Monday, December 27, 2010


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

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