Tuesday, December 28, 2010


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

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

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