By Iddi Muhayu-Deen
Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca, is indubitably, one of the greatest pillars upon which Islam is grounded. In fact, it is not only a necessity for every Muslim to embark on Hajj but a mandatory religious requirement providing there exists, the means. Some Islamic scholars would even tell you that Muslims are challenged by their religious faith to, as much as possible, create the necessary [ads1]means that would take them to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
You go to Hajj and you have all your sins wiped off as thou you are a newly born. This, you can only find in Hajj. That is why you see Muslims exude so much passion when it comes to matters of Hajj. Give a Muslim everything in this World and deny him Hajj and you will become his worst enemy. On the other hand, give a Muslim good Hajj and deny him everything and you will certainly become his best friend in this World. This goes to underscore the unique significance and indispensability of Hajj in the life of a Muslim.
It is however a truism that the annual organization of Hajj in Ghana, has since time immemorial, been fraught with plethora of challenges ranging from non-availability of flights; to deplorable living conditions at the Hajj Village; to the wanton neglect of the ordeal of disgruntled prospective Hajj pilgrims among several issues. Last year for instance, I dare say that, the challenges bedeviling the annual organization of Hajj in our country, reached a crescendo. It was just a not not not, with almost everything going bad.
It was so bad that the prospective Hajj Pilgrims at the time had to come together and formed an Association of Disgruntled Prospective Hajj Pilgrims to champion their cause through their spokespersons, Shehu Alwala Abdi and Mohammed R. Abdul-Rahman. I recall vividly, the association organized press conferences upon press conferences and issued countless statements on their ordeals but the authorities never showed any concern. The then Tanko-led National Hajj Board wouldn’t attend to them. President Mahama wouldn’t visit and commiserate with them at the Hajj Village either; but of course, he would go to the Tamale airport to play politics with Hajj at that very moment.
Whilst at it, the sad conditions of these disgruntled prospective pilgrims at the Hajj Village were moving from bad to worse at each passing moment with their exasperation growing geometrically. For instance, in their statement of Thursday September 1, 2016, they accused the organizers of the Hajj of deceit and inhumane treatment being meted out to them at the Hajj Village in Accra. “We have been left stranded and wandering about hopelessly at the Hajj Village under very deplorable condition.
Some of those from outside Accra are the most affected because for more than a week, they have been forced to sleep in the open under mosquito-infested canopies at the Hajj Village with a fading hope of catching a flight,” the stranded Hajj pilgrims stated in their press statement, which was signed by their spokespersons, Shehu Alwala Abdi and Mohammed R. Abdul-Rahman. They also questioned the basis for scheduling ONLY ELEVEN FLIGHTS when the Hajj Authorities knew the exact number of paid-up members involved and that, the eleven flights would not be able to contain all of them.
The stranded Muslims, in another development, accused the Mahama government of deliberately flying businessmen and women, foreigners as well as NDC footsoldiers under a so called protocol arrangement to Mecca at their expense. This allegation was confirmed when some of these people, numbering 39, who flew earlier were repatriated by the Saudi Authorities because, among other reasons, they had traveled with some huge bags containing items meant for trade rather than religious commitments; a claim, which was confirmed by the then spokesperson of the National Hajj Board.
“It is very despicable how the aged have been left to sleep in the open, when we have toiled to pay our money well in advance in our quest to go and serve Almighty Allah,” their press release intimated. There were also media reports confirming that at least two people had lost their lives at the Hajj Village same year. In the final analysis, a total of 452 prospective Hajj Pilgrims who had duly paid the required amount could not make this all important pilgrimage. That’s how bad the situation was under the NDC despite all their propaganda in respect of the organization of Hajj.
Following all of these seemingly intractable challenges confronting the Ghanaian Muslim in his quest to legitimately practice his faith, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, then, as NPP Running Mate in the buildup to the 2016 general elections, made a passionate appeal to Muslims in particular to repose their trust and confidence in the NPP to better their lot. He appealed to them to vote for the NPP because according to him, the NPP was the ONLY party that could change their narrative especially with him, a Muslim, as the Vice President. I remember very well that he was heavily criticized for suggesting that the Presidency needed a fair balance to reflect the two dominant religions in the country; i.e. Christianity and Islam.
But the good news is that, his innocuous wish came to pass eventually and I would want us to, at this juncture, assess the extent to which His Excellency the Vice President has been able to keep “his social contract” with Ghanaian Muslims particularly regarding Hajj, which remains their number one concern. He started by ensuring that a competent and hardworking 11-member Board was appointed to competently steer the affairs of Hajj. The Board is being chaired by Sheik I.C. Quaye with other notable names like Alhaji Farouk Hamza of GRA, Kamal-Deen Abdulai of Nasara fame and aspiring NYO of NPP, Alhaji Sumaila of the office of the Vice President and Alhaji Manaf of the Saudi Embassy in Ghana.
This award winning team, I am happy to report, has not only vindicated the confidence reposed in them but has also delivered what would go in history, as the MOST SUCCESSFUL HAJJ in the history of Ghana. Gone were those days when issues of Hajj occupied the front pages of our newspapers for all the bad reasons during the annual pilgrimage. This year, the narrative has completely changed owing to the illustrious works of the hardworking members of the Hajj Board and His Excellency the Vice President. In fact, the flight carrying the last batch of pilgrims has arrived from Mecca and that effectively means that the 2017 Hajj is over with a lot of people not noticing because the usual negatives associated with the organization of Hajj were conspicuously missing in the year under review.
Even though, the current Hajj Board inherited a colossal debt amounting to GHc31 million, they still managed to chalk this unprecedented feat. For the first time in the history of Ghana, all the paid-up prospective Hajj Pilgrims were successfully airlifted to Mecca without a single soul left behind. The Board maintained the $3,500 which was paid last year and also managed to clear all the backlogs from last year in respect of the paid-up members (452 in all) who couldn’t make it to Mecca except the few who opted for refund. They also supervised major renovation works at the Hajj Village and constructed for the first time, a HAJJ CLINIC to attend to the health needs of prospective pilgrims and their friends and family members. No wonder there hasn’t been a single incident this year.
In all, there were as many as 14 flights, the highest in the country’s history conveying over 6450 pilgrims to and fro Mecca without any issue. I can go on and on and on but still, cannot finish telling the SUCCESS STORY OF THE 2017 HAJJ. The hardworking members of the Hajj Board are certainly deserving of commendations and more importantly, His Excellency the Vice President, Alhaji Mahamudu Bawumia who has justifiably been VINDICATED. We are very proud of you Mr. Vice President and the Nana Addo-led NPP government for doing this great service to the Ghanaian Muslim and the Islamic faith for that matter. May almighty ALLAH continue to overwhelm you with His bountiful blessings and favours.