Tuesday, December 28, 2010

THE MIRACLE AT JEDDAH AIRPORT

By miracle, I’m not referring to the like performed by Allah’s messengers to convince their people on the veracity of the message they were conveying. I’m, rather, referring to an amazing event that happened at the King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah with Emirates Airline to a group of pilgrims travelling on the hajj package of a Nigerian tour operator in 2008. We all know that Emirates is reputed for keeping to the time of closure of check-in counters and departure of flights. Booking a date with Emirates is as sure as death; you come to the airport late at your own peril, the counter will close at the designated time; with or without you on board, the flight will come on that date and depart on time as scheduled! Most of the staffers of the airline are deaf to entreaties, nay, arrogant when you fail to arrive for check-in at the right moment even with your confirmed/reconfirmed reservation, and seek for their assistance. The only antidote against the insolence of Emirates staff is to be at the counter at least 3 to 4 hours before departure. Of course, only a miracle (in the modern sense of the word) will make Emirates delay a flight for about six hours for a group that was not even around the airport. This is not an invented story! It did happen.
The hajj tour operator, in this case, (let us call him MD) had his pilgrims spread in three Emirates flights out of Jeddah for 10th, 11th and 12th December, 2008 after the hajj season. On the 10th of December, the first group of 76 pilgrims could not make it to the airport on time to catch their flight to Lagos via Dubai. They actually missed the flight. Reason: delay in the release of passports from Field Office No: 22. These offices, under the Mu’assasah (Establishment of Mutawifs for Pilgrims of African Non-Arab Countries), are called makaatib maidaaniyyah (field offices). These field offices are the custodians of all passports of African pilgrims, and are answerable to the headquarters of the Mu’assasah in Makkah. As I’ve stated severally on this column, whenever a group of pilgrims arrives Makkah from either Jeddah or Madinah, the entire passports of the group are kept in any of the field offices. It is for the headquarters to determine what passport goes where. Usually, this classification of passports to various field offices is done months before hajj, and state boards/agencies and tour operators are notified on what office will be the repository of their pilgrims’ passports.
The passports will be released when the group is set to leave for Jeddah on its way back home. Special twenty-four hour permits are issued to pilgrims who desire to travel to Jeddah for shopping or on medical appointments; otherwise, passports will remain concealed until the group is ready to leave. When the departure date approaches, you have to start sorting out passports 24 hours to the time of the group’s flight. Your staff should make ready a comprehensive list bearing names and passport numbers of all pilgrims, backed by a reconfirmation slip from the carrier stating passenger name, flight number, date and time of departure. The field office personnel will crosscheck and confirm the information with the hajj Ministry database before releasing the passports. Hajj regulations stipulate that pilgrims must be at or on the way to the airport 8 hours before departure! No field office shall release pilgrims later than 8 hours to the time of their flight.
MD’s group had always worked with field office no: 13 of Sheikh Hassan Barqah, a highly experienced Mutawwif (pilgrims’ guide). Sheikh Barqah’s office has dedicated staff working round the clock in the service of Allah’s guests. The mobile lines of everybody in that office, from the chairman’s right down to the porters’ (in charge of pilgrims’ luggage), are open 24 hours a day. Everyone is enmeshed in their duty: directing stray pilgrims to their place of abode, helping hajjis abandoned to their fate by a negligent state pilgrims’ board or an unorganised tour operator, liaising with the niqaabah (the car syndicate) for timely release of buses to convey hajjis to places of their devotions or to the airport for their return flights etc. For about six pilgrimages now, no group had ever missed its flight due to delay in the release of pilgrims’ passports from field office no: 13. Sheikh Hassan Barqah organises end-of-operation waleemah (banquette) annually for state hajj officials and tour operators who worked under his office. This waleemah serves as a feedback avenue for him and his staff to listen directly to the leaders of the pilgrims they served, to know what they did right and how to improve on it; what operational lapses to avoid in future hajj exercise and so on. Guests will depart at the end of the banquette with gifts from the office, endearments and good will.
Unfortunately for MD, the passports of his pilgrims for hajj 2008 were consigned to a newly established office no: 22 headed by one Mr. Ayman Mubarak. MD tried in vain to make the Mu’assasah revert his company to field office no. 13 with which he was familiar. The Mu’assasah officials maintained that no changes could be entertained at that point because the allotment of hajj companies to field offices was done by a committee set up by the Establishment (Mu’assasah) for the purpose.
Mr. Ayman’s office no: 22 is equipped with young but ill-experienced people, because hajj 2008 was their debut into the pilgrimage operations. Only the head of the office, Mr. Ayman himself, had semblance of experience, since he worked for a year or two, incidentally, in field office no: 13. Sadly, not long into the operation, it became apparent that when Mr. Ayman was leaving his former field office to open his own, he did not take with him the emblem of courtesy to the guests of Allah, the renown of field office no: 13. Mr. Ayman only carried to his new office the baggage of harassment, ill-will and malicious resentment to pilgrims, state hajj officials or tour operators that were unlucky to have their passports in his office.
Problem started when Mr. Ayman was contacted on his mobile telephone by Sa’eed, the Ameerul Hajj of MD’s company on December 8th, 2008 to remind him on the release of passports for the first group of 76 pilgrims leaving on  December 10th (12th Zulhijjah).
Honestly, 12th Zulhijjah is not a good date for any group to leave Makkah for Jeddah. On that day 90% of the 3 million or more pilgrims who performed the hajj will leave Minaa to return to their places of accommodation, perform other rites like Tawaaful ifaadah and Sa’y for those who could not do it on the 10th of Zulhijjah for any reason. Makkah is full to the brim on such a day. But many people would want to leave anyway; the sooner they depart Jeddah after hajj the better, such pilgrims will say. Actually, that was even the reason for the first group to leave on December 10th. There was no available date out of Jeddah for the additional seats given to MD’s company for hajj 2008. Before each seat was sold to any pilgrim, they were put in the picture and were told, exactly, the date of departure from Jeddah. Some of them made alternative arrangement for their tickets as that date wasn’t convenient for them. Many were excited by the opportunity that the date offered them of completing hajj within 11 days.
‘Salaam alaikum; my name is Sa’eed. Please, am I speaking with Mr. Ayman of office no: 22?’
’Alaikumus salaam;’ answered Mr. Ayman, ‘yes, Mr. Ayman speaking. What can I do for you, Sa’eed?’
‘Ok, I’m calling on behalf of MD’s company.’ Sa’eed continued. ‘Sir, you know our first group leaves on 10th of December, just 2 days from today.’
‘Why are you calling me now’, enquired Mr. Ayman, ‘when you know all pilgrims are in Minaa?’
‘This is just to remind you, sir,’ explained Sa’eed, ‘to ensure that your office will be opened for us to start sorting out the passports tomorrow so as....’
‘No,’ interjected Mr. Ayman, ‘you are not in a position to teach us our job. The office is there to serve you. It will be opened and our staff will be there. So, don’t say any such thing....’

On the following day, December 9th, field office no. 22 was not opened for the sorting out of passports as agreed with Mr. Ayman. Now it was the turn of Musa, another official of MD’s company resident in Saudia to speak with Mr. Ayman. ‘Yes, Musa,’ said Mr. Ayman speaking in Arabic, ‘yesterday Sa’eed called on your group leaving tomorrow. Please tell me the time of their flight?’
‘8:45 pm.’ Musa answered.
‘Ok, very fine...’ Mr. Ayman said, apparently happy with the evening timing of the flight. ‘You people shouldn’t worry at all. We shall have enough time to arrange all passports before their flight tomorrow.’
Sa’eed, Musa and other members of staff had their doubts on the above assurance. Pilgrims’ passports, in field offices, are encased in long transparent plastic boxes with the group’s name and date of arrival written on each. Computer database is used to store information regarding all passports.  But even with the aid of computers, it is not always easy to trace the location of a passport amid thousands. Besides, not all passports in the same encasement will leave on the same date.
On the 10th of December everything turned upside down. The pilgrims were advised to make their last Jamaraat ritual in the morning so that they may have time to perform the farewell tawaaf before moving to the airport. The advice was misunderstood and misrepresented; pilgrims wrongly thought that they were goaded to leave Minaa early and to hasten the performance of the stoning ritual which, according to Sunnah, is to be done after zawaal (around noon). What some of the pilgrims failed to appreciate is that over the years hajj authorities and Muslim scholars have tried to discourage people from insisting on doing the stoning ritual after zawaal. The scholars have issued fatwa that the ritual could be performed at any time of day or night, and your hajj is acceptable, Allah willing. The cause of stampede and death of pilgrims in the Jamaraat area over the years has been attributed to the movement of people at the same time (after zawaal) towards one direction (Jamaraat). The scholars’ fatwa permits pilgrims to look at the most convenient time with less congestion around the Jamaraat, and without exposing themselves to any danger before performing the stoning ritual.
On account of pilgrims’ disregard of the above formal legal opinion by Islamic scholars, most of the hajjis that were due to travel on the 10th of December came to the hotel around 3:30 pm after performing their tawaf al- wadaa in the haram.
Meanwhile, many passports were yet to be sorted out at office no. 22, time was running fast! The buses that would convey pilgrims to the airport were stuck in heavy traffic on Shari’ Sitteen street, the road leading to the haram for people coming into Makkah from Jeddah. Seeing this, MD’s company, with the permission of Mr. Ayman, advised all pilgrims to check out of their rooms in the hotel and come to the premises of the field office in order to board the buses there so as to save time. This time, the pilgrims heeded to the advice! Without exception, every pilgrim was there, within a short time, with their luggage, ready to return to Nigeria.
By 4:15 pm all passports had been sorted out but none of the buses was there. Distraught pilgrims started demanding for answers! ‘Can somebody tell me what’s happening here?’ a pilgrim questioned Mr. Ayman.
‘Who are you to come into my office without my permission?’ Mr. Ayman put back another question.
‘Who I am in this case is immaterial;’ the pilgrim responded. ‘What is at stake is you have 76 pilgrims with passports in your custody at the verge of missing their flights and you don’t seem to be bothered.’
‘Hajji,’ said Mr. Ayman, ‘get out of my office! Leave your officials from the company to address this issue. I don’t want to see anybody here.’
‘Even the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him,’ roared another angry pilgrim ‘was not spared of your wickedness. You, the people of Makkah, drove him out of this Holy City. It is not surprising then that you are now acting in reminiscence...’
What Mr. Ayman failed to realise was that among the pilgrims that he derided and wanted to drive out of his office were people to whom Allah has bestowed affluence and power that if he (Mr. Ayman) were to visit Nigeria he would not be allowed anywhere near their offices without prior appointment. I doubt if the motto on Mu’assasah’s logo – Serving Allah’s Guests is Our Pride – has any meaning to people like Mr. Ayman.
When the high tempers abated some of the pilgrims requested the field office to release their passports to Saudi drivers who will convey them to the airport as is the custom in such situations. Field offices are empowered to deposit pilgrims’ passport in the care of Saudi chauffeurs who must leave photocopies of their particulars and Saudi national identity cards with the office. The Car Syndicate office at the airport will stamp a document which confirms that the pilgrims are actually conveyed to the airport and not diverted to some other destinations to overstay their hajj visas. The drivers will then present the stamped document to the field office for clearance and release of particulars. This is the normal procedure in hajj operations, but for field office no: 22 it is against the law; Mr. Ayman would not hearken to any plea for release of pilgrims’ passports to assist them so as not to miss their flight.
At 5:20 pm the buses arrived at the premises of office 22; the pilgrims boarded almost immediately. Officials of the office brought the passports, conducted a roll call to ensure that only pilgrims whose passports have been sorted out are leaving for the airport. Just as the drivers were waiting for final instruction to start their journey to the airport, Mr. Ayman appeared, hastening towards the buses and said, ‘I’ve cancelled this trip. Everybody should come down. You cannot go to the airport now.’
But why, when the departure time was 8:45 pm and check-in was to commence when the group must have reached the airport? By the time that Mr. Ayman cancelled the trip the group had more than 4 hours to the time of the flight. The trip to the King Abdul-Aziz International Airport is about 1 hour twenty minutes by bus.
‘Look, gentlemen,’ Mr. Ayman again, shouting at the top of his voice, in an exceedingly noisy and highly tensed scene, ‘the law said pilgrims must leave 8 hours to the time of their flight. I will not break the law.’
This is where Mr. Hassan Barqah will come to mind. His reading of the law is to avoid any situation that will render the pilgrims stranded at the airport after missing their flight. Mr. Barqah would’ve given the green light for the buses to leave as there was enough time to reach the airport before Emirates check-in counters were closed. Of course Mr. Barqah’s office no. 13 will never allow a situation to deteriorate to that extent.
And so it was. The trip was aborted under the pretext of observing the law when there was ample time to catch the flight, and there was nothing anybody could do. Emirates Airline’s airport office kept calling MD on the group of 76 pilgrims....; ‘When is the group coming to the airport?’ asked the station manager, ‘We are closing the counter in 30 minutes...’
‘Manager,’ MD responded, ‘I’m afraid the group cannot make it...’
‘What!’ exclaimed the manager, ‘MD, we are speaking about 76 passengers. You can’t do this; Emirates will charge you $150 USD per person...’
MD’s company had to make another hotel reservation for the pilgrims and check them in a second time with all the inconveniences and material loss, not to speak about assault to his person by hajjis venting their anger on account of what happened. But the worse was still to come the next day 11th of December with another group of 102 pilgrims at the hands of Mr. Ayman and his office 22. The miracle will come to pass!
Staff from MD’s company started work on the passports of the next group immediately after the abortion of the first group’s trip by Mr. Ayman. They spent the whole night sorting out 102 passports in Office 22. By 5am, 11th December, 2008 the passports were ready; all pilgrims travelling on that day were informed about the need for early movement to the airport to avoid what befell the first group.
Before they performed the zuhr prayer at the Ka’bah, most of the pilgrims had done their farewell tawaaf. Actually, every hajji was at office no 22 around 1pm. ‘Musa,’ Mr. Ayman called MD’s staff on mobile telephone, ‘I don’t want any problem with your group again.’
‘No,’ Musa answered, ‘there will not be any unless you create another one today.’
Musa had been in sombre mood over the events of the previous day and the part played by Mr. Ayman.
‘Being rude will neither help your pilgrims nor your company;’ fired Mr. Ayman, ‘I can send a damaging report to the Ministry of Hajj against your company which will lead to sanction...’
‘Do whatever you may Mr. Ayman, but remember that the pilgrims are neither my guests nor yours; they are Allah’s.’ Musa ended the hot conversation. That was the beginning of another problem.
‘Hello Mr. Ayman,’ MD answered the call, ‘salaam alaikum.’
‘MD,’ barked Mr. Ayman, ‘I want you to be in my office in five minutes.’
‘You well know Mr. Ayman, with the heavy traffic in Makkah, coming to your office in 5 minutes from any location is impossible’ said MD.
‘When can you come then?’ enquired Mr. Ayman.
‘I can’t say Mr. Ayman, because I’m on my way to the airport ahead of the group’s arrival. Emirates Airline’s office was not happy with what happened yesterday. We’ve to avoid recurrence...’
‘Now listen to me, MD;’ interrupted Mr. Ayman, ‘don’t send Musa, your staff to my office again. I don’t want to see him around the place. He’s stirring up hatred in the pilgrims against me. Secondly, if by 1pm your pilgrims are not ready with their luggage in the premises of my office the buses will not come.’
‘I apologise on behalf of Musa or any of my staff that offends you Mr. Ayman, and please be informed that all pilgrims travelling today are already in your office.’  MD assured him.
Mr. Ayman was out of his office when he conversed with both Musa and MD. He said he was at the Car Syndicate Office, and that as soon as he was sure that the pilgrims were ready, he was going to send the buses. His younger brother and deputy, Mr. Mazin, was the in charge of the office.
2:45pm; no bus came and there was no word from Mr. Ayman. Tension was mounting in the pilgrims’ rank by the minute. ‘Are we going to miss our flight as did the first group yesterday?’ some of the hajjis wondered.
MD’s company staff tried to put the pilgrims in the picture. ‘Salaam alaikum;’ Malam Sa’eed, the Ameerul Hajj started addressing the group, ‘as far as we are concerned, everything is set for you to leave for the airport. We commenced work on your passports since yesterday; all passports have been sorted out, arranged and are ready for the in-bus roll call. The problem is with Mr. Ayman and his office, whether or not they will bring the buses, release your passports and allow your immediate conveyance to the airports.’
A pilgrim moved forward, closer to Malam Sa’eed, pushed him harshly and said ‘Look, we don’t know Mr. Ayman; we know you and the liar you call your MD. If you repeat this deception again I’ll beat you up. Get us our passports now, we shall find our way to the airport.’
Sa’eed walked away without uttering a word. Many of the pilgrims reasoned with the Ameerul Hajj as some of them witnessed the drama that unfolded yesterday and the part played by Mr. Ayman in the scene that ended with the first group missing its flight.
‘Where’s Mr. Ayman?’ requested a pilgrim, speaking to Mr. Mazin in the office.
‘Mr. Ayman is not here;’ Mr. Mazin responded ‘he’s gone to the niqaabah office for your buses. I’m Mazin. Can I help you?’
‘We don’t want your help;’ a pilgrim shouted, ‘give us our passports!’
‘What’s going on here?’ inquired Mr. Ayman, coming into his office and finding people all over the place, ‘How can we work in this kind of congestion...?’
‘Ayman or whatever is your name,’ a pilgrim retorted, ‘today you’ll regret ever hoarding our passports. You will not move an inch from here...’ About 3 or so pilgrims seized Mr. Ayman by the arms, hand and his shirt, dragging him in different directions.
‘Your buses are on their way,’ Mr. Ayman managed to say amid the commotion; ‘everybody will leave today. You are wasting your time, not mine. The buses will come and take everybody away. You’ve created enough trouble for us.’
‘We are fed up with all these,’ said another pilgrim, ‘just produce our passports. Wallahi if it were not for the two harams of Makkah and Madinah nobody will ever come to your country.’
Pandemonium was let loose at Office 22 and its environs! Voices soared with vile language, abuse and melancholic conversations. In such a situation only a few will remember that rancour in whatever form could render their hajj fruitless. For Hajj are the months well-known. If anyone undertakes that duty therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the Hajj... (Al-Baqarah, 2:197).
But what is the reason behind the oddities in Mr. Ayman’s mien? This minute he behaves like a normal person; the next minute his demeanour is that of a mentally challenged person. Is he acting under the influence of anything that he devours to induce sleeplessness? Some people believe so. What other offices do is to take turns in serving the pilgrims; they work in shifts. But in office 22 Mr. Ayman and his deputy were always at work, hardly sleeping – 24/7. Human impossibility!
The first sign of trouble was Mr. Ayman’s continued procrastination of the coming of the buses. He would make telephone calls at successive intervals to what he claimed to be the niqaabah office in Makkah. ‘Everybody should be calm,’ he would admonish, ‘the buses will soon be here.’
4:30pm; the buses were yet to arrive. It was like having a replay of what happened the day before with the first group - Mr. Ayman’s erratic behaviour, rising tension among the pilgrims, vehement refusal by office 22 to release passports to pilgrims who had private arrangement to convey themselves to the airport, and commotion all over the place.
At the airport MD was in constant touch with his staff at office 22. It was now 6:45pm; Emirates Airline’s check in counter will close soon; not a single pilgrim was at the airport for the 8:45pm flight. ‘Mr. Ayman,’ MD was speaking through his mobile telephone, ‘when is the group leaving for the airport?’
‘Well, the buses are not here yet.’ Mr. Ayman said.
‘If by this time the buses aren’t in the premises of your office, Mr. Ayman, do you think the group can make it...?’
‘MD,’ cut in Mr. Ayman, ‘your company is the worst I’ve related with. Your staff are unruly, your pilgrims tyrannical. Some of them are threatening to kill me. You people have made life difficult for me. Why is your group leaving for Jeddah in the first place when all other pilgrims are going to Madinah?’
MD couldn’t fathom what Mr. Ayman was aiming at or why was he questioning operational procedure with which he’s supposed to be familiar. If he judges MD’s company as the worst among those he related with, that is an opinion to which he’s entitled. MD’s company staff should be up and doing in serving the pilgrims, and make sure they do their part in ensuring that they are not delayed in going to the airport. What is unruly about that? Pilgrims should be worried because no one would want to miss their flight due to the delusions of the custodian of their passports. And why will Mr. Ayman be confused of the movement of groups under his office? MD’s company has always started with Madinah in all its packages so that its pilgrims will be among the first to leave Saudia after hajj. Mr. Ayman it was that received the group when it came from Madinah few days before hajj. One cannot but agree with those who think Mr. Ayman and some of his staff are acting under the influence of something only Allah knows.
The buses only came at about 7pm, and as usual, after necessary formalities for leaving to the airport were concluded, Mr. Ayman remembered the law and cancelled the trip by a fiat! ‘Emirates Airline has assured me that it will delay the flight for some time;’ MD said to Mr. Ayman, ‘please allow the group to come.’
‘No, I can’t do that;’ returned Mr. Ayman, ‘tell Emirates, if that is true, to send me an undertaking on their letterhead, stamped and signed by the station manager, that the passengers can get the flight if I release the buses now.’
When MD related the above information to Emirates station manager he said ‘Emirates will not do that.’ The departure hall of the King Abdullaziz International Airport, Jeddah, with its opulent and cool ambience became straitened for MD. He started sweating, panting and gasping for breath.
‘MD,’ said the station manager, ‘take it easy! Do you need water?’
‘No ...thank you,’ MD tried to say scarcely audible.
‘You must take charge of all this and do something as a man;’ the station manager advises, ‘because if you collapse at this stage, your pilgrims will be in greater danger.’
The station manager further restated his earlier position of not signing any document to office 22 for release of pilgrims. ‘But try to understand what I’m going to say;’ the manager said, ‘we’ve passengers on ground for the next flight of 10:45pm. We’ll take them on this flight that your group was booked on so as to create rooms for your pilgrims on the 10:45pm flight. And I’ll delay that 10:45pm flight until 12:45 midnight. Now, you have more than 6 hours to play with. Try and do whatever you can to bring your pilgrims to the airport, but I’ll not speak with anybody on this or send any fax.’
With this opening MD was left with the impossibility of convincing Mr. Ayman to break the law, to release the pilgrims just less than one hour to the original time of their flight without tangible guarantees in form of a fax from the airport office of Emirates Airline.
The Mu’assasah is the Arabic short for, as stated earlier, The Establishment of Mutawifs for Pilgrims of African non Arab Countries; with headquarters in Makkah, the office has Sheikh Abdulwahid Burhan Saifuddeen (Abu Ahmad) as Chairman. A quintessential mutawwif (hajj guide), an epitome of self-effacement and a conscientious Muslim whose commitment to pilgrims’ welfare is reminiscent of the brotherhood and camaraderie of the early companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. The Mu’assasah has 30 field offices under its control including Mr. Ayman’s.
‘Mr. Chairman,’ MD called the head of the Mu’assasah to complain and seek his intervention on the problem, ‘I’m reporting Mr. Ayman of office 22. He’s put our hajj operations in a bottomless pit. Yesterday, he delayed our group, refused to release their passports until the time elapsed for movement to the airport then he cancelled the trip. We were left with no option than to make fresh reservation for the group in the hotel at a huge expense to us. Now, Mr. Ayman is repeating the same thing today with our second group of over 100 pilgrims.’
‘MD,’ said the chairman, ‘why did it take you 24 hours to bring this to my attention? Where is the second group now, and what is happening?’
MD updated the chairman on all the happenings at office 22, and the current position at the airport according to the guaranties given by the Emirates station manager. ‘Remain at the airport until you receive my call’; instructed the chairman.
Immediately, after speaking with MD, the chairman made a number of telephone calls to the Car Syndicate office, the Hajj Ministry and Mr. Ayman. ‘MD,’ the chairman called again, ‘what assurance can you give on Emirates waiting for your group? Because if your pilgrims miss their flight and are stranded at the airport, the Hajj Ministry will not take it lightly...’
‘Wallahi Mr. Chairman, the station manager has given his word. The flight will be delayed. The pilgrims can make it.... If they miss it, we absolve you of any liability...’ MD ranted in a desperate attempt to assuage the chairman’s concern in releasing the group out of Makkah.
‘Okay, MD,’ the chairman sounded convinced, ‘tell Emirates to keep their part of the promise. You should be on your way to Makkah now. Officials from the Hajj Ministry will be at office 22 any time from now; hearing from you may hasten the release of the pilgrims to the airport.’
On his way back to office 22 in Makkah MD received a telephone call from Muhammad, one of his pilgrims travelling with the second group and a good friend. ‘MD,’ said Muhammad, ‘please return to the airport and wait for our arrival there because the situation here is tense.’
‘I can’t’ MD responded, ‘the Hajj Ministry officials will be there for your release to the airport. The problem is solved, Muhammad.’
‘But your safety is what we are concerned about.’ Muhammad was trying to show the danger MD will expose himself to by appearing in the chaotic scene at the premises of office 22. ‘Nobody can guarantee what is likely to happen...the people here are not happy at all...’
‘Muhammad,’ interjected MD, ‘whatever will happen, I shall be there, dead or alive. We have to do our duty to the pilgrims whether they understand our limitations on the issue of the custody of their passports or not. Allah is watching. You witnessed all the happenings at that office. Whoever chooses to blame us they may do so; they have many other companies in Nigeria to try in hajj 2009; the choice is entirely theirs. I thank you for your concern but I’ll be there!’
After Muhammad’s call there were several others urging MD to make a u-turn to the airport for his own safety. It is sad that pilgrims performing one of the pillars of their religion will allow suspicion and rumour to becloud their sense of discernment to such a degree as to put the acceptance of their hajj under question.
When MD reached the facade of office 22 the pilgrims had started boarding the buses but the place was still very rowdy. The MD was visibly unruffled by the confusion in the scene; he moved, unscathed, penetrating through one throng of pilgrims to the other searching for the Hajj Ministry officials. Nobody said anything to him nor did he talk to anyone. Suddenly, voices were hushed by his unexpected appearance; he couldn’t hear what some of the pilgrims were saying because they only spoke in faint murmur. The tide receded!
The meeting between MD and the Hajj Ministry officials did not last for more than 5 minutes. They were comfortable with the assurance related by MD from Emirates Airline. Under the supervision of these officials from the Hajj Ministry, the mandatory in-bus roll call was made and the buses were cleared for immediate movement to the airport. The buses zoomed out of the premises of office 22 in the very sight of Mr. Ayman; no cancellation orders were heard from him this time around.
The MD preceded the group to the airport. The first bus arrived at the airport around 9:30 pm followed by the second shortly after. There were no other passengers at the Emirates check-in counters at that time. Every passenger had checked-in for the second flight. But the counters remained opened with Emirates Airline staff obviously waiting for pilgrims from MD’s company. By 10:15 pm MD called the Chairman of the Mu’assasah, Sheikh Abdulwahid Burhan Saifuddeen (Abu Ahmad), ‘This is to thank you very much, sir, for your timely intervention, and to inform you that all 102 pilgrims have now checked-in on EK 804 to Dubai.’
Alhamdu lillah,’ the chairman praised Allah, ‘MD, I didn’t do anything; Allah did it. Actually, we should also thank you. We’ve put many things at stake by releasing the group at the time we did due to what you said, and you’ve not disappointed or lied to us.’
‘Sir, we are obliged to you for everything...’ Said MD, ‘May Allah reward you with what’s better..., Mr. Chairman.’
It was the pilgrims’ turn to wait for the departure time of their flight at 12:45 midnight to Dubai. The Anger had abated, and everybody was calm. Some of them called their friends who missed their flight yesterday or the last group due to leave on December 14th, and told them that they found Emirates Airline staff waiting for them to check-in. ‘You can’t tell me that you’ve made it...’ a member of the first group told his friend.
‘Believe it or not,’ the other responded, ‘we’ve checked-in, got our passports stamped for exit, passed through screening and any moment from now we shall start boarding...’
‘But if MD is this connected, why did he allow us to miss our flight yesterday...why didn’t he delay our flight also?’ the first group pilgrim wondered.
‘My friend,’ said the checked-in pilgrim, ‘what happened today was more than connection; it was a miracle. Nobody could’ve delayed Emirates Airline for 6 hours...’
And a miracle indeed it was....

Monday, December 27, 2010

TOURISM IN THE QUR’AN

I should’ve added A Letter from Madinah to the topic of this piece as the Green Dome of the Prophet’s Mosque is looking at me as I write from my hotel room in the Illuminated City of Madinah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The meteorological condition of Madinah is fluctuating between 39 to 41 degrees Celsius – very hot indeed.
I was to be in Beijing with a group of tourists from Nigeria for the Olympics and family tour of major cities in China. We’ve planned early, paid for our hotels in all places to be visited and even written our return tickets. But the Chinese embassy refused to issue visas because the home government is restricting influx of people to the country during the Olympics. What was the reason for denying us the visas – security or to forestall pro-Tibetan protests? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Chinese company responsible for our reservations, sending of invitation letter to the embassy in Abuja, etc., was not able to get its documents signed by the local authority in Beijing - a condition for such group arrangement hitherto unknown to visa applicants. We explained our condition to the Chinese embassy, the loss of deposit to hotels in China, the non-refundable tickets that have been written; the loss exceeds seven million naira for the group – the Chinese embassy in Abuja was deaf to all entreaties.
We later sent a written complaint to the Chairman of the National Sports Commission (NSC) beseeching him to intervene in the issue. The letter contained names of all people on the tour including two Honourable Members of the Federal House of Representative. The Chairman (NSC) wrote back after long, tortuous days of waiting that the Commission could not do anything on our plight. Pity!
Actually, I had wanted to write from Beijing on the above topic as a tourist. Now since I could not go to China, it is not out of place to write on tourism from Madinah. The World Tourism Organization defines tourists as people who ‘travel to and stay in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes not related to the exercise of an activity remunerated from the place visited’.
With the above definition and coming here for business, I’m a tourist. After all, the Qur’an has, in many places encouraged us to travel and learn from the lives of others, the dwellings they inhabited and how Allah dealt with the unjust among them. “Have they not travelled in the land,” it says, “so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind.” (Al-Hajj, 22:46)
Have they not travelled in land… were they not travelling? The audience of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, when he was rehearsing the verse have been travelling for merchandise and for other reasons. Why will the Qur’an ask if they have travelled? It means they have been travelling but they were not observant, inquisitive. They have not been using their hearts, minds, eyes and ears. In all their travels, their hearts have not learnt wisdom and their ears have learnt to hear!
According to the above verse, when we travel, we should be attentive to what we see or hear in other places around the world. Look at the weather condition in the country you are visiting; how does that differ from that in your land? What are the business opportunities you can make use of in the trip that can boost the activities of your company. See diverse cultures; observe Allah’s wonders in His creation.
Whatever is your occupation, whoever you are, whatever you do – an architect, a town planner, a pressman, a civil servant etc – you have something to learn when you travel abroad for training, business or leisure. Look at the design of building (modern and ancient), the space management in construction and the uninterrupted power supply (in case you work for the Power Holding…). Visit places germane to your area of specialty and learn something, using your heart and ears. I don’t see why, for example, a journalist visiting Doha, the Qatari capital, will not ask for the office of Al-Jazeerah Network to go and observe, firsthand, how a small country has been able to bring much attention and respect to itself through this 24 hour news channel.
Don’t travel to other countries aimlessly; learn something, teach others about us, our culture; sell Nigeria, encourage people to come to your country; dispel all the lies about your country. Everywhere in the world, every country has malign and benign sides – Nigeria is not an exception. Learn from places and bring something back to make Nigeria better. The Singapore International Airport was chosen for three consecutive times as the best airport in the world. When the CEO was asked about the secret of this success he said that they travel to major airports around the world, learning, improving on everything they see elsewhere – passenger waiting area, security, duty free shops, information services etc - and make better what obtains in Singapore airport.
It is not the eyes that grow blind, but the hearts, which are within the bosoms, that grow blind. This reminds me of a verse by late Malam Aliyu Namangi: Zuciya in ta makance fa ganin ido baiyi fa’idah ba - …if the heart is blind, eyesight is of no benefit… (You are right if you say, I’m trying, in vain, to reproduce the poetic sense in which the words were written). Of course, Malam Aliyu was expounding the ayah (of Suratul Hajj) under discussion, exhorting people to reflect on what they behold.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND

If we may Islamize one of the chapters (with the above heading) in Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we will urge you, the reader, to see yourself as attending the janaazah (funeral) of a friend. When you arrived at the maqbarah (graveyard) you noticed familiar faces: colleagues from your place of work, your close and distant kindred, fellow worshipers from your mosque and your neighbours. ‘You felt the shared sorrow of loosing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.’ But as the people who thronged the newly dug grave were about lowering the body into it, you suddenly realized that you were the one wrapped in that white kafan (shroud); you were attending your own funeral. Now, search your soul what these people will say about the type of person you were. How will your colleagues describe you? What kind of brother or sister have you been to your kin? What do you think your neighbour will relate concerning your character?
To begin with the end in mind gives direction, a road map, to our final destination – perpetual torment or eternal bliss. Start working towards whatever you desire to be said about you after you pass on.
‘Consider the words of Joseph Addison: “When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them; when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great Day when we shall all of us be Contemporaries, and make our appearance together.”
The Qur’an says:
“O mankind! Fear your Lord! For the convulsion of the Hour (of Judgement) will be a thing terrible. The Day ye shall see it, every mother giving suck shall forget her suckling babe, and every pregnant female shall drop her load (unformed): thou shalt see mankind as in a drunken riot, yet not drunk: but dreadful will be the Wrath of Allah.” (Al Hajj, 22:1-2)
The two verses above describe the nature of the Last Day. Taqwaa, to keep one’s duty to Allah forms part of the Divine call on us to be in readiness for Judgement.
On taqwaa, Imam Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) said it is ‘the fear of the Almighty; living in line with the contents of the Revelation; to content oneself with little, and preparation for the Day of Departure.’ He (may Allah be pleased with him) stood in the graveyard (of Madinah) and said: ‘Peace be upon the inhabitants of this graveyard. You have gone ahead of us, and we shall, Allah willing, join you. O inhabitants of this graveyard! As for your wealth; it has been distributed to heirs, your houses are inhabited by others, and your wives have wedded new husbands. This is the news we have for you. Now it’s your turn to inform us about the chronicle of what you have over there.’ Imam Ali was silent for a while, then he turned to his companions and said, ‘wallahi (by Allah), if they were to speak, they would’ve said – the best provision, for the Hereafter, is taqwaa.’
On the Last Day every nursing mother will forget her nursling and every pregnant one will be delivered of her burden. The Arabic word for nursing mother is murdhi’ i.e. a mother who is breast-feeding her baby; but the Qur’an uses murdhi’ah, meaning a mother that is carrying and giving suck to her baby now; she will forget, neglect the baby, throwing it away due to the terrible nature of that day. A mother throwing away her child!
Sometime in 1994 a molue bus caught fire on the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos. A nursing mother was so engulfed in the flames that she couldn’t move. She remained in her seat with her right hand outside holding the baby as far away from the inferno as she could until somebody grabbed the baby from her to safety. She (the mother) did not come out alive. She endured the pain, exceeding torment of the fire so as to save her suckling babe. But on the Day of Recompense such a mother will throw the babe away and run. And you shall see mankind as in a drunken riot, yet not drunk: but dreadful will be the Wrath of Allah.
To begin with the end in mind makes our earthly sojourn more purposeful. We prepare for the destroyer of pleasure (death) and for the Day of The Great Assembly (Jugdement)!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I AM CONFUSED

Today I write from the vicinity of the inviolable place of worship in Makkah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; as I punch the letters on the keyboard of my mini VAIO Sony Notebook I view the Ka’bah clearly from my room situated on the 21st floor of the Safwah Royale Orchid Hotel, Makkah; I see the wanders of this Ancient House from this vantage point; people going round the Ka’bah in their tawaaf as if beneath their feet is an electronic device that moves with them effortlessly in their circumambulation. But why would one that is so close to the Region of Security, the Holy Ka’bah be in a state of confusion?

On September 23, 2009, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud hosted more than 3,000 guests, foreign leaders, including President Umaru Musa ‘Yar’adua of Nigeria, and Nobel laureates, at the King Abdulaziz University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Inauguration Ceremony. According to its website ‘the KAUST community is situated in a unique Red Sea coastal location near the fishing village of Thuwal, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Jeddah – Saudi Arabia’s second largest city.  The total area of the self-contained community spans more than 36 million square meters, including a unique coral reef ecosystem that the University will preserve as a marine sanctuary.’ This world-class postgraduate research university is, as the king himself described it, the modern House of Wisdom, or Bayt Al-Hikmah, an intellectual landmark of the "Golden Age of Islam."  The King hoped that KAUST would become a bridge between cultures and nations.

My confusion arises from the reaction of Muslim scholars within Saudi Arabia and around the world to the fact that KAUST would be a coeducational institution with men and women researchers ‘dedicated to inspiring a new age of scientific achievement in the Kingdom that will also benefit the region and the world.’

The first shot with Saudi ulema came from Sheikh Sulaiman Al-Douish who said ‘coeducation is sedition and an absolute evil.’ Another scholar, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Torafi called ‘gender mixing at the campus an evil act, a war between the guardians of virtue and the agents of America.’

In a live television phone-in programme on Al-Majd channel, Sheikh Sa’ad Bin Nasser Al-Shithri, a member of the Board of Senior Ulema, was asked about gender segregation at KAUST. He responded ‘by describing such a thing as unacceptable and called for a Shari’ah Committee to look into the studies being conducted at the university and their compatibility with Shari’ah Law.’

In which world are these scholars living? They must be from Mars. I’m really bewildered! These ulema want to thwart the King’s dream of having a university that will be ‘a beacon of tolerance’ – carrying ‘out its noble humanitarian message in a pure and clean atmosphere, taking the help of God and then that of enlightened intellectuals all over the world, without any bias or discrimination.’

If mixing of sexes is haram as these scholars would want us to believe then we have to stop going to hospitals, shopping malls and even to prayers in the two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah. We would have to designate streets, airports, and markets that will be exclusively for women. It’s high time our scholars dismounted their camels to give fatwa according to the challenges of our time!

On October 4th, 2009, the Saudi Press Agency reported that Al-Shithri was out, sacked from the Council of Senior Scholars by King Abdullah. Was the sacking of this Sheikh a message to his colleagues reminding them of the fact that they “are employees of the state and therefore had better toe the line? I think it was. Because Sheikh Ahmed Al-Gamdi, head of the Hai’ah (religious police) – the Commission for the promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Saudia – spoke in support of ‘mixing of the sexes’ during an interview reported in the Saudi Gazette of December 11, 2009. Hear him: “Mixing was part of normal life for the Umma and its societies...”

Yaa Sheikh!  After decades of enforcing excessive segregation; we should’ve been told this years ago when you and your team made life miserable for your compatriots, and expatriates alike on the issue of the mixing of the sexes. How would you explain this new ‘revelation’ to the people? Is the Sheikh saying that all Saudi campuses should now allow social mixing? Well, it’s better late than never...

Sheikh Al-Gamdi continued, "Those who prohibit the mixing of the genders actually live it in their real lives, which is an objectionable contradiction, as every fair-minded Muslim should follow Shari’ah judgments without excess or negligence. In many Muslim houses - even those of Muslims who say mixing is haram - you can find female servants working around unrelated males." Al-Ghamdi went on to praise KAUST as an "extraordinary move and huge accomplishment to be added to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's record and the history of the Islamic Ummah. It is a great step which the Ummah can look up to in recapturing its role in civilization and its scientific honor."  Really…?

Outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, many Muslim scholars spoke in support of coeducation, not the least, the head of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi who said in an interview with Al-Madinah newspaper of October 17, 2009, “Islam does not forbid the mixing of the sexes as long as it is conducted according to Shari’ah...”
Interesting!

A week later, on October 24th, 2009 the grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Jum’ah granted interview to Saudi Gazette on KAUST and Gender Mixing. He said: “There is no harm in co-education between male and female students within Shari’ah rules and within learning environment. This is permissible according to Shariah.”

KILLING WOMEN AND CHILDREN

I do not wish to treat this week’s piece as I did last week’s, though both emanated from the same source: Friday Sermon of the National Mosque, Abuja. Last week the sermon, which I presented a verbatim-interpretation of, exposed the double standard of Muslims in not supporting or giving good counsel to their brethren in leadership positions; and their willingness to do so when a kaafir ascends the throne. When a kaafir ascends the throne was my original caption for that article, but, for obvious reasons my editor saw it fit to entitle it, Who the Cap Fits Let Him Wear It. Whatever was one’s position on that article, as it is now, both the honest who stood by their own, and the hypocrites who betrayed, have been mown down by the man with the resource control fedora!
This column is not reincarnating into a platform for discussing weekly sermons from the National Mosque; rather, the topics addressed by the Imam’s khutbah for these two weeks were pertinent to our current situation in the country that conveying their contents may interest readers. That is what Friday khutbahs should be anyway – current to the happenings in a community, the nation and the world. The world, we are now told, is no longer a global village, but a small room in a compound connected through the internet, satellite television, and mobile phones.
In the week under review the khutbah addressed the issue of Human Rights, especially the Right to Live, and the Right to Life. Here I prefer to comment on the sermon rather than give a complete interpretation of its content.
The West, in spite of all the noise, is not honest about genocide and human rights where Muslims are the victims. It is the same story through history – Bosnia-Herzegovina, Srebrenica, Chechnya, Palestinian Occupied Territories, Iraq, Afghanistan and even Jos. In the infamous Srebrenica Genocide which occurred in July 1995, more than 8, 000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys were massacred, 25, 000 to 30, 000 refugees in the area of Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina were ethnically cleansed, ‘by units of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladic during the Bosnian War....... In 1993 the United Nations had declared Srebrenica a “safe area” under UN protection but its Protection Force (UNPROFOR), represented on ground by a 400-strong contingent of armed Dutch peacekeepers, failed to prevent the massacre.’ Justice is not done in this and many similar cases of genocide and massacre against the Muslims around the world.
Like in the Bosnian war where the Serbs happened to be non-Muslims and the Bosnians Muslims but the massacre was ethnically motivated; so also is the Jos crisis – the indigenes Christians, the settlers Muslims; the conflict ethnic, but due to the religious professions of the warring factions, it has taken a religious dimension.
It is unfortunate, in their comments on the recent recurrence of killings in Jos, that world and Christian leaders, with the help of non-Muslim controlled media, are playing a negative role in donning the crisis with a religious garb. In its front page of Tuesday, March 9, 2010 Leadership reported that ‘The Vatican has also condemned the “horrible acts of violence.”
‘Expressing dismay over the incident,’ Leadership further stated, ‘the Roman Catholic Church spokesman, Federico Lambard, blamed Muslim pastoralists for the attack.’
But Muslims too were killed; if recent victims were Christians, the worst affected victims of earlier attacks were Muslim women and children. Many of them ‘had been cremated alive.’ Endless rows of bodies in white shrouds were beamed on national and international television screens around the world, and on the internet. Muslim properties, cars, houses, and mosques were burnt. If you have received a hurt or a blow, rest assured your assailants will receive similar hurt. These are the vicissitudes which Allah causes to follow one another for mankind... (Aali ‘Imraan, 3:140)
It smacks of dishonesty on the part of the UN, Britain and USA to turn a blind eye when Muslims were slaughtered, but suddenly came to life when the victims were Christian. Killing of people and destruction of their properties should be condemned by all irrespective of the creed or ethnic affiliation of the victims.
The Fulani herdsmen implicated in recent killings were on reprisal mission; they were part of the victims of the indigenous Berom Christians who massacred them, sparing neither women nor children, and banished those who survived the carnage from their homes. Now, they return to their tormentors, who happen to be Christians, to make an ethnic and not a religious statement. Their action has no connection with the religion they profess!
The right to life is sacrosanct to Muslims as well as non-Muslims, according to the teachings of Islaam. Killing the innocent in whatever guise is forbidden. Islaam forbids killing any soul except by just cause, which refers to cases of manslaughter etc. Even during war, instructions were given against burning properties, the environment (no one should cut down trees); killing women and children is forbidden, with the exception of those who carry arms or were seen fighting; whoever, even when they had weapons, ran away or closed doors behind them, were spared. For Allah’s sake, what has Islaam got to do with knocking at people’s doors, waking them from their sleep, killing them and burning their properties?
It is sad that most of the suspects arrested have nothing to do with the charges levelled against them. Fulani pastoralists, as the name denotes, are always on the move, reaching for greener pastures for their herds. After cases of incessant armed robbery against them that often resulted in killing them, and snatching their cattle by robbers, the government, through the Miyatti Allah Fulani organization, gives and permits the Fulanis to carry arms for the purposes of self-defence. Thus, in all parts of this country Fulanis could be found armed with crudely made guns as well as machetes etc. So, the authorities looking for suspects should do a thorough job of finding real culprits, not just arresting innocent Fulanis who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WHEN A KAAFIR ASCENDS THE THRONE


It was Friday 5th March, 2010. As usual I drove to the National Mosque early in order to go through the day’s khutbah (sermon) before rendering it into the English Language. As the name denotes, the National Mosque is a ‘wazobia’ mosque for the weekly khutbah is translated into Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, and English languages. The Chief Imam, Sheikh Musa Muhammad was already seated in his chambers before I arrived. ‘Ustaz,’ he said, ‘no summary in today’s khutbah. Everything must be said as contained here.’ He handed to me the original Arabic text of his sermon. Normally, I prefer to give the summary of the import of the sermon after perusing over it. The President and other top government functionaries pray here, so time is of essence.
‘Yes akramakumullaah (Your Honour!),’ I answered, respectfully received the khutbah. And what a khutbah it was!
All the interpreters read the Arabic version, as is their custom, in group. Most of the time Malam Shehu, the Hausa interpreter, would volunteer to read while we listen but at the same time running our gaze on the written words, as he reads, in order to make corrections where necessary. At the end of this group perusal, the interpreters would take turns to address the assembly of worshipers in the mosque on the content of the day’s khutbah within the time allotted to each translation. On this day (Friday 5th March, 2010), Right Honourable Oladimeji Bankole, the Speaker, House of Representatives, ministers and other government officials were in attendance.
When it was my turn I collected the papers and headed to the pulpit. ‘Assalaamu alaikum.’ I began, ‘Indeed, all praise is due to Allah. We praise Him and seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge with Allah from our soul’s evils and our wrong doings. He whom Allah guides, no one can misguide; and he whom He misguides, no one can guide.
‘I bear witness that there is no (true) god except Allah – alone without any partners. And I bear witness that Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) is His Servant and Messenger. O you who believe! Revere Allah the right reverence, and do not die except as Muslims.
‘O people! Fear your Lord who has created you from a single soul, created from it its mate, and dispersed from both of them many men and women. Revere Allah through whom you demand things from one another, and (cherish the ties of) the wombs. Indeed, Allah is ever-watching over you.
‘O believers! Fear Allah and speak the truth. He will then rectify your deeds and forgive your sins. He who obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly achieved a great victory.
‘Verily, the best speech is Allah’s speech; the best guidance is Muhammad’s guidance; and the worst matters (in creed or worship) are those innovated (by the people), for every innovated matter is a bid’ah, and every bid’ah is an act of misguidance that (whoever initiated it) will reside in the Fire.
‘Servants of Allah! Obey Allah’s commandment, and eschew His prohibitions; you will succeed in this world and the Hereafter.
‘Allah had honoured the early Muslims with Islaam. They were feeble on this earth but Allah made them masters of the then world. By Allah’s leave they brought the end of kufr, and routed the armies of disbelief; every froward potentate was reduced to nought.
‘Now there has succeeded them a later generation who have ruined worship and have followed lusts. Daily salaah is not observed. Zakkah is not paid. Usury is devoured. The youth of this latter generation have stupefied their intellects with intoxicants. Abominations, and even sodomy are committed; liquor is consumed, without recourse to the Law.
‘Servants of Allah! We have descended from the nation of masters to that of bondage; from an honoured Ummah to a despicable community. Muslims turn a blind eye over the iniquities they commit; their preoccupation is to discuss other people’s ills. When one of their own is blessed with wealth they despise, and envy him - ardently hoping would that he remained a pauper. But if a kaafir becomes affluent, they honour him with garlands at public functions; they desire to be given the like of what has been bestowed unto him. We are Allah’s; and unto Him we shall return!
‘Servants of Allah! During the reign of a Muslim leader his brethren would spare no effort to betray him. Hatred is revealed by the utterance of their tongue but that which their hearts concealed is greater. They join the confederates of faithlessness to hamper their Muslim brother. With their clandestine support he is undeservedly maligned; wild rumours are spread to undermine his kingdom; Muslims participate in secret conferences to dethrone their own. They fear evil turn of fortune, so they must preserve their portfolios by any means necessary.
‘When a kaafir ascends the throne, Muslims, who only but yesterday betrayed their own, would fall over each other to hail, congratulate and pledge allegiance to him. He is viewed by all as a lord of rare good fortune; one extremely lucky! They metamorphose from the blues into new creatures willing to support and give good counsel to the one at the helm. They throng and hover around the kaafir in order to assuage his fears, strengthen his handhold on power, and assure him of their succour to ensure his success. Evil suggestions are proffered on how to humiliate their brethren who did not show enough partisanship during the expedition.
‘Servants of Allah! The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) commands you as follows: when you speak, speak the truth; when you are entrusted with anything, do not betray the trust; restrain yourselves from harming others; establish your regular prayers; preserve your chastity; keep your promises; and lower your gaze from the evil look.
‘May Allah empower Islaam and the Muslims; and may He debase hypocrites and hypocrisy!’
That was the khutbah I rendered into English on that day. After the Juma’ah prayers some worshipers including members of the diplomatic community in Abuja asked me if the sermon centred on the political intrigues around the man with the resource control fedora. I said for him whom the cap fits, let him wear it.