The Federation of Muslim Councils (FMC) would perhaps remember the late Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings as one Ghanaian leader under whose administration Islam had space to flourish and Ghanaian Muslims were accorded respect like their counterparts in the other faiths. For his respect for religions, Rawlings ran a government and cabinet which embraced citizens from all religious perspectives, including Muslims. Rawlings’ era brought religious bigotry to the barest level and for which reason Ghanaians saw each other as equal partners in the secular cake called Ghana! No particular religious group was thrust upon the others and overly pampered by the State.
Flight Lieutenant Rawlings epitomized justice and non-discrimination and this manifested in many forms. One manifestation of JJ’s non-discrimination principles was his firm stance against the discrimination of Muslims in Ghana in respect of holidays during the two prominent and widely known Muslim festivals, Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Ad-ha. While their Christian counterparts enjoyed holidays during Easter and Christmas, Muslims were denied theirs.
What, therefore, would be Rawlings’ greatest contribution to the development of Islam and Muslims in Ghana was the grant of the two Muslim festivals as statutory public holidays which we enjoy today. That is a great feat. The genesis of that feat, however, needs elucidation for avoidance of doubt as sometimes the “bigger picture” may sacrifice details. The assent of JJ’s signature to the law granting the two holidays was a culmination of a crusade initiated in May 1994 by the FMC through its National Coordinator, Alhaji Abdullah Showumi Williams when he met with JJ the first time. Alhaji Showumi first met Jerry John Rawlings at a dinner hosted by Her Ladyship Justice Emelia Korkoi Aryee of blessed memory. The occasion was to honour and commemorate Justice D. F. Annan’s appointment as Ghana Olympic Committee’s chairman. The function was initiated by Dr Jennifer Aryee, Justice Aryee’s daughter who was a class mate to both Rawlings and Nana Konadu at Achimota Secondary School. At the function, Justice Annan introduced Alhaji Showumi to Rawlings as his maternal nephew and National Coordinator of the umbrella Muslim organization in the country. That was an opportunity for Alhaji Showumi.
Showumi had learnt that a Bill for Public Holidays was being drafted for consideration by the 4th Republican Parliament, and burning with passion to see justice done to Muslims in Ghana, he quickly seized the occasion and requested for audience with JJ at a later date to discuss the omitted holidays for Muslims in the 1992 Constitution. Rawlings agreed.
On the appointed date, Alhaji Showumi would lead a delegation of other prominent members of the FMC, notably Alhaji Abdulrahman Atse Collison-Cofie, Alhaji Alhaji Ibrahim Darpoh, and Abdul Malik Mumuni (all of blessed memory) to meet His Excellency JJ Rawlings at the Castle, Osu. After listening to the pleas of the delegation, Rawlings concluded: “your plea is just, your cause is genuine and fair”. Rawlings then directed the delegation to see the Right Honourable Speaker, Justice Daniel Francis Annan who in turn handed the delegation to his Deputy, Hon. Ken Dzirasah. Dzirasah then advised that the FMC should formally petition Parliament.
Accordingly, on the 10th April, 1994, the National Executive Council of the FMC submitted a memorandum to the Speaker of Parliament. In the memo , the FMC appealed “to the Honourable Speaker and Members of the August (sic) Parliament of the 4th Republic of Ghana for consideration to declare the two yearly Muslims (sic) festivals, namely Eidul-Fitr (Ramadan Festival) and Eidul-Ad-ha (Hajj Festival), as statutory public holidays by an Act of parliament.”
In the wisdom of the FMC, this had become urgently necessary to correct the “situation and practices where Heads of Departments had the discretion whether or not to release Muslim employees to attend the Eid festivities, which are preceded by congregational prayers for peace, stability and progress for Ghana and the world at large. This discretionary power of departmental heads, in the eyes of the FMC, was discriminatory against Muslims in Ghana, in view of the numerous public holidays for Christian festivals in Ghana”.
The two principal Muslim festivities, Eidul-Fitr and Eidul-Ad-ha, form part of the five (5) fundamental pillars of Islam and, therefore, occupy a central place in the psyche of the Muslim in terms of their religious and spiritual importance.
The FMC argued “that since Ghana is a secular State and Muslims account for a reasonably high percentage of Ghana’s population, State recognition and declaration of public holidays for the (two) annual festivals……would not be out of place”, especially because “Muslims in Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Mali (which are also secular countries like Ghana) enjoy two days public holidays for each festivity” the memo concluded.
On the 11th of May, 1994, a day after writing to the Right Honorable Speaker, the FMC wrote and appealed also to the individual honourable members of Parliament for support to add their voices to the FMC’s cause whenever the matter came up for debate in the House.
Indeed the FMC, under the leadership of its National Coordinator, Hajj Abdullah Showumi Williams, stuck to the negotiations throughout the process. To bring greater uniformity to the Muslim front , the negotiations were later joined by other prominent Muslim stakeholder organizations and individuals, notably the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission led by the late Ameer & Missionary-in-Charge, Dr. Maulvi A. Wahab Adam. The rest is history.
Indeed, if Islam and Muslims in Ghana ever had a period to flourish and be accorded respect, it was in the era of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings as Head of State and President of the Republic.
His Excellency Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings will hardly be forgotten so long as Ghanaian Muslims continue to enjoy these holidays. This will mean constant supplications for JJ for a peaceful rest. Indeed, with the passing of Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, the FMC and Ghanaian Muslims have lost a great ally. On behalf of Muslims of Ghana, we extend our deepest condolences to the wife and children of the deceased, the Rawlings and Agbotui families and the government and people of Ghana.
Source: Federation of Muslm Councils Ghana