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Friday, December 7, 2018

THE SENATE AD-HOC COMMITTEE ON HAJJ REPORT: A STRANGE CONCOCTION (1)

When in March 2017, a man called Ibrahim Suleiman, using a phantom organisation called the Arewa Foundation in Jeddah, filed a petition with the Federal House of Representatives, I wrote a piece detailing the House hearing, to which I was invited, and how the proceedings exposed the mischief behind the fictitious petition. The gist of the petition was that the Chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was engaged in fraudulent activities and had a Saudi airline, Fly Nas fronting for him in Nigeria and a Saudi-based Nigerien company, Shuraka Al Khair, fronting for him in Saudi Arabia.

One after the other, each of the claims in the petition were knocked off, as NAHCON was able to explain itself to the satisfaction of the House ad-hoc committee which sat to investigate the truth or otherwise of the claims. That experience showed the extent to which people were ready to go just to defame others for doing their job. Indeed, corruption fights back when you attack it.

The sponsor of that petition swore that he would not relent. He proceeded to the Senate with the same set of fraudulent claims and he found a Senator willing to sponsor the same petition for him. That Senator was Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbaba from Sokoto South Senatorial District. After he raised the issue under Point of Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules on a matter of urgent national importance, the Senate President referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. This time, it was the issue of the Hajj fares that were announced that year as well as the allegation of forcing the pilgrims to eat food from a catering company. The senator claimed the fares were outrageous and inflated and that the feeding of the pilgrims should be at each pilgrim’s discretion.

The Committee instituted a public hearing to which all stakeholders in the Hajj and Umrah industry were invited. I was a witness to that hearing, which was chaired by Senator Monsurat Sunmonu. At the end of the presentation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NCAA, Airline operators, Hajj and Umrah Tour operators and other stakeholders like the State Pilgrims Welfare Boards (SPWBs), the Committee all agreed that the main reason for the increase in the Hajj fares was the increase in the exchange rates, from 197 in 2016 to 305 in 2017.

The Committee resolved to reach out to the executive arm of government to look into ways to reduce the exchange rate of the dollar. Hajj services are mainly paid for in US dollars because most of the services are rendered overseas. The main naira component of the Hajj fare is the airfare. It became clear that many of the Senators did not understand the difference between a scheduled flight and a chartered flight. They also did not understand that certain aspects of the Hajj services are statutorily in the hands of Saudi companies only.

Feeding is made compulsory not by NAHCON but by the Saudi Hajj Ministry. It is mandated upon all Hajj Missions from all countries that they provide feeding for their pilgrims. The same Hajj Ministry then provides a list of catering companies and requires your country’s Hajj Mission (NAHCON in this case) to pick from these. NAHCON would then ask each SPWB to determine which caterer they were comfortable with. The states then choose the caterer they want and this is ratified by NAHCON and passed on to the relevant authorities.

After the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs laid to rest the issue of Hajj fares in 2017, the same Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbaba sponsored another motion requesting the Senate to probe what he described as the extortion of pilgrims by NAHCON. This led to the Senate President constituting an ad-hoc committee to look at “Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding, Onshore and Offshore of Nigerian Pilgrims”. Senator Adamu Aliero from Kebbi State chaired this committee. The committee then invited stakeholders to a public hearing on the issues. I was at the hearings on Wednesday 17th and Thursday, January 18th, 2018 at the Senate Hearing Room 1, White House, National Assembly Complex, Abuja.

Right from the tone of the chairman’s opening statements, you could sense that there was a predetermined outcome in mind. He spoke about certain allegations levelled against NAHCON, ‘of fraudulent extortion and imposition of charges’ ‘through shoddy deals in accommodations, transport fare and feeding.’ He also stated as part of the allegation that ‘Nigerian Hajj fare is (the) highest in the world. While Nigerian pilgrims were normally accommodated in dilapidated, overcrowded and very far hostels from the Haram, their counterparts from other countries enjoy better and more conducive accommodations throughout the Hajj exercise.’

In fairness to the committee members, on both Hearing days, most of them raised cogent points and seemed genuinely interested in knowing the truth without any bias. However, when their report was submitted to the Senate, it was apparent that someone had done a really shoddy job of harmonising all presentations at the hearings and it smacked of vendetta and deliberate mudslinging. How else do you explain a committee that mentions only the allegations against an accused but ignored the responses of the accused, at least, for others to consider and make their own independent conclusions? We have a teleguided report which seems to be designed with the goal of steering the reader to a predetermined conclusion. Could the allegations that a certain aggrieved Senator, who also owns Hajj and Umrah company, which could not secure undeserved special treatment from NAHCON, was the author of such a flawed document be true?

As I did, when I wrote about the House of Representatives Hearing on a similar set of charges, I declare that the current NAHCON chairman was a schoolmate of mine and he is someone I have come to respect and consider as a friend. My company has been a double recipient of the award of Best Performing Hajj Tour Operator in Nigeria (2016 and 2017). The awards were given by NAHCON. I make these declarations because I know what mischief lays in the heart of some people who have wondered why a tour operator should defend his regulating agency. What they fail to realise is that I am duty bound by my training as a cleric to say the truth and affirm it even if it comes from my enemy. Indeed:

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do (Al Maaidah Q5: 

Allah knows I have never sought to get more than my company’s due from him and right from the time he was the Commissioner of Operations of NAHCON, we had often had clashes on our differences of opinion on issues pertaining to Hajj and its operations. What cannot be said honestly about him, and indeed many of his colleagues in the Commission, is that he does not have the interest of the pilgrims at heart.

Narrated Anas bn Maalik (RA):
Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said, "Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, "O Allah's Messenger (PBUH)! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?" The Prophet (PBUH) said, "By preventing him from oppressing others." Saheehul Bukhari, hadeeth number 2444.

NAHCON should not be allowed to oppress Nigerian pilgrims through avoidable leakages and inefficient handling of the affairs of Hajj but the Senate should also not be allowed to oppress the officials of NAHCON by fighting proxy wars against it bereft of fairness and diligence. Indeed, the impartiality required to do a good job was lacking. I shall come to that later.

Let me summarise the so-called finding of the report. In the sequel to this piece, inshaa Allah, we shall properly examine the veracity of each item in the findings:

A. The Senate ad-Hoc Committee Report accused NAHCON of a flagrant breach of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Public Procurement Act, 2007 and the Federal Government’s Financial Rules and Regulations. This, the report claimed, was because the Commission had no procurement unit with trained procurement officers to handle Hajj procurements, no procurement planning committee, no procurement plan and no evidence of bid solicitation, thus contravening SGF Circular Ref: SGF50/S.52/II/468 of January 2014 and non-usage of Standard Bidding Documents/Standard Request for Proposals. Other wild charges include usurping the role of the Foreign Affairs Minister by handling matters that are of an international nature and converting the Nigerian Consul General in Jeddah to an employee of the Commission.

If you take these allegations alone on their face value, they suffice to conclude that NAHCON has been engaged in shady transactions. However, these claims will unravel as just mere mischief when I dwell on each allegation later.

B. NAHCON introduced “over bloated” (whatever that means) onshore and offshore charges on intending pilgrims without recourse to the function of the Utilities Charges Act, 1992. The charges that were alleged to be inflated include: Administrative fee, Hajj development levy, yellow card (immunisation card), registration forms, tent security deposit, tent cooling facilities, payment for bedding facilities in Minaa and Arafah, deposit paid to the Saudi Hajj Ministry, 1% CBN charge on forex, airline licensing fees, hand luggage screening fees, Zam Zam water fees, and administrative charges of $65 per pilgrim.

Anyone conversant with Hajj operations and its intricacies would be amused by this allegation as many of the items on the list are statutory, according to the Saudi Hajj Ministry. More on that later.
C. NAHCON has been ‘hiding’ under section 11 (1) (a) of NAHCON Act 2006 to ‘extort’ intending pilgrims, air carriers and service providers. The report also alleged that the funds generated by NAHCON are not paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the government.

D. The report also alleges that the Commission also expends funds without following the provisions of the relevant laws. It specifically mentioned that NAHCON goes on “spending sprees” spending sums “quite beyond the approval limit of the accounting officer (read the Chairman of NAHCON)”. The renting of the Commission’s Makkah office at the cost of SAR 600,000 was cited as an example. It also accused the Commission of having superpowers to mysteriously mislead the office of the SGF, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the President that it could purchase Metro Plaza, Abuja as its headquarters with the funds it generated. This must be quite an extraordinary feat! It took this great Ad-hoc Committee to ‘expose’ this. You will see just how true is the claim later. For lack of space, I will mention the main gist of the other allegations next week, inshaa Allah and then show you what they omitted to tell Nigerians.

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday, October 26th, 2018

"HILFUL FUDHUL" (LEAGUE OF THE VIRTUOUS) IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ABEOKUTA RECONCILIATION

I have watched the video clip in which Dr Gumi gave reasons why he took part in the secret conference along with Bishop David Oyedepo, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and the two heavyweight politicians - Obasanjo and the presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar. In the said video clip (Dr Gumi) claimed that he was called upon to reconcile between Obasanjo and Atiku; meaning a reconciliation between Atiku and his political godfather with a view to burying the hatchet so that Obasanjo may support Atiku's candidacy in the 2019 elections.

Apparently, this reconciliation is for political gains, from whatever angle you look at it, coming, especially, after Atiku's emergence as the candidate of the PDP.

Dr Gumi's attempt to exculpate himself is baffling in that he cited the hadeeth of "HILFUL FUDHUL" as a proof in Shari’ah to what he did. And this is exactly what we dread - a Muslim scholar’s artifice in assigning a place in the Shari’ah for his political manoeuvres.

This is the Hadeeth that (Dr Gumi quoted):
“I was present in Abdullah bin Jud'an’s residence when the oath was covenanted. To my mind, that oath is dearer to me than owning red-haired camels. If I am summoned to it during the Islamic era, I will accept it.”… Al-Baihaqy’s Sunan al-Kubraa (6/596)

Now, “Hilful Fudhul” (League of the Virtuous) is a known incident in the corpus of the Seerah (history) of the Messenger of Allah, Sallallahu alaihi wa sallam. We shall examine how this is analogous or not with the reconciliation that Dr Gumi attended in Abeokuta with a view to establishing its propriety. 

1- Is the word ‘Hilf’ synonymous with ‘Sulh’ in the Arabic language, or the Shari’ah, or Urf? 

Whoever examines the two words will find out that they do not mean the same thing. This is the meaning of ‘Hilf’:
‘The origin of ‘al-Hilf’ (Alliance): ‘is’ Treaty, and Covenant on mutual support and agreement’. An-Nihaayah fee ghareeb al-Hadeeth wal Athar (1/424)

‘Sulh’ (reconciliation), on the other hand, is to make two parties become friendly with each other after quarrelling. ‘And reconciliation is the removal of contention among people.’ Al-Mufradaat fee ghareeb al-Qur’aan (p.489)

Therefore, reconciliation is to ameliorate the contention ‘between two parties’, while ‘al-Hilf’, alliance, is to contract a treaty on something or a covenant on mutual support. There is a mighty space of distance between the two!

2- The difference between the subject matter of “Hilful Fudhul” and that of the Abeokuta Reconciliation. What happened at “Hilful Fudhul” was a concurrence in the formation of an alliance against injustice and its perpetrators, so that the oppressed could be succoured. 

Ibn Hishaam narrated from Ibn Is’haaq that the leaders of Makkah convened the ‘Hilf’ and he said: 

“They contracted and covenanted that there would not be an oppressed person among the inhabitants of Makkah, or among any foreigner that entered the city, but that they would come to the aid of such an oppressed person and restore to them their rights and whatever was taken from them.

“From then on, the Makkans christened that alliance as “Hilful Fudhul”.” Seerah ibn Hishaam (1/133-134)

What transpired in Abeokuta was reconciliation between Atiku and Obasanjo because of their longstanding feud, at a time when the former has emerged as the presidential candidate of the PDP; he needs Obasanjo’s endorsement, thus the reconciliation, which may help him to win the coming election. 

Therefore, plainly there is no resemblance between “Hilful Fudhul” and the Abeokuta Reconciliation!

3- Making peace between two (contending) non-Muslims or between a non-Muslim and a Muslim: 

On the basis of the Prophet’s saying “If I am summoned to it (Hilf) during the Islamic era, (as the one in the benighted period of Jaahiliyyah) I will accept it.”… Dr Gumi inferred that the Abeokuta Reconciliation he attended was compliant with the Shari’ah, since “Hilful Fudhul” was convened by non-Muslims (and witnessed by the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam), he could, therefore, reconcile between two non-Muslims or between a non-Muslim and a Muslim. 

There is nothing in the Hadeeth to support that inference as the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam, did not praise the participants of the ‘Hilf’, but rather, his concern was on the subject matter of the alliance which aimed at stopping oppression, assisting those who were wronged and establishing justice. Therefore, the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam did not pay attention to the participants, but to what they did as their reason for the alliance! 

Commenting on the Hadeeth of assisting an oppressed person, Al-Qaadhy ‘Iyaadh said:

“Such confederation is permissible since it purposed to uphold the truth as occurred at “Hiflul Fudhul” when he said:‘If I am summoned to it during the Islamic era, I will accept it.’…” Ikmaalul Mu’allim bi fawaa’id Muslim (8/53)

Similarly, Ibnul Qayyim, in an exposition of the forbidden ‘Hilf’, he expounded the lawful ‘Hilf’ thus: 

“Islam confirms the kind of ‘Hilf’ that took place during the pre-Islamic era as part of what it urges and encourages - mutual support, helping one another, making Allah's word to be the uppermost, exertion in the cause of Allah, and preservation of unity (amongst people)…” Aunul Ma’buud wa Haashiyatu ibn Al-Qayyim (8/101) 

The composition of the parties in a ‘Hilf’, therefore, is of less significance than the reason for convening the ‘Hilf’. Likewise the reconciliation; if it facilitates a rapprochement between people who will, afterwards, forge alliances to perpetrate oppression, then, that reconciliation is unlawful, because reconciling wrongdoers is oppression in itself. 

Also, we have to look closely at the Abeokuta Reconciliation. It is apparent that the advancement of political gains was at the heart of the convention; seeking for Obasanjo’s assent and support for Atiku’s candidacy and to ensure victory in the elections. The Abeokuta Reconciliation was not a gathering to uphold truth; it was rather a political expedient. 

The close relationship between Dr Gumi and Atiku is open to all, as well as Dr Gumi’s consistent, even better than the opposition’s, disparagement of the Buhari government, which further confirms that the quasi-secret conference of Dr Gumi and co. was for political capital in favour of Atiku. Even in the video clip under review, Dr Gumi campaigned for Atiku by criticising Buhari, in as much as he said: “Whoever is not satisfied with their current condition, let them vote for an alternative in the forthcoming elections.”

From whatever angle you view the ‘Hilful Fudhul’ Hadeeth, doubtless, there is neither immediate nor remote correlation between it and the Abeokuta Reconciliation; and citing it as an evidence for that sordid meeting is a horrid disservice to Islamic scholarship and the Shari’ah. 

On account of the above, the video clip of Dr Gumi that went viral contains egregious mistakes as it betrays textual analysis that is deficient in the understanding of Hadeeth. 

Another grave mistake in the video clip is the attempt to paint, with a takfeer brush, Muslims who opposed his position on the reconciliation, by calling them ‘Maguzawa’, idolatrous Hausas. Honestly, this is a serious mistake that Dr Gumi should correct; as we all know, only innovators in religion declare Muslims as renegades in their creed. 

Finally, we call on religious scholars to maintain their position as leaders of the Ummah, and avoid plunging their reputation into (the rocky ravine of) politicking. 

Written by Sheikh (Dr) Aliyu Muhammad,
Friday, October 19th 20018,
Translated from Hausa to English by
Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad

HARNESSING OUR DIVERSITY FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (1)

Part of the activities marking Nigeria’s 58th Independence Day celebrations was a Special Lecture which held at the Conference Hall of the Abuja National Mosque, on Friday, September 28th, 2018. The chairman of the occasion was His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, and President-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar. The topic of the lecture was as the topic was - the same as the subject matter of this writeup - Harnessing Our Diversity for National Development, and was delivered by Prof. Auwalu Yadudu of the Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano.

Ours is the most populous country in Africa with an estimated population of about 200 million, and more than 250 languages. Nigeria is also said to be the most religious country in the world. But in spite of our diversity, we attained independence without a violent struggle and fought a civil war without disintegrating. Nigeria is a prosperous country whose development is on the rise.
In his opening remarks, the Murshid of the Abuja National Mosque, Professor Shehu Ahmad Sa’id Galadanchi said that ‘this Special Lecture’ is ‘organized by the National Mosque, Abuja as part of the 58th Nigeria Independence Anniversary Celebrations.’ He said we have to be grateful to ‘Almighty Allah for making it possible for us to gain our independence’ ‘from the British Colonial Administration.’ ‘Freedom of individuals and nations, justice and equality are all fundamental matters in Islam. 

'As we celebrate the anniversary of this independence, we need to tarry a little and speculate and ask ourselves whether or not we have reasons to celebrate. The answer is certainly in the affirmative, yes we have. Those Nigerians who knew this country during the colonial period or a few years after would definitely affirm that our country has made remarkable changes and developments during this period. However, let me quickly add that circumstances had caused us to make some mistakes in our administration; and these could have been avoided. So while celebrating, we should also continue to correct the mistakes committed in the past and make serious efforts to take the country to where it deserves.’

His Eminence, the Sultan delivered his message as the Chairman of the event without referring to notes and not reading from a prepared speech. He informed the gathering that this is ‘the third programme’, in the annual Independence Day Celebrations. In the past, he said the programme was confined to ‘the special Jumu’a prayers’ in mosque, ‘but we thought there should be something more’, so ‘we fashioned out this lecture series to bring together the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, the security agencies and other Muslim stakeholders under one roof, to listen to a lecture’ which will address a common issue of concern among the Muslims. According to His Eminence, ‘such lectures are usually admonitions on what we should do as Muslims for our country, not what our country should do for us.’ Expanding the activities of the day to include a special lecture, the Sultan said, ‘was a right decision, putting the programme together, and I wish to thank the office of the SGF for strongly supporting it and ensuring its continuity.’ 

His Eminence further said that the lecture should make each one of us search for the answer on ‘what should be done for this country to move it forward? We know as Muslims whenever we are gathered under one roof, there is a lot of Allah’s blessing in that place. I’m certain that on this Friday morning, we know and believe that the Almighty Allah has showered His blessings on all of us here, and may it continue to be showered on us and on all Nigerians wherever we find ourselves. Speaking about harnessing our diversity, we all know how diverse this country is, hundreds of ethnic..nationalities. Let me use the word nationalities because they call themselves nationalities, but what we have is one nation called Nigeria, even though they want to be called ethnic nationalities, to be identified with their own background. There are so many religious beliefs, but the two main ones we know are Christianity and Islam, which are still working closely to understand that we are Nigerians first.

‘We are here as Nigerians first; we remember with nostalgia the good old days… I once challenged Northern leaders: ‘Stop talking of Ahmadu Bello; do what Ahmadu Bello did. I also challenged some other leaders, ‘Do what Awolowo did to the South-West, and stop making noise about who was Awolowo… The same thing applies to the south and the good people who were there. These were leaders who believed in Nigeria and who worked closely to make Nigeria a better country. But what we have today are people who look at their local community as the most important thing first, and they call themselves statesmen and elders.

‘We have leaders whom I call dealers; dealers in the sense that they deal with all sorts of negative things, and fuel fire to burn the country down.

‘We have statesmen that I don’t call statesmen, but I call them men of states because they only care about their states and their immediate environment as the most important and don’t care about what happens to other persons in other parts of the country. These are not statesmen, they are the people causing problems for this country because the common man listens to them, they say what they want to say.

‘We have leaders and statesmen who say so many negative things about the country, about the leadership, about whatever is right or wrong in the country. We must check this.
‘We are here as Muslims, not APC or DPD members or any political party,…though many are they. We are here not as naval officers, or army officers, or customs officers who came late and others. (laughter) We are here as Nigerians and Muslims.

‘We are here to chart a course for this country so that it will be better than it is now. development is a continuum; you cannot finish it; you have to keep moving. America is still developing, Britain, Japan, China, they are still developing, so it a continuous process.
‘Every leader comes, does his part, and goes away. You cannot be here forever. Today is Buhari; tomorrow is somebody else, but Nigeria remains. 

‘There were 19 sultans before me. I happened to be the 20th, and I won’t be the last inshaa Allah; there will be others that will come after me. So whatever I could, I would do it with the utmost fear of the Almighty Allah Who puts me here; Who sees what I do, Who knows what I’m going to do tomorrow until I die. So why are we clinging to positions as though we will not die? That is why we are here Muslims to look at those issues, and see what can we contribute to this country called Nigeria, now, not tomorrow. When we do that, we live a happier people than what we used to be,
‘It is important to ask ourselves as leaders and statesmen what legacy do we want to leave behind to our grandchildren, not our children who already know the negativities that happen to this country because of the social media where you see insults, abuses of our leaders who passed away hundreds of years ago, and you still feel as though they are here. 

‘You have access to the social media; you insult people as you want. Columnists insult people and the government keeps quiet. The government must not keep quiet, because that is an issue of insecurity with the approaching of 2019 elections. 

‘So can we as Muslims do things right? This programme is beamed live and is live-streamed all over the world regardless of the number of people here. Therefore, so many are listening to what we are saying and that is why I speak on these issues without mincing words, fearing none but Allah. 

‘What do we do also to ensure free, fair elections devoid of violence? It is heartening to listen to Mr President’s comment that we shall have free and fair elections. Whoever emerges from such elections must be accepted by all, including the international community and Nigeria will move forward. We cannot endure regressing always, taking one step forward, and two backward. 

‘We cannot continue to say everything is alright; no, there is no time in life that everything will be alright; never! if you, as a Muslim, feel everything is right in your life then you deceiving yourself; only the Almighty Allah is always right in whatever He does, in whatever He says. When the elections come, it is only Allah who knows who is going to be the president, the governor…. We don’t know.. only He gives power to whom He wills, and He strips off power from whom He wills; He raises whom He wills, and He brings low whom He wills….’

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday October 5th, 2018

Demographic Dividend in Nigeria

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic affairs organised a two-day consultative forum with the title: Harnessing Demographic Dividend (DD) for Sustainable Development of Nigeria: The Role of Muslim Religious Leaders; and the theme: Increasing Access to Reproductive Health Services as a Key Pillar for Achieving Demographic Dividend (DD) in Nigeria. The venue was Transcorp Hilton, Abuja from Wednesday, 12 to 13 September 2018. At the end of the forum the following Call To Action was made: 

Background Information

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in collaboration with Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and The Sultan Foundation for Peace and Development, Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria and The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria organised a two-day national consultation meeting on harnessing the demographic dividends which was attended by over 250 participants drawn from across the length and breadth of the country comprising Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs), Traditional rulers, representatives of faith-based organisations, UNFPA West and Central Africa Regional Office Regional Director, as well as high level representatives of the government, diplomatic community, participants from other African countries and non-governmental organisations.

The purpose of the consultation meeting was to strengthen partnerships; provide avenues for sharing experiences and best practices, but also to agree on a Call to Action that identifies concrete decisions to be translated into a Plan of Action for implementation and follow up by the Muslim religious leaders in order to enhance the wellbeing of women, girls and young people. The objectives of the consultation meeting were to: increase awareness and the knowledge of Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs) on the need to increase access to Reproductive Health Services as a key Pillar for harnessing Demographic Dividends in Nigeria, create the desired support to increase access to Reproductive Health Services and the ability to make changes in their various communities, build capacity of MRLs on the demographic dividends; and to work with the MRLs to reinforce key messages and how to implement strategies for harnessing the demographic dividends. 

The key pillars to harnessing demographic dividends in Nigeria were the basis for consultation sessions. Discussions were held on youth empowerment, employment and restiveness; functional and vocational education focusing on “Tsangaya” school and the “Almajiri” systems; Egypt, TChad and the Gambia country experiences, the role of Muslim Religious Leaders in achieving UNFPA’s transformative results; enabling environment for attainment of SDGs 3 (good health and wellbeing) and 5 (gender equality); and Gender Equity, child spacing and fertility. Engagements were forged at the opening ceremony and take home sessions, which prepared the grounds for the call to action.

Call to Action

1. We, the Muslim Religious Leaders (MRLs) in Nigeria, having met in Abuja, Nigeria, in a two-day national consultation meeting from 12th to 13th September, 2018 to engage with each other and agree on how we can contribute to accelerating the process of harnessing the demographic dividends in Nigeria, by increasing access to reproductive health services to secure a better future for the women, girls and youths of our dear country and build an innovative partnership to ensure their empowerment through increased access to Reproductive Health Services as a key pillar for achieving the Demographic Dividends;

2. Bearing in mind that our contribution to youth employment, investments, resource development, productivity and savings to harness the Demographic Dividends is at the heart of our God-given responsibilities as leaders; and that the empowerment of young people, including girls, particularly benefits all. Consequently, we call on all religious leaders to support the country’s roadmap for harnessing the potential of young people through education, skills development, training, conflict resolution, peace, love and the desire to serve humanity; 

3. Cognisant of the important role and influence that we as Muslim religious leaders have in building moral and ethical values, shaping opinions through our messages, driving consensus and affecting decisions of the country, states, local governments, communities and individuals alike, particularly of women and young people and the overwhelming confirmation as further demonstrated by the examples shared from various states and local governments of the country, through our deliberations with policymakers, other religious and traditional leaders, experts and other stakeholders of our on-going role in increasing access to education and reproductive health services including strategies to reduce maternal mortality;

4. Concerned with the erosion of family values, the low inclusion of young people in development, the weak linkage between economic empowerment and employment, and the high rate of conflicts and internally displaced persons and their vulnerability across the country and its neighbourhoods and the impact of insurgency and natural disasters on maternal and neo-natal health services;

5. Also concerned about the low level of access to quality health services including reproductive health services and the attendant high level of maternal mortality, unmet need for child spacing services and information and the high rate of gender-based violence including harmful practices, exposure to illicit sex and their impact on the moral and socio-economic development of the country.

6. We acknowledge that health is a blessing from God and some of our common responsibilities are to encourage the removal of socio-cultural barriers to health services especially reproductive health services;

7. We welcome, encourage and celebrate initiatives by Muslim Religious Leaders and Muslim Faith-Based Organisations within our country as they contribute significantly to the provision of health services including reproductive health services and information through advocacy for policies and laws on health services, building health facilities, training health professionals and contributing to the health and empowerment of women and adolescent girls; and we praise them for their commitments and efforts to educate and empower youth as a major contribution towards harnessing the demographic dividends and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals at the global level, and development plan at the national and state levels;

8. We further condemn the manipulation of religious text, wrong indoctrination of youth and abuse of women and children that manifests through terrorist acts and call on all, especially Muslim Religious Leaders, to work in partnership in addressing the issue of countering violent extremism, radicalisation and terrorism in the country and to combat hatred and hate speeches, prejudice, intolerance and stereotyping on the basis of religion and culture and protect young people from the factors that make them vulnerable to these acts including drug abuse and trafficking; 

9. We commit to acting as opinion leaders and role models in the provision and acceptability of reproductive health services to accelerate the achievement of zero Maternal, Child and Adolescent mortality rates and to play an active role in community leadership and engagement towards development;

10. We affirm the need to promote Inter and Intra-religious dialogue at the local, state, national and regional levels, harmony and cooperation in Africa to contribute to peace and meaningful socio-economic development;

11. We call on the country’s neighbouring states; UNFPA, the UN system and other partners such as the African Union, the Wife of the President and the Wives of Governors, the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the private sector to scale-up and strengthen their relationship with Muslim Faith-Based organisations on expanding access to reproductive health services by mobilising investments for youth in order to harness the demographic dividends;

12. We request the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other Faith Based Organisations in collaboration with UNFPA to mobilise additional resources to support advocacy efforts of Muslim Faith-Based Leaders and organisations in the implementation of their action plan;

13. We respectfully invite His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to bring the outcomes of our consultation to the attention of regional and global organisations such as ECOWAS, African Union and to the United Nations General Assembly and in addition propose to the Security Council the theme of youth and demographic dividends for stability, peace, security and development;

14. We commit to implement the ideas shared during the consultation meeting through an action plan 2019-2022 to be developed aimed at social and behaviour change to increase access to health services including reproductive health in order to contribute to achievement of zero maternal mortality, zero unmet need for child spacing, and zero gender-based violence consistent with UNFPA’s Strategic Plan 2017-2021;

15. We pledge to act to accelerate harnessing the demographic dividends for sustainable development in our various communities, local governments and states;

16. Harnessing the demographic dividends requires the establishment of partnerships with a broad spectrum of stakeholders including Muslim Religious Leaders who will complement the efforts of government, and maximise inter-sectoral linkages. As a leading driver of community and religious values, we believe that religious leaders are best placed to drive and support the government of Nigeria and development partners to harness the demographic dividends.
17. We call on government at all levels to: 

i) Provide the enabling environment through policies, laws and budgetary requirements for harnessing demographic dividends especially through access to quality health services including reproductive health and to mobilise young people and strengthen women’s participation in national and sub-national development;

ii) To strengthen “Tsangaya” systems and practices to contribute to functional education and vocational skills for national development while ensuring the empowerment of both boys and girls and;
iii) Partner with religious leaders for harnessing demographic dividends at all levels especially at community level.

18. Finally, we also call on government and development partners to employ innovative ways of continuous engagement of religious leaders through capacity building, consultations and support for religious leaders’ led community interventions for harnessing the demographic dividends.

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday September 14th, 2018

HAJJ IS FOR THOSE WHO ARE ABLE

 
Islam is built on five pillars one of which is pilgrimage to the House for those who are able to undertake the journey. Hajj is obligatory on Muslims once in a life time. The Ancient House, The Ka’bah, is situated in Makkah of the present Saudi Arabia. The original building was destroyed by the Flood of Prophet Noah (Nuh), may Allah’s peac be upon him. Allah then appointed it, showed and guided His Prophet, Ibrahim, alaihis salaam, to rebuild it, sanctify it for those who compass it or use it as a retreat, or bow, or prostrate themselves therein in prayer. Allah, moreover, made it a place of assembly, a well-deserved United Muslim-Nations General Assembly, where adherents of Islam converge annually for worship, to compare notes on the situation of their brethren around the world in the economic and political spheres. (Al-Baqarah, 2:125,198)

Isma’eel (Ishmael) assisted his father Ibrahim (Abraham) in raising the foundations of the House; and when they finished they prayed Allah to accept the service from them. (Al-Baqarah, 2:127).

Then Allah commanded Ibrahim: ‘And proclaim the pilgrimage among men: they will come to you on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways;…’ (Al-Hajj, 22:27)

They will come to you….’ Allah says. Are the pilgrims coming to The House or to Ibrahim? Of course hajjies go to The Ka’bah; but to honour our father, Ibrahim, Allah made going to him to mean going to the Ka’bah. Again – ‘…:they will come to you on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways;…’ depicts the hardship involved in this spiritual journey, for trekkers and those on camel, horseback, wagon etc.; modern-day pilgrims travelling on air are not immune from the fatigue associated with travel. Abu Hurairah Narated that The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon said, “Travelling is a kind of torture as it prevents one from eating, drinking and sleeping properly. So, when one’s needs are fulfilled, one should return quickly to one’s family.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 3, Hadeeth 031).

But what is most striking is the use of the word ‘**ya’teena**’, in the above verse, to describe coming of the lean camels with pilgrims to the Ka’bah. If Allah had used ‘*_*ya’tuuna*_*’, it would’ve referred to the pilgrims; ‘ya’teena’ refers to the camels. This is acknowledging the efforts of both the pilgrims and the animals that convey them to Hajj. We read similar thing in al-Aadiyaat, 100:1 where Allah swore ‘By the steeds that run with panting breath’ to convey the Prophet’s companions to places of their expedition. Allah recognizing the efforts of beasts…? Allah is Great! Even animals are not neglected in the roles they play in helping the believers fulfill their vow in battle and Hajj.

The moral here is for us to also acknowledge the efforts of people (we wrongly deem unimportant) in the success we record in our daily endevours – be it in business, intellectual pursuit and in our various places of work, offices. Everybody is important to the overall success in a going concern or government establishment. How many companies will remember, during their AGM, to, at least, thank or recognize the hard work of the chauffeurs, the security personnel etc in the success recorded in a financial year? How many writers will care to mention, in the ACKNOWLEDGEMENT page, the typist for her diligence and patience in typing, retyping, correcting and updating the scripts before the publication of the book? Again, how many writers will appreciate the understanding of, let alone mention, their spouse in the books they author? When you place the do-not-disturb sign on the door to your study during the period of your research for the book, your spouse needs you, to converse with you or feel your warmth. He or she deserves mention in the book for giving you the support and showing understanding. But how less do we do that?

The above discussion is not a digression; it is part of the exegesis of the verse in which Allah commanded Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him, to proclaim the pilgrimage to people. So, Ibrahim wondered: ‘How can my voice reach all the people of the world from here?’ Allah said: ‘your task is to proclaim; Ours to convey…’.

On the Mount of Abu Qubais the prophet Ibrahim summoned mankind to Hajj: ‘O people’ he proclaimed, ‘perform pilgrimage to the House of Allah.’ This proclamation, Muslim scholars say, Allah caused to reach people in the loins of their fathers. Whoever Allah destines to perform Hajj during his earthly sojourn answers: _labbaikallaahumma_ – answering your call my Lord. The scholars further add that whosoever answers this Ibrahimic call once, performs Hajj only once in his life time; whosoever answers twice, he performs Hajj twice and so on. People will go to Hajj, as far as this scholastic opinion is concerned, according to the number of times Allah made them to answer the call of Ibrahim, peace be upon him.

Therefore, pilgrimage to the Ka’bah is a duty people owe to Allah – those who can afford the journey thereto. (Ali’Imraan, 3:97). Thus an intending pilgrim cannot be a debtor or one that is insolvent. He or she should have enough for the Hajj expenses plus what to leave for dependents here, such as will be adequate for all spending in their absence, before undertaking the journey. You cannot use your life’s earnings for Hajj at the expense of the welfare of your family and the future of your children. One who is not able to pay for Hajj with all that I have mentioned above is not part of the addressees of Al-Hajj, 22:27 – pilgrimage is not obligatory on him. Yes, Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam just like zakkah is, but giving out zakkah out of one’s property is only on the rich. 

Majority of Muslims live and die without ever paying zakkah because they have not got zakkatable wealth. Likewise, many Muslims may not be able to perform Hajj because they are poor. Allah will not question the poor on zakkah or Hajj; obligation here is subject to wealth and ability. I say ability because a wealthy person that is afflicted with disabling ailment cannot perform Hajj. Somebody may perform it on his behalf. A woman asked the Prophet, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam concerning the limpness of her aged father who wanted to perform Hajj. The Prophet answered that Hajj was not obligatory on him. Hajj is on those who are able to undertake the journey!

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday, September 7th, 2018
First published : December 2010

For The Polity Not To Be Overheated

That one of the major problems assailing Nigeria as a corporate entity is situated within the religious and pseudo-religious elite is a fact that does not require any shred of evidence to the discerning. Nothing illustrates the foregoing submission more than the usual hoopla from the stable of a supposed Christian cleric and public intellectual, Matthew Hassan Kukah, who has a penchant for heating the polity with his bigoted premises and warped conclusions. The context of his latest misguided vituperations was the book launch organised by Premium Times Books last Wednesday in Abuja, as reported by the online newspaper in the story, “Christians not allowed places of worship in some northern tertiary institutions” on August 16, 2018.

According to Premium Times, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto characteristically berated Muslims generally and Northern Muslims in particular that they orientate their children to be violent. He falsely claimed that Christians are not allowed places of worship in northern higher institutions and he invoked the same mantra of marginalisation that has been used, abused and overused by dissident groups and political desperadoes.

One strategy of Bishop Kukah’s is to play the underdog in highlighting their pathological hatred and undisguised intolerance for Muslims in this country. Though objectivity is a core requirement of scholarship, Bishop Kukah is passionately opposed to it. He recently ventilated such noxious thoughts of his at an international forum where the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) stood to educate him that the issue is neither one-sided nor as simple as portrayed. But he has chosen another platform to play voodoo on the minds of the unwary and the undiscerning.

Without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, the irrefragable truth is that no religious group faces the persecution that Muslims face in Nigeria. From the usual hijab saga to religious witch-hunting in private and public establishments, Muslims have always been subjected to the same treatment the colonial masters made them suffer. But rather than consider it what it is in the hands of the Christian neo-colonialists, the patriotic zeal to keep Nigeria together has often made Muslims elect to see the injustice against them as an aberration. 

In addition, we do not know why the respected Bishop has developed a proclivity for negativity and falsehood, instead of the things that unite us. For example, the Catholic Secretariat is only a-three-minute drive from the sultan’s palace in Sokoto. Also, when the said Cathedral was being opened, the state Governor – a Muslim, was present at the event. The Sultan who was out of town at the time sent a powerful delegation to represent him.

These and many more are glorious examples of the peaceful and tolerant disposition of Muslims toward their Christian neighbours in the heart of Muslims’ lands. 

Conversely, Bishop Kukah uses every opportunity to throw tantrums at Muslims and talk of marginalisation in the North, where he superintends over several churches worth billions of Naira, he conveniently ignores the emasculation of Muslims in the South to the extent that they don’t even have a voice as Christian Governors and leaders ride roughshod on their rights. Islam is reduced to the status of an unwanted visitor as successive Governors in cahoots with the intolerant religious leadership there ensure that no breathing space is allowed Muslims. CAN leaders in the South openly sign statements in support of one candidate or the other whereas if a Muslim does in the North, heaven will be made to fall. The Governors in the South East and South-South can conveniently spend millions of Naira on covering live church activities on television from public funds without a whimper from the rabble-rousers but if a Muslim Governor elsewhere sponsors a pilgrim with a fraction, they are quick to mount the rooftops and shout of Nigeria's secularity.

In other words, in the whole South East and South South Geo-political zones, including some parts of the South West, Muslims are treated like lepers. They are denied and their ramshackle places of worship are routinely destroyed. Yet, Muslims have not been using every available podium to castigate and demonise their Christian tormentors even when they are aware that Kano alone has thousands of churches operating without let or hindrance, just like many other places in the North.

One or two cases will aptly demonstrate Kukah’s hypocrisy and insincerity as he is in a position to be aware of the scenario. Rivers State University of Science and Technology is a Nigerian public university, yet the institution illustrates and symbolises the intolerance, bellicosity and colonial mentality of the Christian establishment in the Southern part of Nigeria. 

While the authorities of the university granted more than six different places of worship to six Christian sects or denominations on campus, they blatantly refused to grant one to Muslim students. The makeshift mosque the students erected to worship God was demolished and its materials have been confiscated by the university since January 25, 2012.

Rather than take the laws into their own hands as many students are wont to do when confronted with such provocation, the Muslim students approached the courts after exhausting all diplomatic channels to make the university authorities see reason. The case, with SUIT No. FCH/PH/CS/150/2012 was brought before the Federal High Court in Port-Harcourt and the students were granted the reliefs sought by the court on February 19, 2013. 

The authorities of the universities did not toe the line of reason but rather chose to appeal the judgement in order to prolong the persecution of Muslim students. The Appellate Court in SUIT No. CA/PH/614/2013 nullified the appeal on March 31, 2017, and upheld the right of the Muslims to be allocated a plot for worship on the Campus. Yet, rather than put a stop to its illegality, the university authorities still approached the Supreme Court where the case is pending hearing. The tactic is to postpone doing the right and constitutional imperative to punish the peace-loving Muslim students and deny them their constitutionally-guaranteed rights as Nigerians.

The stark reality of Nigeria is that some Christians, goaded on by their overfed leaders like Kukah do not want Muslims to exist. When they shout that Christianity is under threat, it is a manner of expressing their Islamophobic tirades as just done again by Kukah.
It took the intervention of the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN) to point out the composition of the so-called Afenifere that parades itself as the council of elders in Yorubaland. In the entire body, no single Muslim is found old enough to be a member. A region boasting of nationally and internationally acknowledged icons like Prince Bola Ajibola, Hon. Justice Bola Babalakin (rtd.), Alhaji S.O. Babalola, Prof. Daud Noibi, Prof. T. G. O. Gbadamosi and a host of other accomplished and elderly Muslims does not have a single Muslim in its socio-cultural group because it must be an all-Christian affair.

It is convenient for Kukah to pontificate as if he was in Mars when the late Bola Ige was terrorizing Muslim students in Oyo State just because of the clamour to enjoy a semblance of religious rights granted Christians in public schools. It is easy to forget the various infractions wrought upon Muslim students in particular and Muslims in general in many parts of North Central Nigeria.
The fact that no sponsored Islamic programme is tolerated on Channels Television despite a request from even Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, is no issue to Kukah, but Late M.K.O Abiola’s policy of not allowing advertisement of alcohol in his then Concord Newspapers was considered fanatical. 

Denying people places of worship in the North and the South is an aberration. Those who see it otherwise or rather play ethnoreligious cards in a mischievous manner are the true enemies of Nigeria. Nigerians should not fall for their gimmicks as their stock-in-trade is a distortion of facts, religious intolerance and intentional amnesia as demonstrated for the umpteenth time by Bishop Kukah at the event cited in the report under consideration.

ASELEMI IBRAHIM
is the Public Relation Officer
of the Nigerian Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

LIQUOR AND INTOXICANTS


The sahabah, may Allah be pleased with them, asked the Messenger, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam concerning a lot of things the answer to which questions formed part of the commandments and laws guiding the lives of Muslims. Allah’s Messenger, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam listened to their enquiries, answered them with the support of Allah’s revelations to him, explaining the regulations gradually with love and tenderness to the multitude of believers that thronged around him. They asked him concerning wine and gambling in the following verse: 

They ask thee concerning wine and gambling. Say: "In them is a great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit." They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: "What is beyond your needs." Thus doth Allah Make clear to you His Signs: In order that ye may consider- (al-Baqarah 2:219)

Some of the Sahabah, when this verse was revealed in answer to their questions on wine and gambling, ceased imbibing wine and engaging in gambling, since ‘the sin is greater than the profit…’ but others among them continued to imbibe alcohol and to gamble.
The days went by until a drunken man led people in prayer and committed grave mistakes in recitation. He said: “I worship that which you worship..”, in al-Kaafiruun 111:2 & 4, instead of “I do NOT worship that which ye worship.”

The drunken imam and those who prayed behind him were distraught. They went to the Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam asking for the second time concerning wine and strong drinks. And the revelation came: 

O ye who believe! Approach not prayers with a mind befogged, until ye can understand all that ye say,- (an-Nisaa 4:43)
With the revelation of this verse, wine became prohibited during prayers. Another section of the sahabah stopped imbibing alcohol completely. Some of them avoided it in the daytime and took it after the Ishaa prayers.

One day a party among the sahabah gathered in a house where they caroused, engaged in bibulous activities - drunkenness - with a lot of abuses that resulted in fisticuffs. On account of this Umar (RA) went the Messenger of Allah, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam, and said, ‘Oh Messenger of Allah, we need a healing proclamation on wine.’

The Messenger of Allah, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam prayed his Lord for a ‘healing proclamation on wine’, and the final nail came down on the coffin of alcohol in this verse: 

O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination,- of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper. (al-Maa’idah, 90)
And so it was that the prohibition of alcohol came gradually, as did all proclamations in the Shari’ah, until finally intoxicants of all kinds were prohibited. Before this gradual prohibition, the sahabah were imbibing the substance, and trafficking in it. Alcohol was both a source of pleasure and livelihood, thus immediate and total abstinence would have been difficult for the believers. 

The word khamr, as is in the verse in Arabic, denotes covering of something; that is why the upper part of your hijab is called khimaar, it is from khamr. Like the Prophet’s saying: khammirul aaniyah, ‘cover your utensils..’ Therefore, wine is called khamr because it beclouds and covers your mind and intellect; you will not think, act rationally. 

Prepare it with anything - dates, grapes, whatever - once it has that intoxicating effect, it is khamr and haraam.
“Every intoxicating drink is khamr and every intoxicant is unlawful.”

“Every intoxicant is unlawful and if a farq (a means of measurement) of anything causes intoxication, (even) a handful of it is forbidden.”

Al-Tirmidhi narrated that Anas ibn Maalik said: The Messenger of Allaah, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam cursed ten with regard to alcohol: 1) the one who squeezes (the grapes etc, the wine maker), 2) the one for whom it is squeezed, 3) the one who drinks it, 4) the one who carries it, 5) the one to whom it is carried, 6) the one who pours it (waiter, sommelier), 7) the one who sells it and consumes its price, 9) the one who buys it and 10) the one for whom it is bought.” 

Whoever drinks khamr in this world and dies persisting in that and without having repented, will not drink it in the Hereafter. 

It was narrated from Abu Bakr bin 'Abdur-Rahman bin Al-Harith that his father said:
"I heard 'Uthman, may Allah be pleased with him, say: 'Avoid Khamr for it is the mother of all evils. There was a man among those who came before you who was a devoted worshipper. An immoral woman fell in love with him. She sent her slave girl to him, saying: We are calling you to bear witness. So he set out with her slave girl, and every time he entered a door, she locked it behind him, until he reached a beautiful woman who has with her a boy and a vessel of wine. She said: 'By Allah, I did not call you to bear witness, rather I called you to have intercourse with me, or to drink a cup of this wine, or to kill this boy.' He said: 'Pour me a cup of this wine.' So she poured him a cup. He said: 'Give me more.' And soon he had intercourse with her and killed the boy. So avoid Khamr, for by Allah faith and addiction to Khamr cannot coexist but one of them will soon expel the other." Alcoholism and imaan will not reside in the heart of man; one of the two will expel the other. It is the mother of all evils that dulls the senses and befogs the mind.

The Messenger of Allah, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam has warned his Ummah that people will come at the end of times, calling khamr by names that hide its true nature, calling khamr by different names and legalising it: booze, brew, cold one, juice, hard stuff, sauce, moonshine, draft, liquid bread, tummy buster, liquid courage, and so on.
Abu Moosa said: The Prophet, sallaahu alaihi wa sallam sent Mu’aadh ibn Jabal and me to Yemen, and I said: O Messenger of Allaah, there is a drink that is made in our land and is called al-mizr, which is made from barley, and another drink called al-bit’, which is made from honey. He said: “Every intoxicant is haraam.” 

Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: I heard ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) say from the minbar of the Messenger of Allaah , sallaahu alaihi wa sallam: “O people, the prohibition of khamr was revealed when khamr was made from five things: grapes, dates, honey, wheat, and barley. Khamr is whatever befogs the mind.”
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Everything that takes away one's senses is haraam, even if it does not result in drunkenness or intoxication. If it takes away the senses it is haraam according to the consensus of the Muslims.

Whatever the case, it comes under the heading of that which Allaah has forbidden of khamr and intoxicants, whether by name or by nature. Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: O Messenger of Allaah, advise us with regard to two drinks that we used to make in Yemen: al-bit’ which is made of honey that is soaked until it becomes strong, and al-mizr which is made of wheat and barley until it becomes strong. The Messenger of Allaah , sallaahu alaihi wa sallam had been given the gift of comprehensive and concise speech and he said: “Every intoxicant is haraam.”
Whether it is smoked, swallowed, inhaled, chewed, or injected we are speaking about one and the same thing - intoxicants, liquor, high inducing substances - which are all haraam. 

Drugs have even worse effect on the addict than alcohol: Smart Pills, Wicked X, Cocaine, Nose Candy, Cough Medicine, Orange Crush, Crystal Meth (the movie Breaking Bad exposed the effects of drugs on our children and the huge money the illicit trade elicits), Glass, Ecstasy, Lover’s Speed, Heroin, Dragon, Laughing Gas, Cat Valium, LSD, Superman, Marijuana, Grass, Bombay Blue, School Bus, Love Boat, and Angel Dust.

Jeffrey Archer tells us in his Prison Diaries, relating what he learnt as a prisoner from other convicts, that one shot at ninety percent of these drugs, makes you an addict for the rest of your life, unless where you undergo rigorous rehabilitation; that drug addiction does not mean only less smart people are victims, you can be the smartest among your equals but still find yourself entrapped in the web of drug addiction. 

Parents should look out for the early signs of drug addiction in their children, not least those studying outside this country, and be able to be a Sherlock Holmes in detecting inner meanings of what on the surface is harmless. If a teenager sends a text or converses with a friend and says ‘I need brown sugar’, don’t be deceived into thinking that they mean a baking supply. They may be speaking about heroin. That is part of what we are studying today: people calling intoxicants and drugs with strange names and trying to show that it is cool to imbibe such substances. 

We need to save these children from themselves. Drugs destroy the addict completely. That is why some countries execute drug traffickers because making drugs available actually kills the people when they become addicts, useless to themselves, useless to their parents who have suffered greatly in educating them, and they have become useless even their country. 

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday, April 13, 2018

NIGERIA’S TRAVEL AGENCIES: HOW GENUINE? HOW COMMITTED? (2)

The kind of transportation used by Hajj tour operators is distinct from the one that caters for state pilgrims. Hajj tour operators will pay for the regular type of buses under the Saudi niqaabah (transport) syndicate, just to satisfy the condition of the Saudi Hajj Ministry. In addition to that payment, tour operators also pay for VIP buses, according to the standard of their packages, to cater for the transport needs of their pilgrims. These buses are of newer models than the ones under the niqaabah system. My company, for example, will use the latest model of buses in a particular year. Meaning, in Hajj 2016 for example, we used either 2016 model, or even, 2017 as it is possible to get future versions of some vehicles six months before the end of the year. We, in essence, do not accept any standard below the latest model of buses in our Hajj operations!

Is this to display luxury and class, as some have wrongly concluded? No! The reason for using only the newest buses is simple. The private tour operator is sought only by those who want something beyond the barest minimum, which the State Pilgrims Boards provide. There are very good reasons for that barest minimum but that is not the issue at hand presently. The buses under the niqaabah arrangement are notorious for breaking down at crucial moments. They also do not wait for pilgrims; they discharge their passengers at each stage in the Hajj rites and go. They only return to pick the passengers when the time is due and in such cases, the traffic situation often means trekking to your next destination would be a better idea. With VIP buses, you hardly encounter that kind of problem. The VIP buses remain with the pilgrims at each stage of the Hajj rites and they are equipped with onboard television, Wi-Fi, mini-fridge and toilet. They are fully air-conditioned and the engines run as long as pilgrims are within the buses, keeping the pilgrims in relative comfort. The spacing in the buses ensures adequate leg space which is crucial when you have to remain in traffic for hours at a stretch.

Private Hajj companies are not out to compete with the State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards and agencies in any way. We are to provide services above what obtains under the state arrangement. Any tour operator who measures the services of his company with that of the States has brought ridicule into this industry. Private Hajj operations are different from those of state pilgrims. The fares are not the same, thus, both the clientele and standard of service differ. Those who derailed during Hajj 2017 by giving a rate that was lower than what the states charged, failed lamentably as some of them ended up accommodating pilgrims in secondary schools in Makkah, or keeping them in houses that even the states are forbidden from using. 

Hajj tour operators are committed to assisting the pilgrims in performing a Mabrur (acceptable) Hajj, thus, they organise Hajj induction course for their pilgrims, days to the departure. The focus of the seasoned private Hajj operator is to remove the burden of logistics from the mind of the pilgrim thereby enhancing his ability to perform his Hajj without let or hindrance.
From a smoother and quicker airlift arrangement, using scheduled flights and not chartered flight arrangements, to hotels closer to the haram, which ensure that the pilgrim has no excuse to miss the huge reward of salat in the Haram mosque to the quality of food, accommodation and tents, there is a distinction between the two.

The two questions raised by the topic: How genuine? How committed show the mindset of the average Nigerian Muslim about what we do. At the risk of sounding immodest, the answer to those two questions is, “very much so!”. We have our fair share of bad eggs. They are few and we know them. We have an association called the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON). These bad eggs are usually not one of us or they register with the Association for the mere formality of it; never attending meetings and never contributing a dime to the Association. They cut corners and think the business is nothing more than a quick way to make money. The fear of Allah is the last thing on their mind when they are serving their clients.

The genuine private Hajj operator is different. The committed Hajj operator ensures both value for money on the one hand and profitability on the other hand. Some of us lose untold sums of money each year to make up for the lapses in the services we procure on behalf of our clients; paying more than the pilgrim paid to make sure the pilgrim does not imagine that he has been cheated out of his money. The commitment to excellence is carried to a near extreme in the case of some of us. We do not think of the cost, for example, when the airline cannot confirm our return dates to Nigeria and our pilgrims have to spend an extra night or two in Saudia. We move the pilgrims to Jeddah after their check-out date in Makkah, lodge them into five-star hotels (we had the choice of lower class accommodation) and feed them from our purse. For companies like mine, that cost comes to millions of naira. Often times, the hotel bills are only settled months after return to Nigeria, as the company’s bank accounts are showing the same colour as blood.

We have been known to upgrade pilgrims from one five-star hotel, for which they originally paid, to a better five-star hotel on the mere hint that the original hotel of choice would not satisfy the high standards to which we adhere. We go as far as approaching the hotel chefs to allow us to cook Nigerian dishes in the hotel’s kitchen; something that is difficult to achieve in Saudia. My company, for example, pioneered bringing Zam Zam to Nigeria for the pilgrims to ease the burden of carrying the heavy containers of divine liquid. All the pilgrims have to do is to present their identity cards upon return and collect one container of Zam Zam.

We also return the excess money paid by pilgrims to us when we find the airline charged less than the pilgrim deposited. Please do not think that by all I have mentioned, it a perfect arrangement with private Hajj operators. It is not. We have our challenges and we have those who resort to sharp practices. NAHCON has become very adept at fishing out these and sanctioning them appropriately. The picture I have tried to paint for those who see us from afar and who see us as opportunistic and capitalistic is that we are as committed as anyone can be to the success of Hajj operations in Nigeria at the lowest rates possible under the circumstances. What do we gain from exorbitant rates which mean fewer people patronise us? Nothing! We remember this business is an act of worship for which we will be rewarded when done sincerely and honestly and it is this fact that drives many of us to excellence. As for the few who are not so genuine or committed, we ask Allah to guide them.

In conclusion, I would like to appeal to the public to desist from sharing information on Haj and its cost, the source of which is not ascertained. I have come across such posts apportioning quite impossible figures to the various Hajj components like airfare, tickets and accommodation, asking why the cost of Hajj is so high despite their contrived figures and urging everyone to share these false figures with the hope of creating doubts and ill feelings in the minds of the people. The contents of the sixth verse in Suratul Hujuraat (Q49:6) will help us in this regard. The genuine commitment of the private Hajj operator is not in doubt and the few who are not doing the right thing should not be the yardstick for measuring the rest of us. We also need the help of the public and we urge you to raise an alarm, talk to our Association leaders or approach the National Hajj Commission directly to lodge a formal complaint if any private tour operator has given you less than you paid for. It is your right and you should exercise it. 

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday, April 6th, 2018

NIGERIA’S TRAVEL AGENCIES: HOW GENUINE? HOW COMMITTED?

I was the Guest Speaker in the One-Day National Symposium on Hajj organised by Manara TV Satellite Television at the Lady Kwali Conference Hall, Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, on Saturday, March 10th, 2018; the paper I presented is what I share with my readers today. Enjoy:


NIGERIA’S TRAVEL AGENCIES: HOW GENUINE? HOW COMMITTED?

Let me start by congratulating Manara TV for organising this National Symposium. I hope its management will make it an event, bringing together Hajj stakeholders to speak on the operations of this fifth pillar of our faith. You should consider giving awards for excellence to State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards and agencies, as well as private Hajj operators in the future. This will encourage better service delivery to the pilgrims.

Let me address the topic: Nigeria’s Travel Agencies: How Genuine? How Committed? There are travel agencies, and there are private Hajj operators. Every private Hajj operator is a travel agent, but not every travel agent is a private Hajj operator. 

A travel agency is a going concern the directors of which could be Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The company could have among its commercial activities the sale of alcohol and other non-Islamic activities. A private Hajj company, otherwise called Hajj tour operator, must be wholly owned by Muslims, and its article and memorandum of association must not contain dealings in any Islamically proscribed business. Thus, the topic should have been: Nigeria’s Private Hajj Operators: How Genuine? How Committed?

Formal Hajj tour operations in Nigeria started since 1948 from Kano. ’The trip was by road. It was a joint business owned by three merchants. The leader was Alhaji Muhammadu Nagoda. They bought lorries which conveyed pilgrims to Sudan, which was the land route terminus for all West African pilgrims for centuries, and they put them on ships at Port Suakin, close to Port Sudan to cross the Red Sea and arrive in Jeddah. They charged each pilgrim 20 pounds. The journey usually lasted six months. This was the beginning of what my company and hundreds of other companies do today.

‘When in 1948 the trio of Alhaji Mahmud Dantata (1922-1983), Alhaji Haruna Kassim and Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, established the West African Pilgrims Association (WAPA), the first private Hajj company, things took a rapid turn for the better. There were more lorries and buses which conveyed pilgrims from Kano through Borno then Chad to Sudan. From Sudan, it was as before; they boarded ships from the coast of Sudan across the Red Sea to Jeddah.

‘WAPA later founded Hajj Air Limited when aircrafts were available. In the same city of Kano, Pilgrims Aid Society (PAS) also arranged air travel for Hajj pilgrims. This went on through the 1950s. Compared with the arduous 6-month ordeal the pilgrims went through by road, air travel was very easy and fast. The West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) was the airline in those days.’

Then, of course, the private Hajj operations passed through many stages to the present era where it is regulated by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). In times gone by, some miscreants, in the name of organising Hajj, collected people’s fortune and disappeared into thin air either here in Nigeria. In some cases, upon arrival into Saudi territories, the agents absconded and left the pilgrims stranded. Such dubious characters had no offices or a definite address where they could be reached. Their offices were in their briefcases and the countless telephone numbers with which they lured the deceived people. This image of the swindler was what many grew up knowing about the private operators of Hajj in Nigeria, commonly referred to simply as ‘agents’.

Another set of Hajj operators would not run away after collecting people’s money, but whatever they told their clients was a farce. Yes, they had fixed office addresses, members of staff and telephone numbers. But the package they advertised was total guesswork as they only made an assumption on the rates of services in Saudi Arabia, and thus such arrangements did not have the names of hotels in Makkah and Madeenah. The package only mentioned three or four-star hotels, close to the Haram, with good transportation within the holy territories. Vague. The names of the hotels were not mentioned because the agents were guessing at random; they did not have any particular hotel in mind. They did not know the kind of standard of the transportation and other logistics. Unfortunately, these uninformed citizens, who subscribed to such uncertain but enticingly cheap packages, suffered a great deal. The agents kept them in any hotel, however far they were from the Haram since no specific name was given when the package was sold. The same happened in the area of logistics, movements from point to point within Saudia, as well as, in the case of Hajj, in Mashaa’ir - Minaa and Arafaat. I related all these in the past tense because no decent Hajj operator can try such thing now as sanctions will follow from NAHCON.

Today’s NAHCON-brewed Hajj tour operator is more sophisticated than his predecessors in the industry. His office and relevant documents must conform to the standards stipulated for a going concern in that line of business. NAHCON inspectors have been known to give only 30 minutes’ notice before showing up in a tour operator’s office. May Allah help you if your documents are not in order - Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) incorporation certificate, share capital of₦30,000,000, updated International Air Travel Association (IATA) licence, current tax clearance, etc. The members of staff must be trained with at least two of them certified by IATA for the purposes of ticketing and reservation. Even the ambience of the office will not escape the notice of inspectors who, in order to ensure the safety of life and property, will frown at the absence of fire-extinguishers within the office premises.
The inspection extends to the services Hajj tour operators render to their pilgrims in Saudi Arabia - hotels, feeding, transport and the stay in Minaa and Arafaat.

The packages are now well thought-out with designated hotels, their proximity to the Haram, and the standard (four or five star) of the accommodation. A meal plan is also mentioned: bed and breakfast, or bed, breakfast and lunch, otherwise called, half board, or bed, breakfast, lunch and dinner, also called full board. Not only that; reservations for the rooms have been made months ago with contracts signed and sealed in terms of payment and general conditions for occupancy, check in and check out time. There is no room for guesswork for any serious company.

At the Mashaa’ir, private Hajj operators are only allowed to keep their pilgrims, starting from, the B tents. There are categories of tents from C which is the lowest, to B, then A, and the highest A Plus. The State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards and agencies accommodate their pilgrims in the C category tents. But the starting point for tour operators is B. There are some who use the A tents. Still, for the companies that offer VIP services, their pilgrims enjoy the Additional Services of A Plus tents, which are the zenith. What these tents have in common is that, unlike what obtained in the period of chaos, pilgrims have mattresses, pillows and blankets. Decent food is provided, full board, and where the meal fails to meet the standard set for feeding pilgrims at Minaa and Arafaat, NAHCON ensures that those affected receive a full refund from the service provider. 

Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad,
Friday, March 30th, 2018