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HAJJ: Need to Review Operational Procedure

By Yusuf Abdullahi
In the name of Allah who states “ ….. and pilgrimage to the House is incumbent upon men for the sake of Allah, (upon) everyone who is able to undertake the journey to it; and whoever disbelieves, then surely Allah is self-sufficient, above any needs of the worlds" Q3:97 May the everlasting peace and blessings of Allah be upon our master Muhammad and his purified progeny.

This piece is on the ritual journey to Mecca in response to the call of Prophet Ibrahim, the father of monotheism. The article is not updated but I hope to revisit the topic if time permit. Hajj as a pillar in Islam is a compulsory duty once in life for the physically and financially able Muslim. Prophet Ibrahim and son Isma’il peace be upon them built the holy Kaaba and on completion asked for Allah’s blessings and forgiveness for themselves and progeny. “Behold! We pointed the site, to Abraham, of the sacred house, saying: Associate not anything (in worship) with me; And sanctify My house for those who compass it round, Or stand up Or bow, Or prostrate themselves (therein in prayer). And proclaim the pilgrimage, among men; They will come to thee on foot and (mounted) on every camel, Lean (on account of journeys) Through deep and distant Mountain highways. Q26-29
To reflect on the past, the Education Committee of the Islamic Movement popularly referred to Lajnar Tarbiyyah da Ilmantarwa, convened a workshop for the intending pilgrims. The workshop enlightened its participants on Hajj, lesser Hajj and visits to sacred sites in Iraq and Iran respectively. The programme was held at the Fudiyyah Nursery and Primary School, Zaria. Prof. Isah Mshelgaru was among the educationists and scholars that handled the practical aspect of the ritual. He advised the intending pilgrims to engage on daily exercise for at least 30 minutes to prepare themselves towards the rigorous rite. He said many could experience difficulties especially if stationed far away from Haram who might trek five kilometers or so on daily basis. As such many find it difficult and on diagnosis are proved hypertensive, diabetic, asthmatic and so on. He emphasized the need for those on medication to take utmost care and patience saying some pilgrims tend to be negligent on their medication prescription on various illness. To be on the safer side therefore, they should carry their prescription cards along with the prescribed drugs so that they could help themselves better.
Sheikh AbdulHamid Bello dwelt on the jurisprudential aspect of the ritual highlighting Hajj as a pillar; faces of Ihram and does and dont’s of the ritual. He also spoke on the significant historical sites in Mecca and Medina along with their respective forms of worship for the intending pilgrims to visit quoting many traditions of the prophet on the philosophy of the ritual. The sites highlighted covered the demolished and standing in the two holy cities and the nature of the visits. The Sheikh highlighted the significance and relevance of reciting the Arafat supplication on the Arafat day. Due to unavoidable absence of the expected medical doctors, Malam Nuruddeen spoke on personal and environmental health. He advised the intending pilgrims to be very careful on what to eat, and to engage on daily exercise to prepare themselves before the ritual. Sheikh Shahid Qasim Umar as the guest speaker dwelt on Hajj as a pillar and its relevance to the socio-economic life of the Muslims. The Sheikh quoted many traditions on the ritual’s significance, relevance and reward in the life of Muslims. After lunch and prayer, the floor was opened for participants’ questions and comments. The presenters responded accordingly. Malam AbdulRahman Yola highlighted some jurisprudential differences between Ja’fariyyah and Sunni schools especially with regard to stations and Ihraam. He drew the attention of the pilgrims to undergo a thorough medical checkup so as to take necessary measures for a hitch – free pilgrimage. In the last few years the participants would visit the martyrs of the Islamic Movement at Dembo and the leader, Sheikh Ibraheem el-Zakzaky (H) who used to emphasize sincerity of purpose, use of legal means and general discipline.
Based on close examination and discussion with some officials of a State Pilgrim Welfare Board, I made a number of observations. And it is very clear that looking at Hajj operations in Nigeria, problems relating to irregularities, negligence, and ignorance are very obvious. These problems could not be unconnected to NAHCON, the National Hajj Commission which controls the rite. The States Pilgrims Welfare Boards and the Local Government Authorities, hence, the need for government to review the situation with a view to improving the situation. The NAHCON stipulates Hajj fare, allots quota to states and screen the Airliners among other activities. The SPWB’s handles the rite at the state levels while the LGA’s handle the rite at the local government level. Some of the grievances hitherto expressed against the commission include occasional contract of substandard airliners, non proportionate re-allocation of unsold seats and hitherto communication gap between the commission and the states pilgrims welfare boards resulting into occasional disarray and misplacement of priorities. However, the commission could be exonerated from some blames on allocation due to general slash by the Saudi authority for capacity expansion. The issue of substandard airliners could be averted by contracting the services of highly refuted companies from Saudi Arabia, Iran or any other competent country. The NAHCON could urge the government in a way to give more support to the rite as some government do especially in Indonesia and Iran.
The performance of SPWB’s on the other hand differ from one state to another. They are tasked with the responsibilities covering seminar, screening, evaluation and public relations. The popular ‘bita’ was meant to educate and enlighten the intending pilgrims on both social and spiritual aspects of the rite here and at the holy land. In Kano for example, it is organised on two capacities: Firstly, on weekly basis, fourty days to Ramadhan. And daily after Eid el-Fitr, to flag off. The local governments serve as recruitment ground where alleged gratification lingers. Generally, the bita, public relations and the Radio programmes on Hajj are very meaningful in the improvement of general conduct of the rite. In addition to the points raised above, I will like to emphasize the following pieces of advice for all the intending pilgrims:
1. SINCERITY OF PURPOSE: For the intending pilgrim to attain HAJJUM MABROUR – the accepted or successful hajj that makes him or her sinless like the day he or she was born, then he or she must be sincere embarking on the worship solely for the sake of Allah.
2. LEGAL MEANS: Whoever wishes to have an accepted hajj, he or she must make sure that his or her earning is legal. Not something earned through corruption, oppression or any other prohibited means as Allah does not accept except that is sacred.
3. DISCIPLINE: The issue of discipline is very paramount not in Hajj alone but in the entire socio-economic endeavors. However, its significance cannot be overemphasized in this ritual. So the way many pilgrims conduct themselves at various location in the holy land is very unfortunate. Some engage in different forms of indecency and immoral behaviors that make their Hajj vulnerable. At this juncture, it is imperative to commend the efforts of some pilgrims that are randomly honored for excelling in Qur’anic recitation competitions at the holy Kaaba, just as some State pilgrims Welfare Board are honored on environmental cleanliness!
4. SEMINAR: with the seminar, I refer to the popular BITA. The SPWB’s should endeavor to improve it. They should not forget that knowledge is what qualifies all forms of worship governed by rules and regulations.
Pilgrimage as advocated by prophet Ibrahim is purposeful. “And an announcement from Allah and His messenger, to the people (assembled) on the day of the great pilgrimage that Allah and His messenger dissolve (treaty) obligations with the pagans. If, then ye repent, it were best for you; but if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate Allah, and proclaim a grievous chastisement to those who reject faith. Q9:3. In a similar protest, late Imam Khomeini said “O you Muslims who are busy praying by the house of Allah! Pray for the success of those who are standing up to America and other superpowers” Therefore, we should never forget to pray on the unfortunate situation in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and more emphatically our country Nigeria. Beside the spiritual aspect, most important lessons of Hajj are brotherhood and unity. Allah states “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves” Q3:103. He also states “The Unbelievers are protectors, One of another; Unless ye do this, (protect each other), There would be Tumult and oppression On earth, and great mischief. Q8:73. Unlike the way millions of Muslims just meet and disperse without any review on the Ummah’s problems, pilgrimage is full of socio-political opportunity that could be used to solve the predicament. There is need for an obvious change in this direction.
The need to institutionalize hajj beyond the periodic workshop as going concern is very necessary so that intending pilgrims can register and learn the ritual on more abundant time before embarking on the journey. Kano state government has earlier expressed its determination to establish Hajj institute which, if actualized will help a lot towards more successful Hajj.
While appealing to the right authorities to review the situation for the improvement of the rite in general, wishing all intending pilgrims a HAJJUM MABROUR, I emphasize the need for the unconditional release of Sheikh el-Zakzaky (H) and all his disciples.
Wassalamu alaikum!