Thursday, September 26, 2019

ON AKINTOLA'S UMMAH DEVELOPMENT FUND (UDF)






                                                                                          SULTAN



I do not entirely agree with Professor Ishaq Akintola, the Director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) in his averments during a lecture he presented at the An-Nur Mosque in Abuja, on Saturday 21st September 2019, on the regularity of Nigerian Muslims’ observance of Hajj, and the establishment of what he called “Ummah Development Fund (UDF)".

I am a private Hajj operator whose company renders, to Umrah and Hajj pilgrims, the most expensive service in the industry. But my disagreement with the revered professor is not an attempt to avert what his position might do to my business. In an article published on these pages, on September 7th 2011 captioned Ramadan Umrah: Spirituality or Wastage?, regardless of my position as a VIP Hajj operator whose business thrives on the patronage of the rich, I  called for moderation of expenses, and criticised the wastage, by some Nigerians during Umrah, of expending huge resources, a little fraction of which would have improved the lot of many people back home.

Hajj should not be viewed from the sordid prism of mercantilism. It is a pillar of our Deen. The discourse on Hajj must be honest and for Allah’s Countenance because it is an ibaadah; and any whose purpose therein is profanity or wrong-doing - them will Allah cause to taste of a most Grievous Penalty (al-Hajj, 25). 



Professor Ishaq Akintola’s MURIC is a household name in the Ummah. MURIC is the Hassan bin Thaabit of the Muslim Community in Nigeria today. Malign Islam or the Muslims undeservedly and see how MURIC would respond. Deprive the Muslims of their fundamental human rights in ay form and await the arrival of the invincible host of MURIC at the head of which would be Professor Akintola himself.  The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) oftentimes finds itself if a position that silence is the better option as a response to certain happenings in the country, but MURIC would take up the gauntlet and address the issue adroitly. MURIC does not confine its advocacy and defence for Islam to Nigeria; whatever happens to Islam and/or the Muslims in any part of the globe, MURIC is not silent.  

What I take exception to in the said An-Nur lecture by Professor Akintola are the following:  

1- The Professor acknowledged the fact “that Nigerian Muslims have the right to go on hajj as many times as they wish,” but he also said that “in reality, hajj is only expected to be performed once in a lifetime.” In the opinion of Professor Akintola, “Nigerian Muslims overdo it by going on hajj and Umrah every year”; that “those who do so earn more rewards from Allah but they end up making Saudi Arabia richer while Nigeria becomes poorer.” The “Muslims who go on hajj every year”, the Professor averred, “should be allowed to do so because they are merely exercising their Allah-given fundamental human right of freedom of worship as entrenched in Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, they should be made to contribute to the Ummah Development Fund.” 

Hajj is not “only expected to be performed once in a lifetime”; it is an obligation on every Muslim, once in a lifetime; it is a binding duty unto Allah on every believer that can afford the journey (Aali-Imraan, 97). Hajj is responding to Allah’s summon; it is Answering the Call of the Summoner (al-Hajj, 27) to the House at Bakkah, the first Sanctuary appointed for mankind, wherein are plain memorials of Allah’s guidance, the Station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security (Aali-Imraan, 96-97).  

You cannot “overdo” what Allah has ordained provided you undertake the journey seeking Allah’s recompense. A Muslim should not be described as overdoing what more than seventy (70) prophets have performed. Saheed Muslim and Sunan Ibn Majah have reported Ahaadeeth of Prophet, Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam, and the Sahaabah travelling along Makkah and Madeenah, and how the Prophet, Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam, felt as if he was seeing some of his brother-prophets - Musa, Yunus, etc. - along the ravines and valleys riding their camels and chanting Labbaikal Laahumma Labbaik 

The Messenger of Allah, Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam, urged us to perform Hajj because it is incumbent upon us once in a lifetime, but he also encourages us to “overdo it” when he said: “Perform Hajj and Umrah consecutively, for they remove poverty and sin as the bellows removes impurity from iron.” And his saying: “Sins committed between one `Umrah and another are expiated. And the reward for Hajj Mabrur (pilgrimage accepted by Allah) is nothing but Paradise.” It is not surprising then that Hassan Ibn Ali, may Allah be pleased with them, performed Hajj twenty-five  (25) times. And Abu Uthmaan an-Nahdiy, may Allah bless him, trekked to perform Hajj sixty (60) times!

Professor Akintola sees consecutive Hajj "as making Saudi Arabia richer while Nigeria becomes poorer.” I would like to know from the Professor how Nigeria is richer with Emirates Airline, for instance, having four (4) flights, almost daily, two each, from Abuja and Lagos to Dubai, and then to other destinations around the world. During high season, a first-class ticket is in the region of N4 million; the business-class around N2 to N3 million, while the economy about N1 million.  

Hajj is the sincere exhibition of the love of Allah and His Messenger, Sallallaahu Alaihi wa Sallam, and placing that over the love of one’s family, wealth and country. The Muslim forsakes all that is dear to him and flees to that uncultivable valley within the precincts of the House of Allah because his heart inclines and yearns to it (Ibraheem, 37). He does not see going on pilgrimage as the exercise of any “fundamental human right of freedom of worship as entrenched in” any constitution because generations of his forebears had performed this obligation before any manmade law in the form of a constitution was ever drafted! 
  

2- My other area of disagreement with Professor Akintola is the “strategic thinking”, the establishment of “the Ummah Development Fund (UDF)”. But is it a disagreement? I do not think so. I stand with the Professor in the need “to improve the economic condition of Nigerian Muslims.” I support the UDF idea and the division of the disbursement to the proposed sectors - education, health, and economic.  I agree totally that the Ummah needs hospitals and more Islamic universities to protect its own from being forced to attend church services or avoid the use of the hijab. I have no problem with the position that “(t)hose going on hajj or Umrah for the second, third or more times should be made to pay to the Ummah Development Fund. Anyone repeating hajj should pay 5% of the total cost as his contribution to the UDF while those repeating Umrah should pay 13%.” Of course, this is just a proposal which will be ratified or adjusted to the prevailing realities in the Hajj and Umrah industry by the UDF COMMITTEE.   

My problem is in the composition of the UDF membership of the Board of Trustees (BOT). In the names put forward by Professor Akintola for UDF’s BOT, there is none with experience in Hajj operations. “Mallam Adamu Adamu (current Minister of Education), Mallam Ahmed Ali (current head of customs)” - his name is Hameed - “and Professor Ishaq Oloyede (current head of JAMB)”; these could be “tested and trusted Muslims”, but UDF will float on the wheel of Hajj and Umrah finances. I do not know why Professor Akintola did not include the current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello as a member of the BOT. This FCT Minister was the first Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). 


I am not convinced of the reason advanced by the Professor that the NSCIA should “hands off the team once it has been set up” because according to him the “BOT of the UDF can only perform effectively if it is independent.” I do not think so. To my mind, independence of the BOT shall be guaranteed and enhanced under the aegis of NSCIA as the umbrella body all Muslim organisations in Nigeria. Rest assured, the BOT will comprise of people who will not accord fealty at the expense of Islam and the Muslims. 

There is a serious omission regarding the UDF and all the lofty ideals attached to it. Professor Akintola has not assigned any role to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). The whole idea of UDF would not be possible, it will be a mirage in the desert, without the involvement of NAHCON, a body responsible for overseeing the Hajj and Umrah activities of state pilgrims’ welfare boards/agencies and private Hajj operators. In this proposal by Professor Akintola, NAHCON was not mentioned even once. 

His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar proposed The Hajj Development Levy to NAHCON during the tenure of Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello. The current Chairman of the Commission Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar continued with that legacy of Hajj Development Levy for which N5000 is contributed by every intending pilgrim from state welfare boards and private Hajj operators. If His Eminence’s proposal had stopped with the NSCIA and other Islamic organisations as Professors Akintola is trying to do, nothing could have been possible in that regard. Now, every Hajj, NAHCON receives this N5000 from every Nigerian pilgrim according to the number of slops allotted to Nigeria - about 95,000 to 100,000 hajjis. Certainly, the number fluctuates subject to variations in the allocation of a given year as well as the actual number of pilgrims who are able to make payments for Hajj, since the current downturn that affected the industry. But, by and large, that money is for the Ummah, not the government as it is a contribution by Muslim pilgrims, running into billions with the CBN as the depository in a special account. NAHCON has not spent the money on anything, to the best of my knowledge.  










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