The religion of Islam is founded on five cardinal pillars of which the performance of the pilgrimage is one. However unlike the other four pillars, the hajj is incumbent upon the Moslem only if he can afford it. It is optional in the sense that God in His abundant wisdom states in the Holy Quran that “of my favours, I have bestowed upon you in degrees”.
The favours could be material wealth, knowledge, and wisdom among others. It is perhaps in keeping with this verse that God did not make it obligatory upon every Moslem to perform Hajj. Infact the concluding part of the verse which enjoins Moslems to perform this ritual add that one should only embark upon this aspect of the religion if and only if he has the wherewithal.
Like any other religious obligation, the benefits of this religious duty are not far-fetched. Among others it affords the pilgrims the opportunity to purify their souls and also reaffirm their commitment to the will of the creator. It is because of these benefits that Moslems the world over leave no stone unturned to fulfil this obligation. Infact before aeroplanes became known to man, people used to walk through the debilitating conditions of the Sahara desert to Saudi Arabia so as to perform this duty. All these make manifest the will and enthusiasm of the Moslem to meet the responsibilities bestowed upon him by God.
It is against this background that the stories of frustrations of the prospective pilgrims in recent times are disturbing. For some bizarre reasons the picture has been painted that the problems are insurmountable. Infact when one of the members of the Hajj committee was interviewed on “Adom Fm”, he tried to make some us think that the issue is so big a problem that it will take divine intervention to deal with it. And when he was asked what the Hajj committee is doing to put a stop to this perennial problem, he sighed as though the problem is predestined by God so much so that they will not be able to do anything about it. But what precisely is the conundrum here?
The problems that have been identified so far are;
1. Accommodating the prospective pilgrims in Accra while waiting for their departure.
2. Predeparture problems emanating from the inability of the pilgrims to adhere strictly to departure arrangements.
3. Arrival problems at Saudi Arabia arising out of the inability of the Hajj committee to pay service fees to the Saudi authorities.
4. Arrival problems emanating out of late delivery of the pilgrims' luggage.
I agree with the Hajj committee on their assertion that it is an arduous task dealing with some of these people. We certainly do not need a Hercules to tell us that it is Herculean dealing with people who are largely illiterate. But to create the impression that the problems are insurmountable look like we are holding at the wrong end of the rope. In this age and time, issues like this are easy to deal with if only we put our acts together. Here are a few suggestions;
It is obvious that about 65% of these pilgrims are sponsored either by family members, government or in some cases some non-governmental organisation. Whoever the sponsor is, two issues are fundamental here. The first point is that, in my opinion, the prospective pilgrims must be given the prerogative to make a choice between the pilgrimage and investing the money. Figures available to me indicate that on the average each prospective pilgrim spends close to $2000 on the Hajj. By Ghanaian standards, this is lot of money which can turn the fortunes of the person around. This is especially significant given the gnawing poverty situation of most of our people. Infact in most cases the situation has always been an imposition. What happens is that a man is in his farm moulding yam mounds under the scotching sun. Then out of the blue a child comes running to tell him that an uncle in Germany has sent for him to perform the hajj. Then he runs back home to get ready to travel to the conurbations of Accra. The next minute he is on his way to Jeddah. He has not been accorded the privilege to brood over that decision. This poses two problems: The first is that it makes the work of the hajj committee very difficult in that they have to spend precious time teaching this person the technicalities of travelling by air. The second problem is that since the prospective pilgrim is not given any options, he either willing or unwillingly embarks on this journey. He comes back only to perpetuate himself in the same abject poverty. The knock-on effect is that the “desecrated body” which he went to purify comes back to wallow in the same “dirt”. But if this person had been encouraged to invest this money, over some period, he will be able to get the money to perform the pilgrimage and come back to meet a prosperous business. As far as I am concerned it is not for the sponsor to dictate, but to allow the sponsored to decide for himself. Afterall for the sponsor, it is not the performance of the hajj which Allah will reward him for. It is the intention behind the act that is rewarded. The Holy Prophet Mohammed is quoted as having said that “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended”. For me that is the guiding principle.
There is a stinking phenomenon in especially the “Zongo” communities that make the performance of hajj look more like a competition. Once a upon a time a woman who for some bizarre reasons couldn't catch her flight to Saudi Arabia for the performance of the hajj, had to go into hibernation for the duration of the hajj. And when the pilgrims returned she also presented herself as one of the “returnees”. Her reason? Before her supposed departure she had “bragged” to the entire household about it. So for her it was embarrassing to go back to the same house to tell them she couldn't make it. Well, the tittle-tattle that followed was as disgusting as the behaviour of this woman.
But on the particular problems the pilgrims pose, it is important for the pilgrims to realize that having a whole entourage to accompany you down to Accra is not the best. At most two people are enough depending upon the circumstances of the pilgrim. Of course someone who is a little disabled may need more assistance and the hajj committee must be made aware of this. This will make it possible for them to make special arrangements to cater for that. Sometimes the problem is not with the pilgrims themselves but the youthfully-exuberant entourage. These young men in their bid to flex their muscles put untold pressure on the organisers thus making the situation to aggravate.
THE HAJJ COMMITTEE
It is an established fact that most of the people who constitute the Hajj committee are people who hailed from the Moslem communities. This presupposes that they know and appreciate the conduct and behaviour of our brothers and sisters from the Moslem communities. This undoubtedly puts the committee on a better pedestal to deal with these problems. It's not like one “Kwekufri” dealing with some “Asumah” from the “Zongo”. One thing I have realised with the average Ghanaian is that he enjoys rushing through the tip end of time. You give him the whole day and he will only turn-up at the very last hour and if you don't put your feet down, he the same person will turn around and blame you for high-handedness if you try to discipline him. But be it as it may, that wait-till-last-hour attitude doesn't work with flights. Infact in some places lateness means a few seconds. That is what the hajj committee must drum home. The hajj committee must organise regional Fora which will afford the prospective pilgrims the opportunity to ventilate what they foresee as potential problems. It will also afford the pilgrims the opportunity to seek clarifications on any grey areas.
The committee must also be able to set deadlines for the payment of fares. Such deadlines must be strictly adhered to. The committee may be subjected to cat-calls and insinuations from sections of the community, but at the end of the day, that will do the trick.
There are also some quack agents out there who make the work of the committee difficult. An investigatory committee must be set-up to delve into that and fetch out these racketeers. Since most of the problems have often emanated from these quack agents, this particular problem must be given all the attention it deserves. In all this, the government has an indispensable role to play here. The point is that when pilgrims from Ghana are subjected to humiliation in Saudi Arabia, the accusing fingers don't only point to the Moslem community in Ghana, but Ghana as a nation. That is why it is important for government to have a hand in these matters so that the hard-earned reputation of mother Ghana does not sink into the doldrums.
It is commendable though that “The Ghanaian Times” delved into this issue and tabled it as a national issue which caught the attention of the powers-that-be. I t is my hope that when the pilgrims return in a couple of days time, they will not (as the case has always been) stranded in the streets of Accra waiting for their luggage. It is my hope that next year, we will not have prospective pilgrims squatting in El Wak stadium waiting for their “fate” to be determined. And yet it is my hope that come next year “insha Allah” the government will not wait till the issue rots to the marrow before they come out with statements to that effect.
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