The controversies over pilgrimages to Makkah and Jerusalem
6/23/2012 6:49:58 PM -
For clarity, Hajj is not a religious tourism to Makkah and Madinah. Hajj is a fundamental time-specific, spot-specific, manner/condition-specific and financially tasking Islamic obligation which, instituted by a divine injunction of the Holy Qur'an and practically exemplified by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is to be fulfilled by the Muslims despite whatever challenges that may be associated with it in terms of funding, political interference, national/natural infringement or even global conspiracy.
This piece is in response to Mr. Idang Alibi's postulations in his Daily Trust column of Thursday, June 21, 2012, where he mentioned three out of ten things that amaze him about modern Nigeria which was the third part of the series. The three things he discussed in the said publication started with the much talked about but conspicuously misconstrued (in the Nigerian context) holy pilgrimages to Makkah by the Muslim faithful and to Jerusalem by the Christians. The second was the educational backwardness of the north and the third the trooping out of Nigerians outside the country in search of medical attention.
Unarguably, there are somewhat controversial issues concerning the holy journeys to Makkah and Jerusalem every year.
It is laudable the call on Nigerian governments at all levels to control waste of public funds on religious duties. It is true that Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, with the strict condition of ability in all ramifications attached to it. This means that pilgrimage to Makkah predates the existence of Nigeria and therefore cannot stop even if government does not pay a kobo or subsidize anything attached to hajj. A clear case to this is that the number of Nigerian Muslims who embark on the non-compulsory lesser hajj (Umrah) is five times more than those who embark on hajj despite government's direct non-involvement in it.
In relation to Mr. Alibi's assertions on pilgrimages from Nigeria, the Sun and Punch once quoted part of the Stephen Oronsaye Panel's reports, which showed that the federal government expended N6.449 billion on matters relating to pilgrimages between 2007 and 2011. I was shocked by this revelation that caught the whole awareness of some responsible Nigerians. N6 BILLION ONLY IN FIVE YEARS!!! I felt it was a very ludicrous observation that a panel of such caliber of people could recommend. Is this amount up to a single percent of what the federal government and some rich states expend on things that do not benefit a percentage of Nigeria's population? This amount, methink, has been expended largely on medical, consular and security services which are the constitutional rights on the government for the citizenry wherever they are.
And again, who says that the federal government favours only Muslim and Christian pilgrimages. Is it because the duo is openly celebrated? How many billions of Naira is yearly and secretly paid for services by pagan priests? The huge sums of money allegedly paid off by a former head of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) were just a tip in the iceberg. How many Nigerians visit the same India that Mr. Alibi mentioned and several other parts of the world for their acclaimed individual spiritual elevation and power acquisition? Is it the poor Nigerians that spend such huge amounts? It is still the officials of government apparatuses and business personalities who suck from the public funds.
Nonetheless, there are all the reasons for government to be involved in matters of religion. The federal, state and local governments and politicians should never be discouraged from channeling resources into ways that have direct benefits for Nigerians or larger segment of our society. It is believed that people who have little or no faith and those who do not believe in the peaceful coexistence of Nigerians are they who wishfully project this hypothesis that the yearly pilgrimages have no impact on our society. If Nigeria faces immorality from its citizens at such amazing level upon all efforts to ameliorate it, what would Nigeria have looked like without these highly spiritual journeys?!
However, I do not know that the federal government sponsors ordinary Nigerian pilgrims to go to the holy lands except the negligible number of officials who coordinate such large segment of Nigerians outside the country within such given periods of time. They also conduct specific duties to pray for peace, stability and progress of Nigeria and their states. Is it something not worthy of commendation? Again, many of the pilgrims, especially the first-timers to the holy lands come back to Nigeria, better exposed, informed and reformed. It has been observed that many of the every-year goers have lost the spiritual taste and reformatory derivations from the trips. But in general, the merits of these holy journeys are far more reaching than any observed demerits. Moreover, government's non-involvement will be counter-productive against its struggle to ameliorate the country's damaged image outside.
Performance of Hajj is now easier and much sought even with the ever increasing pricing in hajj fares? So, if government hands-off completely from the little subsidies it grants Muslims and Christians - who constitute 90% of the nation's population - it cannot stop hajj. What it will translate to is an increase in hajj fare and Muslims will pay for the hajj seats. Politicians, or subtly put it, the rich will not stop to sponsor those allies and partners in progress whom they feel should benefit from their religious or social largesse.
Therefore, it is sufficiently evident that the call for scrapping pilgrimage commissions in Nigeria or withdrawal of subsidies from pilgrimage related-matters cannot be an issue for development for Nigeria. The establishment of the hajj commission was in response to a long search for a permanent solution to the perennial problems that bedeviled hajj operations in the past, added to the embarrassment such past failures brought to the Nigerian government. I know that the commission has on its board representatives from key government ministries: foreign Affairs, Finance, Health, aviation, interior and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). And as it is today, as many Nigerians would testify, the commission has delivered its mandate to a satisfactory level commended by the international community.
But the question in this regard is: why are some people not happy that Muslims and Christians are benefitting from governments' subsidies in matters relating to their holy pilgrimages? Why all these attempts to explore ways to block such laudable gestures from the federal government? The leadership of Nigeria of today is as wise as Solomon. There can be no justifiable reason to stop what over 80% of the nation's population benefit from. Religion is an integral part of human life and government should not be drifted away from it.
Both the Muslim and Christian faithfuls, in pursuit of their religious obligations and spiritual uprightness, become more devoted when things get tougher in their ways.
Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org