By Bisi Lawrence
Next week, Muslims all over the world, celebrate one of their major annual festivals, the Eid-el-Kabir which commemorates the great faith of Ibrahim who willingly submitted himself to the commandment of God to offer his son as a sacrifice to God. Christians also subscribe to this account of the great faith of Ibrahim, who is Abraham to them. It is one of several points of convergence between Christianity and Islam, the two main religions in our country.
There are other areas which, at first glance, would indicate that there should be little acrimony in the relationship between Christians and Muslims, but it has been otherwise from their origins, far across the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, from where they came. In fact, the proponents ‘had been at war, and still are at war, for decades, ostensibly for the glory of their faiths, but mostly for the conquest of territories and other worldly possessions in the name of the objects of their faith.
The objectives of their worship is, actually, not very far removed from each other. However, the definitions of their destinies are projected through the distortions of prisms that emphasize details of rituals above the core realities of worship. Hence, different perspectives are promoted into conflicts which are really aimed at establishing a superior brand of faith through their outcome.
Our colonial masters, the British, are Christians and entered Nigeria through the sea by the South. But they found an established Islamic presence in the North, which history informed them could not be easily dislodged, though they made the attempt. By the time they returned the independence of the people, the country had, to most intents and purposes, been cleaved into the Northern Muslims and the Southern Christians. However, the balance of power was tilted to the South where the advantages of education had elevated the indigenes to positions of administrative power, against which the Northerners contended in both a subtle and brazen manner, until they felt at par—and
even somewhat superior—thanks to the factors of historical development into which we need not delve here. We may not ignore the Civil War, however, which deposited more than just a quantum of administrative powers essentially into Northern hands. The relocation of the national capital from Lagos to Abuja also shifted the focus of influence to the North.
So, there we now had the two parts, irrevocably defined by not only their geographical locations, but also by the elements of their mores—their cultures, their ethnicity, their religious beliefs and their aspirations that have also always been markedly diverse. Islam sees adherents of other faiths as infidels who should be converted. Although it would appear that the religion does not actually preach against co-existence in those terms, the history of its expansion expresses that policy. When you look at the map of West Africa, for instance, it stands out that from Dakar, in Senegal, to Douala in Cameroon, Islam spreads across the Sahara to no less than two hundred to three hundred
kilometres from the sea— that is, the Atlantic. The story is different in South Africa, of course, because the Europeans really wanted to live there since they found the climate was so suitable, but then, the Sword of Islam was still dipped into the waters of the Indian Ocean, precisely in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where a sultanate was created.
A Sultan is an Islamic ruler, a sole authority, and we have one in Nigeria of all the countries in this part of the world. That is how important Nigeria is to the Islamic world. But that is also how important the Sultan is to the Muslims in his area of authority. He is a sovereign in both the legal and religious matters. The colonialists realised this from the experience of the interaction of the British with the Arabs in the Middle East decades before they came to Africa, and they therefore accorded the Sultanate position with some regard that was special in the dealings of the officials with the Sultanate.
For instance, the right of His Eminence to announce the date of the principal festivals, that is, the Eide-I-Fitr and the Edid-el-Kabir , has always been exclusively the Sultan’s. This was rationalised by the statement that the beginning of these festivals had to be determined by the appearance of the new moon. This meant that a host of watchers had to be deployed to watch the sky, a task that could be very demanding, especially on cloudy nights.
Only someone in the position of the Sultan could summon the magnitude of the manpower that may be necessary throughout the area of a State, and so everyone was left hanging on his lips. And as soon as the moon was sighted, he made the announcement. And then the government would declare the date of the holiday.
The disagreement that has arisen about the declaration of the holiday for tomorrow has been building up for a while. The Christian groups expressed resentment at the apparent release of the authority to declare public holidays to the Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Highness Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar Ill.
Earlier in the year, the Federal Government had declared a public holiday which did not conform to a later announcement by the Sultan, and to which the Federal Government deferred without withdrawing the earlier declaration. The result was that the holiday was awarded an extra day. Or, you might say, the Muslims were awarded an extra day for their festival holiday.
Well,” everybody likes Saturday’: as the saying goes and Nigerians have never been known to feel bitter about a work-free day, but when it is linked with a religious observance it may lead to questions. When Alhaji Sa’ad seemed to declare another holiday which the Federal Government echoed, Christians over a large area of the country felt they should warn that it was not the right of the Sultan to order the schedule of holidays for the country, especially when the occasions are linked with a religion that is not theirs.
However, it ought to be added, in all fairness, that the Sultan only announced the date of the festival, as it has always been the case for decades, and not the date of the holiday. The authorities, in their usual careless manner of handling delicate matters that concern the inter-relationship of the citizenry, must have found it of little consequence to declare holidays as it pleases them.
It may not have been noticed by many, but the self-assertion of Muslims as full and equal partners of this country in contention with their Christian counterparts, had the issue of public holidays in tow with other concerns. The public holidays which the country inherited from the colonial administration included two public holidays for Christmastide, and three for the Eastertide.
The Muslims openly resented this situation over the years until they eventually acquired one work-free day for each of their two main festivals. And just in case you feel it is all over, there is a learned gentleman in Kwarra State right now who believes that Friday, the day of Muslim worship, should also be made a work-free, just like Sunday. Well, and why not?
On a serious note, we submit that this is one of the aspects of unity that are wide-open for due negotiations. Happy holiday.