The Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN), the umbrella body embracing all Muslim organizations and institutions domicile in South West Nigeria, is deeply concerned that The Punch newspaper subjected the Executive Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, to severe criticism over the Governor's declaration of the Muslim New Year day, Thursday, 1 Muharram 1434/15 November 2012 as public holiday in the state. By making the issue the subject of the Editorial in its issue of 20 November, the newspaper betrayed its deep-rooted traditional bias against anything Muslim. The profundity of the bias seemed to have made the paper forget about the need to research the issue and think it through objectively before writing. That perhaps was also why the Editorial dabbled into extraneous issues that the paper was ill-informed about, such as the Shari'ah adjudication in parts of the country and the role of Islam in the politics of Pakistan. So, contrary to the newspaper's claim, it is not the government of Aregbesola that "has opened itself to criticism"; it is The Punch that has exposed its hatred for Islam.
A little bit of research should have revealed to the newspaper that, long before the British colonialists brought the Gregorian Calendar, the people of the State of Osun had been familiar with the Hijrah system, as Islam had gained firm foot-hold in Yorubaland. The town of Iwo, to this day, is known among the Yoruba as Ile Afaa, 'the abode of Muslim scholars and clerics'. Similarly, like Epe in Lagos State and some other cities in the South West, Ede was recognized as the home of Islamic learning and the Shari'ah. The Punch ought to have known this!
The newspaper should also have learnt that, for Muslims, the Hijrah or emigration of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the early Muslims from Makkah to Madinah, was a turning point marking relief from oppression and religious persecution to freedom of religion and peaceful coexistence among people of different religious persuasions. It provided such freedom not just for the Muslims but also for the Jews and Christians who lived in or visited the new Islamic city-state of Madinah and its environs.
Are the editors of Punch aware of the fact that the Gregorian Calendar was created by Pope Gregory XIII in the 16th Century with a view to celebrating the Easter at the time the Catholic Church "thought the First Council of Nicaea had agreed upon in 325"? Are they also aware of the fact that many Protestant countries of Europe "initially objected to adopting a Catholic invention for fear that the new calendar was part of a plot to return them to the Catholic fold"?. So, Britain and the British Empire did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1752. Moreover, from the 12th century until 1751 the legal year in England began on 25 March, not 1 January.
That was the kind of calendar that the British colonialists imposed upon all Nigerians including Muslims who hitherto had organized their activities on the basis of the Hijrah calendar. It is pertinent to note that the first six months of the Gregorian calendar are named after false gods and goddesses, an idea that is diametrically opposed to the Islamic doctrine of Tawheed, belief in the absolute Oneness of Allah. It is also pertinent to note that despite these contradictions, the Muslims of Nigeria have, in their characteristic tolerance, restrained themselves from raising objection to the imposition of the Gregorian calendar. On the contrary, they have joined other compatriots in adopting January 1 as the beginning of the country's administrative year.
It was our first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa that first declared the two public holidays to mark the Muslim 'Id festivals respectively. Hitherto, Muslim employees were expected to go to work, and Muslim children to go to school, even on 'Id days. Sometimes, public examinations were deliberately fixed on days of 'Id.
When, in 1972, the Seventh Day Adventists, a Christian denomination, demanded that Saturday be declared a work free-day in the country, the government under Gen. Yakubu Gowon acceded to their demand. The Muslims did not raise any objection to the demand or the government's granting of it. Ever since then, Nigerian Christians have enjoyed 104 days of holiday (Saturday and Sunday) every year while Muslims do not have any corresponding advantage. Certainly, Muslims would wish that Friday be a work-free day so they can take our children to the mosques to worship with us as the Christians do on Saturdays and Sundays. However, in our characteristic tolerance, we have not made such a demand with any degree of insistence.
Any reasonable person would expect that, given the above facts, non-Muslim compatriots would understand and welcome the courageous decision of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to declare the first day of Hijrah year as a public holiday in his state. The Governor himself made it clear that the Muslim faithful use the hijrah calendar for their programmes and therefore, it should be "accorded its due respect like the first day of January". As Femi Abbas stated, and rightly so, in his column on Friday 23 November 2012, an "unjust status quo cannot be maintain indefinitely". Ogbeni Aregbesola has taken the right step in the right direction and he has the support of all lovers of justice in Nigeria, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. If he did not "campaign for office in order to promote religion", as
The Punch suggested, he did campaign to promote justice and fair play. And that exactly is what he has done! Meanwhile, the law is totally on his side, as the Public Holidays Act gives a State Gorvernor the power to "appoint a special day to be kept as a public holiday in the state".
At this juncture we wish to commend the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun State Branch under the leadership of Evangelist Abiodun Aladeseye who demonstrated maturity and fair-mindedness when he declared that the Christians in the state had nothing against the declaration of the holiday. He even reportedly sent congratulatory messages to the governor and the Chief Imam of Osogbo, Sheikh Ajisafe on the occasion. Where does that leave The Punch newspaper which cried when they bereaved did not?
Like some careless commentators, the editors of The Punch were under the notion that Nigeria is a secular country. That notion contradicts the collective agreement of the people of Nigeria that we shall live together and operate "under God" as contained in the opening statement of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Constitution deals MAINLY with public, rather than prIvate life. What it says is that the government shall not adopt any religion as state religion. Secularity means non-recognition of religious values in governance and the most important value taught by the religions practised in Nigeria is belief in the existence and supremacy of God. So, no provision of the Constitution supports the notion of secularity. Nigeria is a multi-religious, not secular, country. ...................The Punch complained that the hijrah holiday was one too many. If that is so, would the paper support a reversion to the pre-Gowon declaration when the country operated a six-day week system? After all, that would save 52 working days for our economy.
The Punch complained that the hijrah holiday was one too many. If that is so, would the paper support a reversion to the pre-Gowon declaration when the country operated a six-day week system? After all, that would save 52 working days for our economy.
It should be noted that, while most non-Muslims in this country are in the habit of opposing demand by Muslims for their legitimate rights which do not necessarily affect them adversely, such as access to the Shari'ah adjudication and interest-free banking, Muslims are not known to oppose any legitimate demands of Christians. A classic example is the demand for government support for Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem, even though such pilgrimage is not known to be a Christian doctrine.
What we need in this country is not mere preaching of religious tolerance; it is actually putting it into practice. Obviously, the media has a responsibility to promote this attribute just as religious leaders do. We hope that The Punch as well as other media institutions in the country will heed this advice. As we have demonstrated above, the declaration of the first day of hijrah year as public holiday by Governor Aregbesola is a right step in the right direction towards meeting a legitimate aspiration of Muslims in his state. We are fully in support of his action. Not only do Muslims expect that it will remain a permanent feature in the calendar of the government of the State of Osun, the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN) wishes to implore other governments in the South West and elsewhere, as appropriate, to follow suit in the interest of justice and fair play.
HON Justice Bola Babalakin JSC (RTD), CON, LLD
The Current Acting President
Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN)
Professor Dawud O. S. Noibi OBE, FISN, FIAC
Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN)