Could A Grand Mufti Office Solve The Perennial Eid Divide
We are, by large, episodic reactors. There is hardly anything strategic about our approach to issues; politics, policies, economics or social matters are discussed in the heat of the moment and immediately dropped like a hot bar to move to other news headlines. These among others are the reasons why hardly any policy passes in Kenya and the few that pass encounter insurmountable hurdles. A small scale version of this in our country and indeed in some other parts of the world is the Idd celebrations and the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadhan that threatens to divide the Ummah in ways that does not auger well for the unity of its differential components. A day after the Interior Minister announced August the 21st as the day of Iddul Adha, the Chief Kadhi pronounced the Eid day as the 22nd saying he has written to the Interior Secretary long before his gazette notice to the faithful. The Majority leader Adan Duale and Tourism Minister Najib Balala immediately countered the Chief Khadi’s announcement as divisive. They say the move by the Khadi will divide the Muslim Ummah and asked the chief Kadhi to desist from dividing the faithful and keep to his constitutional role of mediating on matters Marriage, Inheritance and Divorce. The Tourism CS also called for the establishment of a Grand Mufti’s office to take charge of the Islamic Calendar and other Islamic issues outside Inheritance, Marriage and Divorce. Hon. Duale threatened to petition the Kadhi, a threat that almost degenerated into a political tuft war. Many worshipers used social media to express their frustrations. Indeed, a great majority of the congregations from across the country including Mombasa, Malindi and Tana river celebrated the Idd on Tuesday the 21st. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, who called for sobriety in resolving such matters and Mr Balala led other worshipers who celebrated Idd-Ul Adha on Tuesday in Mombasa County. On Wednesday very few Muslims celebrated the Idd. This appears to convey the message that majority of the Ummah were in consensus with the Tuesday date. In fact, unlike this year’s Iddul Fitr of the Holy month of Ramadan which, praise be to Allah, all Muslims celebrated on the same day, it is hard to miss the day of Arafah which is the day all the pilgrims are at Mount Arafah which is of great significance and is the day before the Iddul Adha. It is inconceivable for people in the Holy land of Makkah and Madina to be standing in Arafah and for worshipers across the world to miss the date and day of Iddul Adha.
Duale’s petition or what other politicians for or against the Kadhi said is immaterial but it boils down to frustrations felt by a large section of the congregation that is coming to the fore after decades of petty divisions led by the Chief Kadhi’s office and other stakeholders. While it is an issue that has been a bone of contention and a pain in the neck of the Ummah’s unity, it is nonetheless a small issue that we should not read too much into. Having said so, it is all the same a matter that should be addressed and it is obligatory upon the leaders to resolve this issue. Supreme Council of Kenya, The Council of Islamic Preachers, The Jamia Mosque committee, Other Ulumas, political leaders and all other stakeholders must come up with solutions to an issue that could degenerate into further divisions.
The genesis of this divide can be traced back to the days of Said Bargash who ruled the coastal strip of Kenya and parts of Tanzania. It is from this rule that office of the Chief Kadhi is derived from that is now anchored in the constitution of Kenya. Since independence Chief kadhi’s come from the Coast. Muslims from Baringo to Baragoi, Turkana to Tula Tula and across the country did not question the rationality of selecting the Chief kadhi who in some way is a symbol of unity for the Ummah only from the coast while qualified and indeed competent clergies live in all other parts of the country. The argument in the early days was that clergies from other parts of the country were not well versed in the Kiswahili language and this was the anomaly that gave to what some thought was a monopoly. This disregarded the all important factors of qualification in Islamic jurisprudence and other competencies. However, since unity is the utmost and ultimate importance for the Ummah, these were swept under the carpet. Decades later and with the emergence of many ulamas from across the country well versed in Islamic jurisprudence, with the language proficiency to boot, the Ummah is now beginning to raise questions. This appears to be rattling some sections of the Ulama and leading to petty divisions that could escalate to deep divisions if not nipped in the bud. There are stories in the mainstream media of some Muslims in the Coast who were turned away from the Idd grounds and threats of violence on the Idd day 21st April 2018. This should never be allowed to happen.
It is time the Ummah stood for what is right; unity of purpose. The selection of the Chief Kadhi must not be left to arms that have no understanding of the requisite qualifications and competencies of the holder of the office. It should be devoid of political influence and undue lobbying by interest groups.
In 2011 when the former Kadhi retired there was jostling and intense lobbying for the position by various interest groups and individuals which quite shocked me. I thought scholars will shy away from the responsibilities of the office and stay away. All except one came through lobbying and political influence. I doubt those influencing the selection of this important office had the knowledge of what is required of the holder of that office.
After the application period ONLY two were qualified enough to occupy that office and mediate in the matters of the Muslim faithful. The process was politicized and led to selection of seemingly unqualified individual for purpose of geopolitics.
The call for a Grand Mufti Officer in-charge of calendar as suggested by Majority Leader and Tourism CS among others may help resolve the perennial moon-sighting divide. Removed from the supposed jurisdiction of sighting the moon, the chief khadi could concentrate on his constitutional role of mediating in matters inheritance, marriage and divorce. The Mufti will be the sole decision-maker for moon-sighting whose instructions on important days such as the beginning of Ramadhan and the celebration of the two Idd will be final. This will not only instantly resolve the challenge of Muslims praying or fasting on different days but will bring about unity of purpose which in Islam is paramount.
I think, for once, the leaders who voiced this suggestion should stop the episodic reaction and follow this matter to its conclusion which is the creation of the Office of the Grand Mufti unless of course there are political undertones in their suggestion.
Mr Guled is a Socio-Political Commentator.