescent because this was the Prophet’s injunction”. So, the verdict is quite clear.

Mr President,

This was the understanding of Abdullah Ibn Abbas, a companion and a close mentee of the Prophet (pbuh). I therefore believe that every Muslim should go by such a viewpoint.

When the Prophet (pbuh) said: “Fast according to your sighting of the crescent”, he was in Madina and was instructing the people of Madina to do so. As the Prophet, he was referring to the crescent as sighted by the inhabitants of Madina.

The Prophet (pbuh) also said that if the sky is covered with clouds, whereby the crescent cannot be sighted, fasting must be completed to 30 days. This simply means that the entire planet cannot be covered with clouds, whereby no country could see the crescent on a day of sighting. A lunar month does not exceed 30 days.

The Prophet had therefore clarified everything for us and made things easy for us. Therefore, to claim that the entire world should go by the sighting of one country only is contrary to the Prophet’s injunction and the example set by Abdullah Ibn Abbas.

All Muslims accepted this edict for more than 1400 years at a time there was no telephone, no television, no radio and no other modern means of communication. If definitely there were a means to ensure that fasting should be based on Madina’s sighting, we would have done so. But unfortunately, this was not and has never been the case.

In fact, the Prophet’s companions settled in various lands after the Prophet’s demise and they used to go by the sighting of the crescent in the lands in which they had lived and sojourned.

All the countries where most of the population are Muslims, none of them go by the sighting of Saudi Arabia. I challenge anybody who claims that there is a country on this planet that goes by the sighting of Saudi Arabia without making any effort to sight the crescent. There is none that counts on Saudi Arabia’s sighting.

If this is the case, Mr President, we should therefore rely on our own sighting of the moon. In fact, the fact of ignoring the head of state of one’s country, the scholars of one’s country, etc. is a blatant example of disloyalty and absence of patriotism. In so doing, one is pledging loyalty to the scholars of another country.

The matter can even be considered perilous. Religion has its limits. Saudi Arabia does not go by the sighting of any other country. And they do not instruct any other country to follow theirs. Why should we follow the scholars of another country? We should count on the knowledge of our own scholars. We are all equal in this religion.

It is true that Mecca and Madina are situated in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, Saudis do not know the religion more than other Muslims.

Mr. President,

It is unpatriotic to overlook one’s authorities, president, scholars and pledge allegiance to those of another country.

Mr President,

It is also claimed that there is only one Arafat. Yes, geographically, Arafat is located in Saudi Arabia. However, the day of Arafat is determined based on the day the crescent is sighted. So the day of Arafat for the Muslim living outside Saudi Arabia and has not gone there to perform the Hajj is determined based on the day the crescent is sighted in their country. In fact, the day of Arafat has never been used as a yardstick to determine the day Eid Adha is celebrated.

If one is in the Far East, for instance, in Japan, and decides to fast Arafat day on the 9th day, that will be the 10th day in Saudi Arabia because the sun rises in Japan nearly 12 hours before it does so in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. President,

In light of the foregoing, you are kindly entreated to consider this matter seriously and help find a lasting solution thereto like our brethren have done in next door Senegal. The way our scholars and forefathers observe the religion is the right way. Other countries do not go by the sighting and religious edicts of Saudi Arabia.

The Sunna requires that one fasts and breaks it based on the sighting of the crescent; anything contrary thereto is Bid’a.

Mr President,

I pray for you and for the peace, progress and prosperity of our country. I would be grateful if you consider seriously this plea of mine, which I am making on behalf of the vast majority of Gambians. Our scholars are reliable and are adamant on what they do in connection with the religion.

I am one of the sons of your country. I pray for you and for all your aides, all politicians, civil servants and all Gambians.