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11.12.2007 Religion

From 499 to 649: Another year of hajj trouble

By The Statesman

The fate of over 649 prospective pilgrims hangs in the balance following the refusal of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Ghana to issue them with visas, despite the high level diplomatic effort.

Saudi Arabian embassy sources told The Statesman in an interview that, the Interim National Hajj Council, the body overseeing the organisation of hajj in Ghana had exceeded its quota of 2,700.

As at Friday night, the Chief of Staff and Presidential Affairs Minister Kwadwo Mpiani, the National Chief Imam Sheikh Usman Nuhu Sharubtu, some members of the Hajj Agents Association of Ghana and Ghana's Ambassador in Saudi Arabia Rashid Bawa were engaged in a last minute efforts to secure hajj visas for paid prospective pilgrims from the Saudi Embassy in Ghana.

The Saudi Consulate Yussif al Balawi insists that the passports submitted to the embassy by the hajj council were far in excess of Ghana's allocations.

But Interim Council chairman Ustaz Ahmed Saeed has said in an interview that the council is finalizing arrangements to refund about $1.2 million to the unsuccessful applicants.

Already, a seeming blame game is emerging among council members, with some members accusing the old council members of sabotage.

As at the time of filing this report, it was not exactly clear when the first batch of pilgrims will be conveyed to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to begin the annual hajj festival.

The arrival of the airline to convey the first batch of pilgrims had already been postponed more than twice and Ustaz Ahmed Saeed assured that, the "flight will not disappoint this time round," adding that " the ALLAMA airline from Libya will depart at dawn on Sunday December 9, with the first batch of Muslim Pilgrims".

He said there will be a flight taking off from Ghana each day for the last seven days before the Jeddah airport in Saudi Arabia is closed on December 14, 2007.

According to the council chairman, the 499 prospective pilgrims who were unable to embark on the trip last year due to poor flight arrangement will be the first to take off when the Libyan airline touch the Kotoka runway.

Poor communication, is beginning to cause to stir at the council's office, with hundreds of prospective pilgrims, fearing of last year's disappointment rushing to the National Cultural office of the council for information.

Hundreds more are left at the open space of the Aviance Cargo near Kotoka International Airport waiting to be airlifted to Saudi Arabia as at Friday and Saturday The Statesman visited the scene.

Most of the would-be pilgrims had come from Kumasi and the three Northern Regions of the country and had no relations in Accra to lodge with.

Diasporans who have paid for their relations to perform hajj this are also inundating the hajj council's office to enquire when their families will be airlifted to Jeddah.

Information gathered by The Statesman indicates that some Ghanaians are embarking on the hajj trip from neighbouring Togo fearing the annual ritual of hajj related problems in Ghana.

By Suleiman Mustapha