Sunday, December 23, 2012

THE TONY BLAIR FAITH FOUNDATION



                                                Dignitaries at the Event  




I appreciate the position of some readers of this column who felt I should respond to the latest piece by Adamu Adamu Re: Hajj and the Saudis. To my mind, the writer has failed to address any of the issues I raised in my ample rejoinder concerning his three part series on the subject matter. What he succeeded in doing, our respected readers can discern, was to expose the source of his aspersion against the Saudi Hajj authorities – non-Muslim writers and other armchair critics, and even zanaadiqah who have not performed a single Hajj in their life, or the last time they took part in the ritual was decades ago. Hence, Adamu Adamu does not deserve another response. But I take a solemn oath of prompt response to any piece of shi’atic disposition clothed in the raiment of intellectualism!


The Tony Blair Faith Foundation states that it ‘promotes respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action.’ It shows ‘how faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.’ 


Transcorp Hilton was the venue for the official launch, on Thursday 22, November 2012, ‘of Tony Blair Faith Foundation-led work in Nigeria to encourage reconciliation between Christian and Muslim communities.’ In attendance were: Mr Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Foundation, Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, and His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan via video-message. Also present were President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by the Minister of Housing, Ms Pepple, His Eminence Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Highness, Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna and Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President, Christian Association of Nigeria among others.


This launch was preceded by a video conference which, on the one hand, had the dignitaries mentioned above and some Muslim and Christian secondary students from Nigeria, and on the other, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian secondary students from the United Kingdom. This was with a view to encouraging ‘greater dialogue and understanding between faiths.’ It also ‘aimed to break down barriers, and give the students the knowledge to resist extremist voices and ideology – working towards a longer term peace for the next generation in Nigeria.’


On his video-message played during the launch, His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan said that Nigeria is the best and happiest country in the world, thus all should work towards making it peaceful. He spoke about the visit of the World Council of Churches and The Royal Jordanian Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought to Nigeria, between 22nd–26th May 2012 (1st-5th Rajab, 1433 AH). The visit was proposed in reaction to the numerous incidents of fierce inter-communal strife which have affected the lives of Nigerians during 2000-2012, and the awareness that—at least since the Bosnian war of 1993-1995—Nigeria is the country in the world where the most severe inter-communal violence between Christians and Muslims has been experienced. The delegation sought to understand the reasons behind this violence. The objectives of the visit were to: (a) fact-find and investigate first-hand, impartially and credibly, the situation on the ground in Nigeria, and the various factors that have led to the present tensions; (b) express clearly to both the political and religious leadership in Nigeria the concern and anxiety of the international community about the current situation; (c) demonstrate an international model of Muslims and Christians working together in an inter-religious engagement aimed at fostering peace and harmony between people of different religions; (d) identify areas or projects where religious institutes, persons, texts, or messages can help ameliorate the situation in Nigeria. According to His Royal Highness, Prince Ghazi, every religious text could be quoted out of context to justify violence and killing of innocents, heinous acts not sanctioned by any divine authority.


                                                   Bishop Justin Welby


When it was his turn to speak, Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, informed the gathering of his oft-repeated visits to Nigeria. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘this is about my seventy-fifth trip to Nigeria. So, you see, I’m a bit addicted to the place.’ (Laughter from the audience) ‘The situation in Nigeria,’ he continued, ‘is always complicated. I started a lecture some years ago, in Washington where they asked me to speak about the country, by saying whatever you say about Nigeria, however complicated you may sound, you have to end by saying: it’s not as simple as that! Because this is one of the most wonderful, diverse, impressive countries on earth, and almost anything you say in any place, is contradicted somewhere else in Nigeria. There is, above all, an energy, and a capacity……it has all the abilities needed and the skills needed to be the great regional power….and, because I suspect there are no South Africans here….’ (He paused for effect, and slowly scanned the meeting room in a dramatic way, and then said) ‘Clearly when they expand the permanent members of the Security Council, I’ve no doubt; we should be the African member. But I’m not saying that publicly.’ (More laughter and applause from the audience)


Bishop Welby then asked: ‘So, what is this project about, and why do we, eh… Tony Blair principally, I and Prince Ghazi, why do we have the honour and privilege to have any role in it? It is not to say we bring answers, but as I said to someone this morning in one of our meetings, in the UK over the years, particularly by Tony Blair during the Northern Ireland peace process, we discovered that sometime as a country, when there is conflict, it is hopeful to have people involved who are not part of the story – who have not been in the story since the beginning…not to bring answers, but be able to listen, observe, and by the Grace of God, contribute something useful to help those to have the answers, who are Nigerians.’


                                                    Mr Tony Blair

Next to speak was Mr Tony Blair, Founder and Patron of the Foundation. When you listen to Mr Blair any time, he reminds you of the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), that ‘there is an element of wizardry in oratory.’ Mr Blair is indeed a wizard in the art of public speaking and elucidation and clear exposition of his opinion on any matter. If you get carried away listening to Mr Blair, you shall be carried away! Through this element of wizardry in Mr Blair’s oratory truth could be seen as falsehood and vice-versa, it all depends on what side he chooses to support. Is there any wonder then how the United Nations was rendered useless, the world confused, and many a rational voce muted at the face of well-articulated presentation of a false dossier on Iraq’s possession of WMDs?  


The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "I am only a human being, and you people have disputes. May be someone amongst you can present his case in a more eloquent and convincing manner than the other, and I give my judgment in his favour according to what I hear. Beware! If ever I give (by error) somebody something of his brother's right then he should not take it as I have only given him a piece of Fire." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Hadeeth No. 638. Vol. 3)


And so it was; the fire that was ignited in Iraq is still burning; so, it was a wise way of penance of some sort for people like Tony Blair who, not only fanned the embers of the inferno, but who actually provided fuel, by word and deed, of such crises as Iraq, to now spearhead any movement that would ensure peace and harmony among diverse communities and show how ‘faith can be a powerful force for good in the modern world.’


Mr Tony Blair started by stating his desire of being an oft-repeated visitor to Nigeria, to come here 75 times just as Bishop Welby had done. Because, according to him, ‘Nigeria is the most unique country in the world, it astonishes, astounds me.’ He went further to support Bishop Welby’s assertion of Nigerians being the ones to solve their own issues. ‘The problems of Nigerian,’ he said, ‘would be sorted out by Nigerians….


Something that is important to clarify; sometimes people think that when we talk about the difficulties of religious conflicts or strife, and they say the sole issue is to do with religion, and interfaith relation and so on. No, there are many issues. Many issues that are economic, and social and political that need to be resolved. However, the purpose of my Foundation, why I began it, is that I do think not all of the answers, but part of the answer lies on people of faith coming together, being together, learning from each other, working with each other, speaking with each other, acting with each other. And part of the difficulty from my profession, politics, is that sometimes politics finds the religious dimension too difficult, so it kind of wants to ignore that dimension, and only treads simply on the political or the economic. My view is we need to deal with everything including the issues of how different faiths work together and live together. So, I began my Foundation with a very peculiar objective in mind, and that is to create a situation in which alongside a very high level dialogue between the very eminent persons in the faith community, alongside that we would try to have some practical programmes that bring people together. And bring them together in two ways: first, young people. We just had a video conference between a school in Darby in England, and school students here in Nigeria. Unless we get to the youth of the country, then we are never going to be able to make progress. And here is the most exciting thing, most young people, instinctively, want to be open with each other and to love each other. But it is important at an early age that we introduce them to each other so that is made more easy. Because often what happens is, that later in life other influences come in and turn them in a direction. What we want to do through the school exchange programme that we now run in 19 different countries in the world, where we join up students in dialogue with each other, is to help them understand each other, know each other better. And as I just said to the children there, where there is knowledge, there is more likely to be understanding; and where there is understanding we are more likely to get along. Where there is ignorance there is often fear, where there is fear, there is more likely to be conflict. So, the idea is to replace the ignorance with knowledge, and the fear with understanding.’



                                                  Ms Ama Pepple


President Goodluck Jonathan’s address was read by his representative, the Minister of Housing, Ms Ama Pepple. ‘I commend you’, said the President, ‘for this singular and timely joint initiative. The idea is not only creative; it is also consistent with our effort to promote inter-religious dialogue and harmony.


‘Our country, Nigeria, is blessed by God with two of the world’s great religions who honour Him in their different ways. For generations, the two religions have coexisted and their proponents have lived side by side in peace and harmony knowing that both religions expose the universal values of peace, freedom, human rights, dignity and the oneness of humanity.


Our young people can easily be seduced by false prophets who take them to the path of violence and hatred. It is very important that religion is neither misused nor abused to justify violence.


Inter religious dialogue is already playing an important role in our society. The Federal Government continues to promote religious harmony by constantly engaging the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, jointly chaired by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Sultan of Sokoto. While progress on this front is satisfactory, it must be pointed out that some of the religious tensions in the country are politically motivated.


We must now use both platforms to call on all believers to reject religiously anchored violence, advance tolerance and promote mutual understanding. We must emphasize the imperative of dialogue as part of our effort to create peace and advance development.’


After listening to the President’s speech, I kept wondering what he actually meant by ‘satisfactory’ in Government’s engagement with the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC)to promote religious harmony’. Can there be ‘satisfactory’ interfaith ‘harmony’ under the current leadership of CAN?  Other inter-religious efforts are succeeding with many Christian-Muslim peace initiatives in many parts of this country. Christian leaders like Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Anglican Archbishop of the Province of Kaduna and John Cardinal Onaiyekan are doing a lot towards Christian-Muslim mutual understanding. The recent nomination for 2012 Nobel Peace Prize award of Cardinal John Onaiyekan and His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto is enough to buttress the point that the incompatibility in NIREC’s co-chairmanship is not concealed to the world. The normal thing was for the nomination of the peace award to encompass the current President of CAN, and His Eminence, the Sultan. But the nomination committee was diligent enough to recommend real peace makers for the award; hence it disregarded NIREC joint chairmanship and settled for a former President of CAN (John Onaiyekan) rather than the current (Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor)!


                                                 John Cardinal Onaiyekan

The above sentiment was shared by LEADERSHIP Board of Editors and its top management as it ‘voted Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, Sultan of Sokoto, and John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Abuja, as LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012.’ On the front page of its Monday, December 3, 2012 edition, LEADERSHIP wrote: ‘In a year when religious turmoil deteriorated to a frighteningly new level and a number of religious leaders lost their heads, Sultan Abubakar III and John Cardinal Onaiyekan emerged as powerful moderating voices that fundamentally prevented the country from toppling over. By their words, actions, gestures and comportment, they reminded us of what leadership really means. For deploying their voices of restraint at crucial moments to keep the country’s fragile peace, these soldiers of faith are LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012.’ Though he is the current co-chair of NIREC and President of CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor did not have the honour of either the nomination for 2012 Nobel Peace Prize or LEADERSHIP Persons of the Year 2012 award!



                                                   Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor


It was the turn of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the CAN President to make his remarks at the 
Tony Blair Faith Foundation meeting. ‘We must talk;’ he commenced, ‘but what I’ve always said is, I believe in the progressive dialogue. Dialogue where we can set goals, timelines; we can look at the things we want to achieve and be able to say, within this time we can achieve this, we can achieve that. Honestly, to find great people coming from around the world to support us in this, is incredible. I want to thank you, Mr Tony Blair, for this move. May God do for you what you cannot do for yourself.


Nigeria is a great nation, but greatness can only come out when there is understanding, there is oneness, and we are focused on the same thing. Because as at now it’s like the greatness is being swallowed up by distractions. A lot of things are taking us away from what we ought to concentrate on….


The way forward is with us. And I’m sure; I’m convinced that we will get there. I’m convinced that there is no religion that encourages violence. (This is the first time I’ve heard him speak of this conviction). I know that for a start, myself and my co-chair, we have understanding. (Really? I wonder). But it is how we can take this to everybody else, and I’m sure, by the Grace of God, we will be there.


The challenges we are facing as a nation today, in my opinion, is temporal.’ (Don’t ask me about the grammar… I’m only quoting verbatim…). ‘Because, somehow, we would be able to locate the way to deal with some of these problems; not just for us to sit and talk, but talk, about how we can actually deal with the problems.’


                                                 His Eminence, The Sultan



His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto said: ‘I want to personally thank Mr Tony Blair for his concern, for his love, for his commitment to peace and stability in Nigeria. If the level of concern and commitment is used to judge what will give somebody a citizenship of a country, minus the number of times he visits that country,’ (Laughter from the audience), ‘I think Mr Tony Blair is most certainly, and honourably qualified to be a Nigerian.’ (More laughter)


What you don’t know,’ His Eminence continued, ‘is that Mr Tony Blair just lost his father of 89 years old, in spite of that, he didn’t cancel his trip to Nigeria, he still came down here, to be with us. So, I want everybody to condole with him for this loss.’


Turning to Mr Blair, His Eminence said: ‘I urge you to continue the good work you are doing, and insha Allah, as my co-chair said, we will not disappoint you.’
On the video conference between school children from Nigeria and their counterparts in UK, the Sultan was of the view that the pupils ‘captured exactly what we have been trying to do. I’m very happy and contented that our own youth are thinking in that direction, because the youth are definitely the future of any country. And if these young men and women think the way they are talking this morning, we are sure to achieve what we set to achieve.’


The Sultan also spoke about a similar programme, two years ago, in Mina, Niger State, where 250 Christian and Muslim youth were brought together in a conference. His Eminence said: ‘We are trying to stage a second one.’ What is most important according to the Sultan is to disseminate the proceedings of meetings ‘as the one we are having this morning to a larger audience. It not enough for me and my co-chair to understand one another, but as he said, and I concur, we have to take this message down to those we lead. And we have to do that with all sincerity, with all honesty, believing in our religions as being the religions of peace, understanding one another, and not fighting one another.

During question time I made the following comment and asked two questions: ‘Mr Chairman,’ I began, ‘my name is Abubakr Siddeeq. I hope Bishop Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, will call to mind our long trip to Niger, Yobe, Maiduguri, Kano and Zamfara states, which we (I and Imam Sani Isah of Waff Road Mosque, Kaduna) undertook with a team that he (Bishop Welby) led from the Coventry Cathedral with the purpose of learning, first-hand, reasons for religious crises in Nigeria, and how to bring all the contending parties to participate in an international peace conference to be convened in Nigeria under the auspices of the International Centre for Reconciliation.


I’m happy His Royal Highness, Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar is here. Let me remind Bishop Welby of Darul Islam, a peaceful community in the outskirts of Niger state that hosted us during our fact-finding trip, and allowed us to dialogue with its members in their mosque. It will interest the Archbishop of Canterbury Designate to know that the peaceful community he visited no longer exist today. It has been wiped out, its men, women and children banished and their dwellings levelled to the ground.


I will end with these questions: I want to know from Bishop Welby what happened to the report written by his team after our trip. Either that report was never studied by the recipients or the addressees have refused to do the right thing. If since 2004 a report was submitted by a team of experts headed by the current Archbishop of Canterbury Designate, on a way forward in tackling religious crises in Nigeria, at a time when Taliban had not yet transmuted to Boko Haram, then somebody has not been doing their job. Bishop Welby, you have done a lot for peace in Nigeria, apart from your incessant visits, you even threw caution to the wind when you and members of your team stayed for three days and three nights between Yobe and Maiduguri trying to make members of the Taliban, now Boko Haram key into the idea of the international peace conference. I would not go into how your proposed conference was killed at NIREC level through the influence of the then head of the Aso Villa Chapel. But the point has been made: you’ve been talking; your audience was not listening, or members of that audience chose to do nothing.


Finally, to Mr Blair; do you see your Faith Foundation resuscitating the peace conference that Bishop Welby’s team was not allowed to convene?’

Unfortunately, I did not get any meaningful response from both Mr Blair and Bishop Welby, as they understandably chose to tread carefully due to the sensitive nature of the issues raised in my comment and questions. I was however pleased with the fact that the message was conveyed; Bishop Welby was visibly troubled when I mentioned the banishment by the Niger state government of the Darul Islam peaceful community.
This is what I wrote on this column in 2010 concerning Bishop Welby’s visit to Darul Islam:


Darul Islam was more than a mere group; it was a community on the outskirts of Niger State. This was a peace-loving community. Members of the LOC for the Peaceful Coexistence Conference of the Coventry Cathedral were welcomed; with a few introductory remarks to the leader of Darul Islam on the purpose of our visit, we (Muslims and Christians) were ushered into the masjid (mosque) without discrimination. I want to see another group of Muslims in this country that will admit Christian clergy into its mosque for the purposes of dialogue and interfaith discourse! I am saying this because whenever we take Christian (foreign) visitors for the tour of the National Mosque the ignorant among the people would look at us with disapproval, and suspicion.


The leader directed a crier to summon people in Darul Islam to the mosque for ‘an urgent and important matter.’ And within 15 minutes there were no rooms for the faithful to seat in the mosque; every available space was occupied. Many leaned on the walls, and many more stood outside behind the windows. Women in complete Islamic attire, and children were at the rear of the masjid; you could not hear even the slightest din. Everything was calm, peaceful. Nobody uttered a word without the consent of the leader (Ameerul Mu’mineen).


With the permission of the leader, I briefly introduced the LOC members to the Darul Isalam community, and stated our mission. Later, The Reverend Canon Justin Welby, Co-Director of International Centre for Reconciliation, directed a number of questions to the leader of the community. ‘Sheikh,’ he began, ‘we wonder what will make you choose to stay here, far away from civilization, and basic amenities of modern life.’


You are right Reverend,’ started the leader of Darul Islam, ‘we chose to be here because we want to be governed by Allah’s Laws. Darul Isalam means the abode of peace, Islam; whoever comes here will be in peace. We don’t belong to any sect be it Izala, Tariqah, Shia or what not. We are Muslims for that is what Allah calls the adherents of Islaam in the Qur’an. We don’t fight anybody, kill or destroy property. Darul Isalam has its market, ‘health centre’, a school for our children where they are taught Islaam and what will not harm their faith of the so-called Western Education, and even abattoir. We farm what we eat; we need nothing from anywhere. We are content with what Allah has provided for us here. Our wells are overflowing with water, these Lister engines you see around our mud-built houses are the source of energy that illumines our homes; we are not in need of NEPA. Ours is a modest life. The Governor (Abdulkadir Kure of the time) personally came here to plead with us to leave, that he has earmarked a large plot of land for us within the city. We showed our gratitude to, and prayed for him; we made him understand that we prefer to stay here. He conceded, and left us alone. It may be that he had seen that we pose no threat to anybody; we are peaceful.


Unfortunately, this peaceful community of Darul Isalam was banished from its home after the Boko Haram uprising in November 2009. It was the outcome of an AIT Kakaaki Programme that featured two Abuja based Imams: Fuad Adeyemi of Alhabibiya Academy and Nurudeen Khalid of NASS Mosque. During the programme Imam Nurudeen spoke about ‘another dangerous group called Darul Isalaam in Niger State.’ The group, he said, does not recognise the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. AIT used this part of Imam Nurudeen’s intervention as a clip in its news for almost 2 days running. Of course that drew the attention of the authorities, and the Niger State Government in particular. The next thing we heard was the banishment of Darul Isalam from Niger State.


Just before I wrote this piece one of the Project Officers attached with the Coventry Cathedral, and member of the LOC of the Peaceful Coexistence Conference visited me in my office. I asked him about Darul Isalam and what his reaction was when he heard that they were driven away from their community. His response was succinct: ‘It was a shame that such peace-loving folks were expelled from their dwellings...’

Friday, November 23, 2012

PECULIARITIES OF HAJJ


                                                                         Pilgrims at Arafah


There is no gathering in the world like the Hajj. More than 3 million people have never converged in a single spot engaged in the same thing at the same time but on pilgrimage to the Ancient House in Makkah. For this unique feature, Hajj has peculiarities some of which I desire to address today.

Muslims spare no expense and bear any inconvenience on their way to the Holy Land for the performance of Hajj. With or without government’s involvement in Hajj activities in Nigeria, for instance, Muslims will continue to be on the pilgrimage. Hajj, to us, is a religious obligation, a pillar of our creed, and not an innovation in faith, without textual proof, and it is not done in order to cut a share in the national pie.

It is only in Hajj visa process that women need to be accompanied by a male guide, a mahram, if we accept for the purpose of this write-up the position of the Saudi Hajj authorities. This is one of the unique features of Hajj. No country in the world has anything similar to this. I have alluded to Nigeria’s position, on this page a fortnight ago, of making female pilgrims travel with safe company comprising trusted men and women, not necessarily attaching each woman to a relative or husband. In some of the responses I got on that piece and which appeared on this column last week, there were comments to the effect that the article was not balanced, that I should fear Allah because I was trying to protect my Hajj business interest in case the Saudis decide ‘to strictly follow the mahram rule.

Since today’s piece is on the peculiarities of Hajj, and the type of visa for this religious journey is part of what it intends to address, I will use this chance to clarify the matter. The people who made the above comments did not know that I, and any other Hajj tour operator, was not affected by what was happening at the time. The international pilgrims have not yet started travelling for Hajj 2012. We start airlift of our hajjis about 10 days to the actual pilgrimage. Our clients do not want to stay for more than two weeks in the holy land. The said commentators did not know also that there are different laws governing the visa process of Hajj tour operators on the one hand, and state pilgrim boards on the other. The state pilgrim boards and agencies have certain privileges and relaxed conditionalities over Hajj tour operators due to the enormous number of passports that they handle. The Hajj tour operator will hardly find himself or his pilgrims in the situation that the state pilgrim boards found themselves recently over the issue of mahram.


                                                                  Arafah


Every office of a registered Hajj and Umrah tour operator is a quasi-branch of the Saudi embassy or consulate when it comes to visa processing. We have access into the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website where we can process all kinds of visa: diplomatic, residence, work and visit. Other visas we can process are: medical/student, commercial or business as well as Umrah and Hajj visas. What the embassy or consulate does at the end of the day is to use the bar code we generate through the e-MOFA number (a special code that is automatically generated after submitting the details of each visa applicant online) we get from the website to print the visa on each passport. The bulk of the work is done by the tour operator, and not the embassy. The website is so sensitive that if due to a slight error the entire process of registering a passport or group of passports was aborted, you have to start all over again. The passport sized photograph of each applicant, for example, has to be captured and uploaded in accordance with specifications given on the page for appropriate height, width and pixels; otherwise the site will reject it. If the visa applicant is a female or a child below 18 years, there must be a mahram - FATHER, HUSBAND, SON OR BROTHER. The mahram must himself be above 18 years or the whole process will be automatically rejected.

Another strange one is that you can only use Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer 6 browser to do the process; any higher version or different web browser will result in errors. You may find that your pictures will not upload, for example, as a result of this difference.
 All international airlines are well acquainted with the visa requirements in Hajj and Umrah, and there is an imposition of a $10, 000 penalty per head on any airline that boards a pilgrim to Jeddah or Madinah with deficient entry documents. Emirates Airline which my company mostly uses for its operations is the strictest in adhering to the Saudi mahram rule. From Lagos, all pilgrims are scrutinised for any discrepancy in mahrams and related issues. No female pilgrim will check in without a mahram. Hajj pilgrims are given only one boarding pass; that of Lagos to Dubai. They can claim the other connecting boarding pass for the other leg of their journey, i.e. of Dubai to Jeddah or Madinah after crossing the more intense hurdle of mahram rechecking at the Dubai International airport by Arabic speaking Emirates staffers who seem to take delight in stalling your onward leg if you have mahram problem. "Sorry sir," they would say, "you can’t travel". And that is it! No amount of pleading or persuasion will make them change their minds. At times some so-called VIPs in Nigeria will force their way into the aircraft in Lagos, Abuja or Kano on the wheel of protocol concession. But in Dubai and other international airports we are all equal; you are only VIP in Nigeria. Emirates will not risk boarding anybody - no matter what that person thinks of themselves - without proper travelling documents to Saudi Arabia. So there is no way we, as private Hajj operators will have mahram issues like the one witnessed recently with pilgrims from state boards and agencies that operate direct flights to Jeddah and Madinah. On account of what I have stated here, in our ten years of operations in Hajj and Umrah activities, there was not a time that our pilgrims were deported for lack of mahram.

I am a sinner. I sin by day and night; unless Allah forgive and have mercy on me, I will be undone. But twisting religious position to achieve mundane ends is not part of my sins. Also, sugar-coating truth to please any mortal is not part of my iniquities; praise be to Allah.

What I did in that piece was to state the different positions taken by ulamaa on the permissibility or otherwise of women performing Hajj without mahram. The divergence of opinion has been there even before the impasse at Jeddah and Madinah airports with our female pilgrims. It was not an attempt to protect any business interest. Those women are our mothers, sisters and wives. Above all, they are Muslims whose only crime was that they said they want to be the guests of Allah. I do not know whether the commentator knows that of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence that are widely known, two (Shaafi'ee and Maaliki) are of the opinion that women can travel in safe company for hajj; even though the Shafi'ees specify that it can only be for the first hajj. Did these legendary scholars also have some paltry worldly gains to consider when they opined thus?

The mahram issue was centred on the state pilgrim boards and the Saudi authorities who knew very well the position of Nigerian Hajj authorities on female pilgrims and have never questioned the mode of operations for state pilgrim boards and agencies (incidentally, most Nigerian scholars lean to the Maaliki school). There was more to the issue than met the eye.

President Jonathan’s envoy, Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, must be commended for the successful resolution of the crisis.


Alhamdu lillah, Hajj 2012 is over but serious stakeholders have started revising their notes, paying attention to causes of hitches and how to avoid recurrence of same in the operations of Hajj 2013. Their study will also focus on areas of strength and how to enhance service delivery so that pilgrims will have real value for money.

Ticketing for Hajj, for instance, is not like ticketing at any other time or season. Most of the flights to Jeddah and Madeenah airports will be closed (they are the only airports a pilgrim can enter the Holy Land from). You will not be able to confirm many seats especially in the economy class. The airlines hold such seats and give them out to groups. So, if you want to put your pilgrims in the economy class you have to get confirmed group seats with fixed departure and arrival dates directly from the airlines. On Emirates Airline such group economy seats are only available, for pilgrims from Nigeria and many African countries, on Jeddah flights.

All flights landing in Madinah are given to those countries ‘who can pay better rates’, whatever that means. This is what we were told when we asked why our pilgrims were not given the Madinah flights. And who says Nigerians cannot pay? Our pilgrims paid N375, 000 for group economy seats to Jeddah. This is what other airlines charge for full economy or even business class seats.

Our pilgrims could only be confirmed on either first or business class seats on direct flights to Madinah. The problem here is with members of the same family or group travelling for Hajj. Yes, all will be on the same flight to Dubai, for example, but that family or group will be split on the Dubai – Jeddah or Dubai – Madinah sector of the journey. The dilemma is with families and groups consisting of female pilgrims – they must all travel in either business or economy class - as they will not be allowed into Saudia without their mahrams.  Only in Hajj will you find this kind of situation.

The pricing of tickets, though not peculiar to Hajj seats, is another area hardly understood by pilgrims. Unless you are issuing group tickets where the price is fixed, you seem to get all sorts of rates for the same type of tickets, travelling on the same dates, to the same destination and on the same class. During this year’s Hajj we issued business class tickets on our dates of travel at about N855, 000, while others were as low as N600, 000. A couple came for first class tickets; the wife’s ticket we got at N1, 200, 000; that of the husband, confirmed hours later, was N1, 500, 000. How on earth will a pilgrim take this calmly if not for the fact that the price of each ticket is generated electronically and is written on it directly from the airline? Incidentally, some pilgrims seem to think that the high prices are influenced by the agents; this cannot be farther from the truth. The truth is that as one agent is reserving a class of seat, another is reserving the same class. The electronic system queues up the requests based on time and searches for available seats that match the criteria of the seat requests. It gives you whatever it finds within the class you requested regardless of who you are. When the agent sees the fare, he makes an adjustment by asking for the best available in that class. As a result, you will see varying fares due to subclasses under each class of ticket. There are at least 3 first class types on Emirates’ Lagos-Dubai route, for example. The prices are not the same!

                                        Emirates Airline's First Class Cabin


Non availability of refund for services paid is another unique feature of Hajj. Whatever you paid for anywhere in the world and could not use due to any unforeseen circumstance, you are refunded at least in part if not completely. You may at worse be charged for cancellation fees in some cases or no-show fees. But in Hajj, you lose almost everything. For the tickets, if you happen to buy a full economy, business or first class ticket, you can place it for refund – even then what you get at the end of the day is far less than what you paid, as the airline will deduct other charges from the total sum. As far as group tickets are concerned, you get nothing from the airline. Some may argue that this is harsh but the airlines have their own valid points too.

                                                  The Business Class

In 2008 for example, there was a flight to Jeddah out of Lagos that was short of about 79 pilgrims. That year, visa issuance was a problem and many people were yet to receive visas before their flight dates. They missed the flight and the affected agencies applied for and got refunds for that high number of passengers. Dubai was not happy and ever since, they have been devising ways to cut their losses. Remember Hajj group economy seats are blocked all the way to Jeddah; no one can book them except agents. It was a substantial loss to them and so, here we are!

On your accommodation, transport within Saudia, Arafah/Minaa tents and feeding, you will get absolutely nothing once you cancel your trip when it is only few days to departure. Hajj services are arranged and paid for according to the number of pilgrims in a group. What the hotels and other service providers do, after collecting full payment from us, is make the Hajj tour operator sign a binding contract for the rooms required, to check in and check out at an agreed date according to the group’s movement. With the ratification of such contract, no alterations are permitted in terms of number of rooms decided upon or check in/check out dates. If any or all of the pilgrims could not make it to Hajj, that is the problem of the Hajj tour operator. As far as the hotel is concerned the rooms are occupied and paid for. This is Hajj!


                                            Dinning Time - First Class Style

The situation in the tents is not any better. Now in the A Tents (in the Additional Services Tents of the Mu’assasah) you have to pay for a number of tents according to the number of your pilgrims. Each tent cost SR60, 000 (N2, 400, 000) and accommodates only 8 pilgrims. That is about NGN300, 000 per head. The en suite ones go for even higher; one tent accommodates just five pilgrims and has the added comfort of an en suite convenience. One of such costs SR70, 000 (NGN2, 800, 000). All the prices I have quoted do not include the agent’s profit. And here also as in the case of the hotels, complete payment is required and contract signing. Nobody cares whether one or all of your pilgrims could not come to Hajj; any refund process is out of the question!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

ADAMU ADAMU’S CRITICISMS OF THE SAUDIS


                                                                         The Ka'bah



What I desire to write today in response to part 2 of Adamu Adamu’s Hajj and the Saudis (back page column, Daily Trust of Friday, 12 October 2012) has forestalled the publishing of the second part of my PECULIARITIES OF HAJJ in this column. I will revert to that next week insha Allah.


I am not a shi’ah adherent but I’ve always enjoyed the fluid prose and compelling exposition of plausible arguments in Adamu Adamu’s articles. Unfortunately, his plausibleness failed him in the write up under discussion. I concur with the writer in what he stated, among other things, in the first part of the article, which appeared in the same paper on 5 October, 2012, where he decried the detention, under appalling condition, and subsequent deportation of Nigerian female pilgrims by Saudi authorities for not travelling with mahrams. But the writer went out of his way, in the second part, to criticize the Saudis’ management of the Haramayn and demolition of Islamic relics and historical monuments ‘to stop us from committing shirk!’ Well, shirk to Adamu Adamu may be a trifle; in the sight of Allah, it is a great sin, not forgiven one who dies committing it! There is nothing worse than derailing from the way of the prophet (SAW).


I, however, like the type of Shi’ism that Adamu Adamu exhibits in his writings, except if he does that in the form of taqiyyah, dissimulation which I fail to divine. For instance, in his attempt to prove how erroneous the Saudis have acted in demolishing Islamic relics, he said: ‘The caliph Umar bin Khattab understood this so well that during his Caliphate he disallowed whoever was in the precinct of the Haram from locking his house during the Hajj. He said the land belonged to the guests of God and they had more right to the houses than those living in them. So who gave the Saudis the right to tamper with and desecrate of the Haramayn along with all the memorabilia of the Holy Prophet [SAW] and his companions?’ Brilliant! This is at variance with the attitude of Shi’ites, who love to calumniate noble companions like Abubakr, Umar, or even the illustrious wife of the Messenger of Allah, Aisha, may Allah be pleased with them. I will return to this later.


Adamu Adamu confused the warrant of travelling in the earth and seeing the nature of the consequence of those who came before us, like ‘the Pharaoh’, with the ‘artefacts related to the Holy Prophet [SAW] and Islam…’ Let us even assume that the  embalmed and preserved body, laying in the Cairo Museum is indeed that of the son of Ramses ll, mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an, it is regrettable that the writer chose this discordant analogy between the preservation of the remnants of obstinate potentates and ‘the artefacts related to the Holy Prophet [SAW] and Islam…’ The verses that adjure believers to travel and see the end of those who were before us have to do with perverted transgressors. Adamu Adamu would have done better with benign inference.
I am not a Saudi apologist. I have had occasions to take strong exception to some of the positions taken by the Saudis and their scholars. I believe that our scholars in Nigeria should be accorded the deference and courtesy that they deserve by the Saudis. I do not accept all fatwas issued by Saudi scholars, thus I wrote Women Can Perform Hajj without Mahram; I allow my wife to drive within and outside Abuja; positions that are not in agreement with Saudi fatwas.


One can disagree with the Saudis on the way they conduct themselves in their relation with the West or how they refuse to use the oil weapon in weakening the Zionist State, etc. but whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day must concede that the Saudis have not failed in their task of administration of the Two Holy Mosques. Those who travel to Makkah and Madinah often can give testimony to the care, maintenance and constant improvement that the Haramayn enjoy under the vigilance of the House of Saud. Of course we know where the complaints are from and where they aim to lead the ignorant. The belief is if you make enough noise after a while you will get listeners. Iran has never made it hidden that it wants to be in control of the Haramayn. The last time they had access to graves of the revered companions was a shame not only to them but to humanity.

                                    The Holy Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah


The Holy Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah will attest to the expansion it has witnessed superintended by the Saudi leadership. You can safely say that the Haram is enhanced by the minute. Wherever you may be the call to prayer reaches you. The carpeting is exact and gorgeous; the gold-plated decorations and state-of-the-art chandeliers are cleaned around the clock. If the mosque is filled with worshippers don’t worry, 182 jumbo umbrellas are installed in the courtyard to guarantee shelter from rain and sun’s heat. Each of these umbrellas covers about 600 square metres and can accommodate 900 worshippers. Recently, King Abdullah launched a huge expansion project for this mosque expected to be the largest of its kind, which, at completion, will accommodate additional 1.6 million worshippers. If the Saudi government is guilty of anything in this matter, it is going into excess in embellishing the mosques.

                                                     The Prophet's Mosque


In Makkah the House of Saud could not be found wanting in its responsibility towards the Mashaa’ir, monuments of Hajj. Tents in Minaa are now fireproof; the mega structure of the Jamaraat Bridge complex, spacious exit route and highly experienced manpower in crowd management have saved lives during the stoning ritual in Hajj; a feat they carry out without firearms. The Mashaa’ir Railway linking Minaa, Arafaat and Muzdalifah is almost complete.


Before he launched that of Madinah, King Abdullah has laid the foundation stone for another unprecedented expansion of the Holy Mosque in Makkah which will increase its capacity to more than 2.5 million devotees. This initiative is certain to create more rooms for worshippers around the Mas’aa (the running course between Safaa and Marwah). It will also remove the hardship pilgrims face during tawaaf, and enable them perform their rites in a more relaxed and spiritual environment.


                                                             Work in Progress


The purpose of expansion projects around the Haramayn is not the preservation or demolition of any artefacts; expansions are necessitated by the need to make Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages more comfortable and safer in the face of phenomenal rise in the number of pilgrims annually. So, let this noble course of expansion of the Haramayn persist; let the skyscrapers be built in order to accommodate more pilgrims, and let the blamers continue to criticize the House of Saud for making Las Vegas out of Makkah, provided that will provide a serene, relaxed atmosphere and facilitate the observance of this once-in-a-life-time ritual for the guests of Allah. I am sure that is a lesser crime than standing up and remaining like a statue upon seeing the image of Khomeini or Khamanei or whoever it is they treat like a demigod these days.


The image that the visitor to the Ka’bah will have in his mind as he approaches the Holy Mosque is that of an answer to his prayer for entering the precincts of the Ancient House: O Allah increase this House in nobility, honour, dignity and awe!


                                                         The Ka'bah


Certainly, the House of Saud has shown utmost reverence to the sacredness and glory of the Haramayn, sparing neither effort nor expense in making the place, by Allah’s grace, what it is today. The title of The Custodian of The Two Holy Mosques, let traducers perish in their rage, fits perfectly King Abdullah Ibn Abdullaziz Aal Saud; he and those among this household who came before him and those that will come after him if they do what he did.


If this care and service is what Adamu Adamu referred to as Wahabism; if printing of billions of copies of the Glorious Qur’an for free distribution around the world is Wahabism; and if Wahabism means exerting all within one’s power for the service of the guests of Allah, then I am one of them. Open the windows let the world hear: I am Wahabi. And so what! I’d rather be a Wahabi than desecrate the message of Islam with Shi’ism.


Adamu Adamu contended that the Saudis love to ‘preserve aspects of the past that they deem important and worthy of preserving: it is just the remembrance and legacy of the Holy Prophet [SAW] that they wish to destroy.’ That is why, he said, they are opposed ‘to celebrating Maulud al-Nabi’, but ‘they always eagerly celebrate their so-called National Day. Ask them: which of the Salaf celebrated national days?’ Shall we then reverse the question and ask the writer: which of the Salaf (righteous predecessors) celebrated Maulud (the Prophet’s birthday)? The writer should have continued with this line of argument with authentic traditions, if there are any, on the instruction of the Prophet (SAW) concerning Maulud celebrations, or the examples of the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs on Maulud, and the generation that came after them, on how they celebrated Maulud.  If he cannot, and of a surety he cannot provide such instruction from the Prophet (SAW), and such example from the Rightly Guided Caliphs, and the generation that came after them, let him then call to mind the words of Imam Malik Ibn Anas, the Imam of Madinah (may Allah be merciful to him), "The last generations of this Ummah (nation) will not succeed except when they resort to what made the former followers succeed." He meant that what brought success to the first generation was adherence to the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), following their rules and avoiding what contradicts them. The last generations of this Ummah will not succeed unless they resort to what made the former generations succeed.

Preservation of ‘Arabia’s pre-Islamic past’ by ‘erecting museums’ likeDarat al-Malik Abd al-Aziz in Riyadh’ has no religious consequence attached to it. Visitors to such museums are not doing that seeking Allah’s countenance or with hope of getting reward for any ritual. There is no difference between the visitors in Riyadh museum and those of Cairo museum for example. They are all tourists seeking pleasure in sightseeing of past relics. But ‘legacy of the Holy Prophet [SAW]’ that Adamu Adamu refered to:  ‘the blessed house where the Holy Prophet [SAW] was born’, the ‘graveyard of Amina, the Blessed, mother of the Messenger [SAW]’, the ‘House of Khadijah, the Glorious,’ and so on and so forth; visitors to such places are not the same as visitors to Cairo or Riyadh museums.

Such places will be visited as a form of ‘ibaadah that draws visitors to Allah; the ignorant among the people are sure to exceed Allah’s limits in such monuments leading to Shirk (associating others with Allah in His Divinity or worship). The same ‘caliph Umar bin Khattab’ that Adamu Adamu quoted in the second part of his series, was authentically reported to have condemned visiting the monuments of the Prophets, and sanctioned that the tree under which the Bay`ah of Al-Hudaybiyah took place be cut off, when reports reached him that people where visiting the spot. The reason was he knew people have a tendency to turn mere objects and persons into objects of veneration and worship. You only need to see the Shiites and the way they revere their so-called Ayatollahs.

Yes, that was an act aimed at protecting people’s Tauheed and precluding ways that could lead to Shirk. Umar (peace be upon him) did that, even before the Saudis. The question we need to ask is how would the preservation or otherwise of the places mentioned in Adamu Adamus’s piece affect the performance of Hajj? Are these historical monuments part of the mashaa’ir of Hajj?

                                                 The Qubaa Mosque


Imam Malik and other scholars of Al-Madinah hated going to the Masjids and Islamic monuments in Al-Madinah except Qubaa and Uhud. Sufyaan Ath Thawree entered Al-Aqsa Mosque and offered Salah there, but he did not inquire about those monuments or offer Salah there; and others who imitated him did the same. Ibn Waddah then said, 'How many matters are now considered acceptable by many people that were once considered Munkar. People try to get closer to Allah through means that drive them further from Allah.'"


Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah be merciful to him) said in his book 'Majmu` Al-Fatawa', Vol. 26, P. 133, "As for climbing Mount Al-Rahmah (at `Arafah) it is neither an act of Sunnah (supererogatory act of worship following the example of the Prophet) nor Mustahab (desirable). It is not Mustahab to enter the dome above it, called the Dome of Adam, to offer Salah there, or circumambulate it, as this is one of the major sins.”


He also said on p. 144 of the same section, "As for visiting the Masjids that were built in Makkah other than Al-Masjid Al-Haram (the Sacred Mosque in Makkah), such as the one by the foot of Al-Safa, the one by the foot of Abu Qubays, and such Masjids that were built at the sites of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Sahabah, such as Masjid Al-Mawlid (the Prophet's birthday) and others, it is neither a Sunnah to visit these places, nor was it preferable by any of the Imams. It is only permissible to visit Al-Masjid Al-Haram in particular, and the sacred ritual places, such as `Arafah, Muzdalifah, Minaa, Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. However, visiting the mountains and areas around Makkah other than `Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina, such as Hira' Mountain, the mountain at Minaa where it is claimed that there was the sacrifice dome and such places; it is not a Sunnah related to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), but rather a Bid`ah. The same applies to the Masjids built at the sites said to be monuments. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not permit visiting any of these."


In vol. 27, p. 134, of the same book, he also said, "Some people might ask whether it is permissible to glorify a place where there is worn-out things and saffron as the Prophet (peace be upon him) was seen there. Glorification of such places and turning them into Masjids is an imitation of the People of the Book whom we are prohibited to imitate. It was authentically reported that `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) was traveling when he saw a group of people hurrying to a place. He asked, 'What is this?' The people replied, 'It is a place where the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered Salah.' He said, 'Do you want to turn the sites of your prophet into Masjids? If the time of Salah comes while a person is there, they can offer Salah there; otherwise they should leave.' `Umar said this in the presence of a number of Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them). It is known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to offer Salah in many places while traveling, and the people would see him in their sleep in different places. However, the Salaf did not turn any of these into Masjids or tourist sites. If this door is opened, many of the Muslim lands will be turned into Masjids and tourist sites, as people still dream that the Prophet (PBUH) visits them at home. Establishing such tourist sites is a loathed Bid`ah. Allah has not ordered that the places of prophets be turned into a Musalla (a place for Prayer) except Maqaam Ibrahim (the Station of Ibrahim) in His statement,  “And take you (people) the Maqaam (place) of Ibraheem (Abraham) [or the stone on which Ibraheem (Abraham) عليه السلام stood while he was building the Ka‘bah] as a place of prayer” (for some of your prayers, e.g. Two Rak‘at after the Tawâf of the Ka‘bah at Makkah) He has neither ordered that a stone be touched and kissed except Al-Hajar Al-Aswad (the Black Stone in a corner of the Ka`bah), or Salah be directed to a building other than Al-Bayt-ul-Haram (the Sacred House, another name for the Ka`bah). According to the Ijma` (consensus) of the Muslims, it is impermissible to make analogies in this matter. It is tantamount to asking the people to perform Hajj to a place other than Al-Bayt-ul-`Ateeq or observe Sawm (fasting) in a month other than Ramadan, and so on."


He then said, "The rest of the issues have been definitely answered. If a person offers Salah or recites Du`a' (supplication) intentionally at the place of a prophet's footprints or site; the grave of a Sahaby (Companion of the Prophet), a sheikh, or one of Ahl-ul-Bayt (members of the Prophet's immediate Muslim family), a tower or a cave, this is a rejected Bid`ah in Islam, as neither the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) nor the early generation of Muslims or those who followed them in righteousness did so. Not one of the Muslim Imams preferred it; rather, it is a means leading to Shirk."


He then said on p. 500 in the same section, "After Islam, none of the Sahabah used to go to Hira' Cave on purpose. It is impermissible for us to seek the caves of mountains or sit in seclusion there...As for sitting in seclusion in caves and traveling for a mountain to seek blessings, such as At-Tur Mountain, Mount Hiraa, Mount Thawr and others, it is impermissible for us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated, ‘Do not set out on a journey but to three Masjids: Al-Masjid Al-Haram, this mosque of mine (the Prophet's Mosque), and Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem).’



In his third and final part of Hajj and the Saudis, Adamu Adamu made allusion to the Saudis desecrating the Haramayn by way of mismanagement of the Hajj itself, and by their dependence on ‘the oppressive and transgressing centres of unbelief and global kufr.’ He quoted verses 1-3 of At-Taubah to show that Allah is free from obligation of any treaty entered with those who practice Shirk. Yes, but the writer should know that dissolution of treaty with idolaters is not restricted to severing of fraternity with ‘global kufr’, or with idol votaries; it also covers those modern practitioners of shirk who place the created on the same level with the Creator. This is the subject addressed by Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab in his Kitaabut Tauheed, a highly authentic book on Monotheism, guiding millions of people throughout the world, removing them out of the darkness of shirk, heresy and the worship of human beings to the service of Allah alone without associating partners unto Him.


In this book, all the relevant Verses have been discussed reasonably, rationally and sincerely; and the essence of the Qur'an and Sunnah is placed in a very simple and appealing manner. This is the reason that the upright persons, beyond group ism and prejudices, have been adopting the correct Islamic path - the path of the Qur'an and Sunnah - under the influence of the basic facts and proofs produced herein. From the surname of the author of this masterpiece, people like Adamu Adamu christened those who recognise the teachings contained in Kitaabut Tauheed as Wahabis. Interestingly, there is no movement, organisation or even a mosque anywhere in the world, even here in Saudi Arabia from where I’m writing this piece, known as Wahabism, Wahabi association or masjid. But volumes are written on the subject because of Kitaabut Tauheed and its author Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab.




I invite readers of this piece to take a survey of their library of Islamic collections – these books you bought from Saudi Arabia during your Umrah,  Hajj or when you travelled for business or holiday around the world – tittles like Salvation Through Repentance, Ways Of Gaining Provision From Allah, The Goodly Word – Al Kalim al Tayyib, Selected Friday Sermons, Provisions for the Hereafter (Zaad Al-Ma’ad), and thousand other tittles authored by respected Muslim scholars like Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Hamza Yusuf, Ibn Qayyim, etc. published by Darusalam Publications (with branches in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Kuwait, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, UAE, UK and USA), International Islamic Publishing House, USA and Saudia Arabia, are all influenced by the teachings of Ibn Abdul Wahhab and Ibn Taymiyyah. These titles and what they contain of making religion pure for Allah only, without shirk is what Adamu Adamu referred to asparrot-fashion repetition of its schismatic Taymiyyah trichotomy.’ But contrary to Adamu Adamu’s averments Tauheed of the Salaf is an epitome of scholarship in the field; it does not cause schism among the ranks of Muslims, and it does not ignite ‘Muslim-Christian animosity’. We are always looking for ways to foster Muslim-Christian mutual respect and harmony as dictated by the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).


Adamu Adamu confined the meaning of verses 27 and 28 of Suratul Hajjthat they may witness things that are of the benefits to them – to a utopian pilgrims’ conference, a ‘representative Supreme Assembly of the world’s two billion Muslims’, as he called it, in Minaa with a weeklong agenda to discuss challenges facing the Muslim world today. Unless such a conference is convened in Minaa, according to the writer, ‘Muslims will not witness the things of benefit’ to them as contained in the above verses. To him that is the essence of ‘the long period of stay in Mina.’ That do we assume that ‘God will ask’ pilgrims ‘to travel thousands of miles on foot, by land, by sea, by air and every lean camel and spend three days in camp just so that they cry out the Talbiyyah and whisper a few formulas of du’a and then go back home?


Only that the writer did not tell us at what point will this grand meeting be possible. Is it on our way to Minaa, at the rush hour of the flood of pilgrims to their various tents? Is this conference going to hold as we are preparing to go to Arafah? Will this conference be convened during the peak of the Hajj itself, the standing at Arafah? What time can the pilgrims spare for any meeting during the transit at Muzdalifah? And the 10th day of Zulhijjah when the pilgrims are supposed to slaughter their animals, to shave their heads, to throw their pebbles at the Jamaraat and to go round the Ka’bah; at what time will this ‘representative Supreme Assembly of the world’s two billion Muslims’ hold its plenary?


Adamu Adamu is either oblivious of the challenges inherent in Hajj activities or has not performed the ritual for a very, very long time, hence this unfounded lamentation for Muslims not utilising their stay in Minaa for a conference on their problems. The convergence of more than 3 million pilgrims for Hajj, moving most of the time in one direction and trying to do the same thing at the time, with the attendant confusion in such multitudinous movements from a set of activities to another, the proposition of any conference outside the main duties of the pilgrimage is totally inconceivable!


From the time of the first proclamation to the pilgrimage, Muslims have always gone to Hajj with an agenda, and got things of benefit to them. They will continue to do so until Allah inherits the earth and what it contains. Their agenda and the benefit they get from their Hajj are not in the form of mudhaaharaat (demonstrations), hand-clapping and shouting slogans during Hajj as Shi’ah pilgrims from Iran and their confederates were doing in times gone by until the Saudi Hajj authorities put a stop to it. No, Muslims are aware that there should be no obscenity, wrangling or angry conversation in Hajj (Al-Baqarah, 2:197), so demonstrations are not part of their agenda or benefit of their Hajj.


The first on the agenda is to earn the pleasure of their Maker, so that their sins will be forgiven them. They approach the Haramayn for prayers to get thousands of recompense that they cannot get elsewhere.


They interact with other Muslims, asking about and discussing their problems with a view to learning from each other and proffering solutions to the challenges facing the Ummah; the agenda for such discussions covers worldly benefits, also, in the area of trade, business and other lawful earnings (Al-Baqarah, 2:198). This they do at every point they happen to come into contact with pilgrims from other countries in places of their accommodation, in the restaurant, in the Haram or even at the airport. The benefit of Hajj moves with them even when they trek all the way from Minaa to Arafah, Muzdalifah and during circumambulation of the Ka’bah, burning fat, protecting themselves from heart ailments, cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity. They do not wait for Adamu Adamu’s colossal pilgrims’ conference before they get things of benefit to them during Hajj.

                                            The Slaughterhouse in Makkah


And this inculpatory remarks against the Saudis, who were, according to the writer, ‘in the habit of burying the meat of the sacrificial animals’, is a blatant untruth! One only needs to go to the mizarah, slaughterhouse in Makkah and see how the poor among the people of Makkah are waiting to receive the sacrificial animals, even though the authorities are putting some restrictions on this for the purposes of environmental protection and health reasons.


Petrol-affluence came to Saudi Arabia only but yesterday; the country had witnessed lean years in which a greater part of its sustenance depended on the provisions brought by the guests of Allah and the meat of the sacrifice they offered during Hajj. Saudi authorities have not forgotten this hard page of their nationhood, and as Muslims they know Islam’s instructions on wastage. Thus, they ensure proper utilization of the meat of Hajj animals through a series of operations that include packaging, chilling, freezing, storage and freighting in order to keep this sacrificial meat fit for human consumption until it reaches eligible beneficiaries within Saudi Arabia and more than 24 other poor nations. Saudis do not kill and bury Hajj sacrificial animals!




                                                                                   Makkah

On accommodation for pilgrims Adamu Adamu said: “And on other fronts, pilgrims are forced to have to pay accommodation fees in advance as part of groups registered with agents approved by the Saudi government. This is compulsory even for those who have alternatives; because that is the only way the hotels and apartment blocks of members of the royal family and their friends will get patronage. They have turned the Hajj into a business enterprise.


Unfamiliarity with Hajj operations presented as informed opinion, unfortunately, by a writer whose calling is devoid of correlation with pilgrims’ accommodation during Hajj or Umrah. Pilgrims are neither ‘forced to pay accommodation fees in advance’ nor are they required to do so directly with any hotel or apartment. The Saudi Hajj authorities deal with their counterparts from other countries in matters of accommodation and other logistics for pilgrims; individual arrangements are not encouraged in Hajj. In Nigeria for example the state pilgrim boards and agencies act on behalf of our pilgrims, just as private Hajj operators do so for those hajjis who desire higher standard of services. A pilgrim must belong to a group, state owned or private, for easy coordination and monitoring by Hajj Ministry officials, of standard of service rendered to pilgrims. Hajj visas are issued only to groups, barring gratis, Mujaamalah visa given as diplomatic concession to government officials, and oftentimes to those who can pay. Individual pilgrims ‘who have alternatives’ are part of the problems Hajj authorities are trying to solve by blockading their source of visa, as witnessed this year. Many of those who wanted to be on Hajj on their individual arrangement could not make it because very few Mujaamalah visas were issued by the Saudi embassy. Most of them do not ‘have alternatives’ other than squatting with, and overstretching the facilities provided for pilgrims on group arrangement.


Hajj payments must be made early in order for state pilgrim boards/agencies and group organisers to sign contracts with other service providers in Saudi Arabia. It has nothing to do with Adamu Adamu’s assertion of the Saudi government forcing pilgrimsto pay accommodation fees in advance’. Nigerian Hajj authorities have always encouraged early payments by intending pilgrims to ensure efficient and speedy completion of logistics on the Saudi side, which is not restricted to accommodation. As soon as pilgrims return for this year’s Hajj every organised group, governmental or private, springs into action to perfect strategies for new payments and arrangements for next year’s operation. That is the modus operandi of Hajj processes; it is not ‘the only way the hotels and apartment blocks of members of the royal family and their friends will get patronage’…, as Adamu Adamu claimed.


Ownership of hotels and apartments is not the exclusive preserve of members of the royal family. Adamu Adamu said the Saudis ‘have turned the Hajj into a business enterprise’. Allah has not forbidden business in Hajj (Al-Baqarah, 2:198). The pilgrimage season has been, and will continue to be, the backbone of commercial activities in Makkah, from the time of ignorance through the advent of Islam, until the end of the world. The Hajj period is important to the inhabitants of Makkah who rely heavily on it in terms of increased financial activity in the areas of real estate, industry, trade, and the hospitality industry. Hajj makes many Makkan families generate their annual income. There are shop owners who open only during the Hajj, and close after it because they have made enough money to sustain them for the whole year. Hajj creates jobs for a lot of people: students, the unemployed and even those who are employed but take their leave during Hajj in order to earn extra income.


Islamic organisations invest in Hajj by building hotels in Makkah, especially now that America, under the pretext of the war on terror, has succeeded in stalling the movement of cash from donors to Muslim associations. Islamic organisations use returns from such Makkan investments to finance social programmes in favour of the poor, needy and distressed people around the world. Such funds also enable them to go into Waqf (endowment) projects in the area of relief and humanitarian services – to build and maintain mosques; for the education, sponsoring and rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of orphans around the world. They also take care of students and Muslim preachers in thousands of Islamic centres around the world. These are not Adamu Adamu’s ‘preachers who get petrodollars in order to keep quiet and those who keep quiet in order to get petrodollars.’ No; they are people receiving whatever these Muslim bodies are able to send, despite America’s blockade to blight the light of Islam, to assist them in da’wah. They are the opposite of those other preachers and modern intellectuals who receive petrodollars from Iran in order to confound the truth!


The five star Makkah based Le Meridien Towers project provided club reservations and owner services in religious tourism. The property offered pilgrims and visitors to Makkah a chance to buy a deed of partial ownership in a range of apartments, varying from studios to one bedroom and two bedroom units. Many Nigerians have invested in this project. Or are these Nigerian investors members of the Saudi royal family?


There is also the Saudi government’s King Abdulaziz Endowment project waqf ownership of apartment which embodies the Zam Zam Tower Complex adjacent to the Ka’bah. It enables Muslims all over the world to own apartments on a long-term leasing programme. This page will not contain the names of Nigerians who have invested in this project, as well as those of investors from Malaysia, Brunei, etc. Adamu Adamu’s accusations then that these buildings are only ‘hotels and apartment blocks of members of the royal family’ are baseless! This religious endowment is regulated by Islamic Law and was established for the purpose of raising revenue to finance maintenance and the enhancement of the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophets Mosque in Madinah.


I share Adamu Adamu’s sentiments ‘that returning Nigerian female pilgrims will not help Saudi management of the Hajj.’ But I am strongly averse to his call for ‘return of the Haramayn—what remains of them—to world Muslims…’ No, as that is another name for Iran which has for ever yearned for the control of the Haramayn. During Hajj 2008, large number of Iranian pilgrims overpowered the guards at, and entered, Al-Baqee’ graveyard, close to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah where they desecrated and even urinated on a grave identified as that of Aishah, (may Allah be pleased with her), the wife of the Messenger of Allah (SAW). It took the Saudi security forces some time before they were able to disperse this riotous crowd; one person died and scores injured. Is this the ‘world Muslims’ management that Adamu Adamu is advocating?


Adamu Adamu concluded his series by saying that it is only when the Haramayn return under the control of ‘world Muslims’….‘will pilgrims begin to witness that which is of benefit to them.’ This betrays ignorance of the import of verses 27 and 28 of Suratul Hajj as stated earlier. He then connected this to a ‘comprehensive facility management of the Haramayn, effective sign posting and efficient human traffic management and effective vehicle traffic control; and, above all, hospitality to the guests of Allah and an environment that is conducive for what they are there to do…’ This is exactly what the Saudis have been doing efficiently – every pilgrim to the Haramayn can vouch for this. It is meaningless to advocate the establishment of what is already in existence.


                                                               Makkah


The Saudis are humans, liable, like all of us, to committing mistakes. I hate their reliance on the West, and their role or lack of it on Palestine. But I will defend their effective management and maintenance of the Haramayn, as well as theirhospitality to the guests of Allah’. Adamu Adamu’s last paragraph should rather have ended with this prayer:


May Allah reward the Saudis for their ‘comprehensive facility management of the Haramayn, effective sign posting and efficient human traffic management and effective vehicle traffic control; and, above all, hospitality to the guests of Allah.’