By Ibrahim Muhammad
The cliché “the more things change the more they remain the same’ may fails its expressive meaning if it is applied it to the analytical expose of how hajj operations has went through transformations in the country. Involvements of governments in Hajj affairs started in 1953, when Altai Abu-Bakr Imam tabled a motion for the establishment of the ‘Nigeria Office’ in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to cater for Nigerian pilgrims. In order to have a first experience of what Nigeria pilgrims went through by then, he travels to hajj to perform hajj and reports back to the government, On coming back, Alhaji Imam recommended for the appointment of a pilgrims commissioner that will accompany pilgrims. He also request for the establishment of a dispensary at the major pilgrims centres which has now be updated to Nigeria Medical team; the provision of accommodation for the pilgrims in Mecca and Medina; and the control of hajj fees.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto out of concerned by then shows interests in the hajj. He leads Sardauna led a four-man delegation to Saudi Arabia to personally investigate hajj conditions and to advise the Government.
The commission concentrates on cardinal issues such as the mutawwif (local guide) responsible for guiding Nigerian pilgrims, the absence of accommodation for Nigerian pilgrims, the lack of medical facilities, and arrangements for reception at Jeddah’s sea and air ports. After then, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki was sent to Kano to perform a role similar to pilgrims officers that will assist Nigerian pilgrims at Kano airport on matters of hajj operations especially relating to passports, visas, customs and immigration formalities, health requirements and foreign exchange. This brief historical background indicates that operational challenges in hajj have a similar pattern.
However, If we are to juxtapose the above scenario with current status of hajj exercise in Nigeria, we can said that a lot has been achieved We might not have crossed the same bridge with Malaysian Tambug hajj as per hajj administration but Alhamdulillah, we have graduated from the list of ‘countries that do apply for extension of time before she can airlifts its pilgrims during hajj” Now, nobody can accuse our pilgrims of occupying King Abdul Aziz international airports in Jedda for days awaiting an aircraft to take them home. As per pilgrims accommodation, Pilgrims are now complaining of non functioning Air conditions, GSM signals, preferred satellites channels as opposed to lack of rooms and beddings to lay their heads on. Nigeria pilgrims are now being feed twice a day throughout their stays in Makkah and Madina. The focus has now shifted from ‘lack of food’ to the ‘type of menu’ and ‘time of supply’.
Abolishment of VIP treatments to some few people has classed Nigeria pilgrims under the same category. It is interesting that the whipping nation of yesteryears in hajj administration is now the pioneer of ‘home delivery’ of Zamzam to its pilgrims in Hajj operations. The previous anxieties of whether there will be vehicle to transports pilgrims from Makkah to Minna and from Minna to Arafat have laid to sleep. Nigeria pilgrims are now complaining of the date of manufacture of the bus that will convey them or whether there is a television in it or not. The hajj trademark of pilgrim’s missing luggage has been replaced with occasional late arrival of luggage. Nigeria Hajj body was rated the 3rd in terms of organisation by Saudi Arabia Ministry of hajj. Despite this international acknowledgment, there are serious operational challenges that must be tackled immediately. We shall come back to this later.
One unusual development in hajj administration in the country is the policy of effecting refunds to pilgrims for service not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily. This policy was brought to limelight after 2015 hajj. when hajj commission placed an advertorial in some national dallies that it has facilitates the ‘recovery of N1.8 billion from some hajj service providers’ for rendering poor service to Nigeria pilgrims; and that such funds has been channeled to states pilgrims welfare boards and agencies for disbursements to pilgrims that that year hajj. Was this a case of playing to the gallery or was it another one chance policy?
However, the following year, similar funds were also disbursed for the same reason. Just last week, an advertorial was placed in national dailies by hajj commission announcing the distribution of a total sum of N401, 291, 658.41 Kobo to 11 states that includes Kaduna, Sokoto, Bauchi, Gombe, Osun, Zamfara, Plateau, Cross River, Abia, Ondo and Delta states pilgrims boards. This may be an indication that the policy has come to stay at least for the main time. Contextually, we can say that emphasis has now been shifted to quality of hajj services rendered to Nigerian pilgrims.
The E-track system introduced by Saudi Arabia Hajj authority to monitor pilgrims’ services has reshaped the mode of services rendered to pilgrims. The discovery of N140 million accommodation frauds allegedly committed by an ‘accommodation agents’ based in Saudi Arabia during 2016 hajj by commission was made possible due to the online payment system adopted by hajj commissions. Saudi Arabia has now adopted what I termed as ‘E-hajj’ operating procedures. This entails that both pilgrims and hajj administrators be accustomed to new trends and explore same to maximize flexibility in hajj services delivery. The minus here is that about 70-75 percent of Nigeria pilgrims are not computer literates.
This essentially brings us to the capacity development issue on the part of Nigeria hajj administrators. Hajj administration has gone beyond the level of trial y error practiced in 80s’. Last year, hajj commission conducted capacity verification exercise for states pilgrims’ welfare boards and agencies. The focus of the exercise tilted towards infrastructure and logistics to that will enable states pilgrims’ boards to function effectively. Hajj has evolved into online activities and we cannot afford to be left behind.
Currently, Nigeria is the fifth largest hajj contingent and has been rated as the third most organized hajj administrations by Saudi Arabia Hajj Ministry. To sustain this gradual development, we need to appreciate the complexities in hajj operations. Hajj exercise consists of multiple layers of activities involving many government agencies both in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia: National Hajj commissions, States Muslims Pilgrims Welfare Boards and agencies, Independent Travel and Tour Operators, Nigeria Civil Aviations Authority, Nigeria Meteorological agencies, NAHCO, Nigeria Immigration Services, NDLEA, NAPTIP, Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Security Services, and host of others.
In Saudi Arabia, hajj exercise involves Saudi Ministry of Hajj, Saudi Civil Defense. CAR Syndicates, Mutawif for Africa Non Arab Countries, Various Muasasah Companies, Islamic Development Bank who is in charge of Adahi Projects, Adilha in Madina, accommodation Providers, GACA and hosts of other agencies.
The major challenges in hajj operations are as a result of multi agencies involvements where centre of control cannot be centralized. Blending all the above agencies into one whole body remains a herculean task. The reason while there are always one challenge or the other during hajj exercise. it is like pipe with many holes. Blocked one and the other will simply open ajar. Kudos must be governing to Saudi Arabia for measuring up to their name as the custodian of the two Holly Mosques.
More than ever before, issue of transparent financial management in hajj operations has becomes predominant. Details breakdowns of pilgrims’ hajj fare and its corresponding services are now being made available to publics. This has minimized possible loopholes to be exploited by fraudulent mindsets. Despite this gradual improvement in, there exist urgent needs to focus on human resources and more proactive steps towards changing the face of hajj operations permanently in the country.
Love of cats, sign of faith in Islam
In Islam, if cat urine stains one’s clothes, it is not regarded as dirty, while a dog’s saliva is considered to be dirty and if it gets on your clothes you cannot pray in them unless the stain is rinsed off. In fact, according to the Shafii school of thought, if a dog’s saliva stains one’s clothes, that stain is required to be rinsed off seven times in order to be able to pray in them again.
Prophet Muhammad’s fondness for cats is conveyed in his hadith: “Affection for cats is part of faith.” So, loving a cat is a sign that someone is a believer. When Prophet Muhammad came across a black-and-white Abyssinian cat breastfeeding her kitten during the Uhud campaign, he changed the course of his soldiers. On his way back he adopted this cat and gave her the name “Muezza.” One day, he slightly tipped his cup so that a cat passing by could drink some water.
A companion of Prophet Muhammad was given the name Abu Hurairah, which means “father of cats.” Abu Hurairah was given this name because wherever he went, he always had a cat with him. It is even said among the people that Prophet Muhammad stroked the back of a cat for strangling a snake that was about to harm someone and that is why cats land on four feet and not on their backs.
The nickname of Pir Asad, one of Rumi’s caliphs, renowned for his love of cats, was nicknamed “Pisili Sultan” (Sultan with Kitties). When his beloved cat died, he had it buried right near his foot. They say that while Ahmed Rufah, one of the elders, was sitting, his cat came and fell asleep on the sleeve of his robe. When the time for Friday prayer arrived he did not want to disturb the cat, so he cut his sleeve off instead of waking it.
The prophet’s hadith, “Have mercy on the creatures of Allah so that Allah may have mercy on you,” was the motto of the elderly. The prophet also said that a woman who kept a cat locked up and failed to feed it until it died, would be sent to hell, while a prostitute, who gave water to a dog that was dying from thirst, would be forgiven.
“Stories, jokes and sagas feature cats as well. The story goes that Nasreddin Hodja’s wife cooked and then devoured 3 kilos of liver that he brought. In the evening when he came home, she blamed a cat. He then weighed the cat which tipped the scale at 3 kilos. “Lady, if this is the cat then where is the meat, if this is the meat then where is the cat?” he famously asked his wife. Though cats are famous for theft, the poor animals are blamed for almost everything that is lost”.
There is a mosque in Damascus called Masjid al-Qitat. “Qitat” means “cats” in Arabic. It is also a foundation that was established to protect the cat thrown out in the street. The caretaker of the mosque purchases liver with the some of the foundation’s income and feeds hundreds of cats every day.
İsmail Saib Sencer, the director of the Bayezid Library in Istanbul, fed hundreds of cats. For this reason, Bayezid Library was called “The Cat Library.”
There are too many kinds of cats. They are from the same species as lions and tigers. Some of them are incredibly beautiful, and for some stroking their hair is the greatest pleasure. İsmet Sungurbey, a teacher of law in Istanbul, fed hundreds of cats in his school’s garden. Later he wrote a book called “Hayvan Hakları” (Animal Rights). Arndt, a chemistry professor at Istanbul University, taught lessons with his cat on his shoulder. The cats that were allowed to roam freely and go in and out and fall asleep wherever they want with
Culled from Daily Sabbah