Hajj, the last of five pillars of Islam has proven over the years to be at the heart of every well meaning Ghanaian Muslim and rightfully so. The journey to please our creator as adherents of the Islamic faith has over the years been a needless hustle we dare say is with an end in sight.
The trajectory of Hajj organization throughout our history as a nation has time and again been dogged by inconsistencies and reports of blatant exploitation by “Muslims” of fellow Muslims. Then came the 2009 process which virtually turned what was hitherto a nightmare into a standard for many Hajj Committees in the future to take a cue from.
So well organized was the process that for the first time in a long while, Muslim pilgrims did not have to endure the hustle and bustle of staying at the AFGO village and Aviation Social Center under the sun and in unsanitary and more worrying, islamically prohibited conditions where men and women cohabited in an area.
Hajj 2010 I believe ends officially with the presentation of a report by the Alhaji Alhassan Bene led National Hajj Committee (NHC) to its appointing authority. The first point the NHC we contend should state in its 2010 report vis-à-vis the 2009 process is that, the 2010 process in several respects plays second fiddle to the preceding year.
The president, His Excellency John Evans Atta Mills’ charge to the NHC on the day of the Eid Ul Fitr to ensure a better Hajj coupled with the Vice President, John Dramani Mahama’s advice that fees for the pilgrimage be paid in advance set the tone for the 2010 process.
THE PASSPORT PANIC/RUMPUS
Passports we all know are of the essence in times of global air travel, but much as the ministerial directive that all prospective pilgrims acquire biometric passports may have been in line with international standards, its communication to interested parties was poorly executed in our opinion, the result of which was the rumpus that followed thereafter.
The passport office may have done well to decentralize the biometric passport acquisition process by their mobile regional offices, but in another vein, their inability to sort out passport of pilgrims and other applicants became a source of worry leading to the unwarranted attack of Azorka boys on the spokesperson of the NHC, Alidu Haruna.
Another sour point was the undue advantage that non-pilgrims took to get their biometric passports, by so doing creating congestion in the release of passports to those who really mattered, i.e. pilgrims.
THE LEGAL “MENACE”
Circumstances that led to a fellow Muslim (one Afa Hakeem), dragging the NHC to court in efforts at retrieving some money owed him by a similar body years back would have passed off as nothing on an ordinary day as a fair and genuine claim but for the timing.
Sadly enough, Muslims who should have known better went about casting vile aspersions at Afa Hakeem instead of looking to proffer measures that could avoid the process from being derailed.
In desperation to accuse, the accusers forgot the Qur’an’s admonishment in Chapter 49 Verse 12 which states; “O ye who believe! Shun much suspicion; for lo! Some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)! And keep your duty (to Allah). Lo! Allah is Relenting, Merciful.”
All that as they say is history against the backdrop that the NHC managed its utmost best to safeguard the process from being derailed, whiles ensuring that the process was not unnecessarily stalled by so doing, diffusing mounting tension at the Hajj Village.
A MUST TO DEPOLITICIZE THE PROCESS
The call to depoliticize Hajj in our opinion is critical if all and sundry are to rally round the singular interest of seeing a successful Hajj pan out year-in year-out. Politics has forced down a “they versus us” mentality leading to a situation where for the sake of political expediency, opponents sit in wait for the worse to happen so as to latch onto.
We would be the first to admit that politics would not, cannot and shall not for a long time to come be isolated from our lives, Hajj for that matter. Be that as it may, we opine that, the politics of Hajj should be played at the diplomatic/inter-Governmental level relative to issuance of visas and communication between consulates of respective countries, (i.e. Ghana and Saudi).
The whole Hajj thing being a campaign issue, pitching Muslims on both sides of the political divide has not in any way helped the process, save to create unnecessary noise, a typical case in point being the donation of water to prospective pilgrims and issues thereof which did nothing but paint the Hajj a political event, sadly so.
The Hajj process is a purely religious one that we (Muslims) revere for as long as it leads us on the path to obeying that which our Lord and Creator instructs us. Sacrifices are made far in advance of the period and for some cheap politics to threaten a life dream aimed at fulfilling a divine directive, we think is most unfortunate.
The inability to airlift some 600 prospective pilgrims may have been due in part to the injunction slapped on the NHC, crippling its operations for a few days.
Official explanation with respect to how the NHC had taken money from more pilgrims than visas applied for, only to request for more visas as and when necessary, albeit a convention over the years in my opinion has backfired badly hence the need to right an obvious wrong the next time round.
A passionate call however is that the NHC puts top of their agenda the need to prioritize the stranded pilgrims come next year.
ISSUE OF GRATIS TICKET
The issue of gratis ticket is another part of the process that should be looked at with keenness, but yet again the politics embedded in it goes to derail any efforts at streamlining what has over the years with successive governments become a drain on national purse.
With about 328 tickets reportedly going out at no cost, the nation would be spending close to GH¢ 1,016,800. In any case, the majority of these tickets go to party members (NDC/ NPP) and with no criteria on which Muslim is due a free ticket; individuals have landed multiple tickets and traded some for their upkeep during the pilgrimage.
Point of emphasis; successive Governments have hardly done anything different in this respect.
OTHER BRIGHT SPOTS
Efforts by the national chief Imam Sheikh Dr. Osman Nuhu Sharubutu to appease stranded pilgrims went a long way to forestall the imminent incidence of a row at a time that the NHC were virtually at their wits end.
Zoom lion for the Hajj Village and Intercontinental Bank for the waist pouches that were to keep documents of pilgrims in safe condition, all contributed to the success of the process thereby earning our praise, the NHC might want to get a permanent Hajj Village in the future to make some money in the off-Hajj period whiles serving pilgrims as and when necessary.
The media; print, radio, television and online media all played varied roles in giving the Hajj due coverage through the good and tough times. The NHC must a matter of urgency establish a working relationship with media – who have become key players in the all facets of social life.
NHC REPORT IS CRITICAL
In the light of accountability, probity and transparency, ingredients to good governance and traits Islam enjoins on its adherents, the NHC must present its report to its appointing authority as is required of them, having made use of tax payer’s money.
All of this affords them the opportunity to give the general citizenry necessary information to be able to make informed pronouncements and conclusions from a process that never ceases to whip up controversy on varied levels, be it of political discrimination or misappropriation of funds as is usually the case.
No doubt the current Hajj Committee has as a matter of fact cut a path that successive committees cannot but build upon the successes thereof. The challenges are as ever present and it behoves on all stakeholders to make a conscientious effort to ensure that the downsides are minimized whereas the gains are built on.
Pilgrims must have inner peace as the answer the call of their lord in the talbiyah as they recite thus, “Labaikal Laahum Ma Labaik” translated; “Here I am O Lord! Here I am.” 6.5 out of 10 for the effort of the NHC in its organization of Hajj 2010, wish and pray Hajj 2011 is better.
May the peace of Allah be on us All.
By Shaban Barani Alpha & Abdul Nasiru Shaibu (President, CMYA)
The opinions expressed here are the authors` and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of AfricaNewsAnalysis