It is very unfortunate that the 2012 Hajj operations .. started on a very wrong footing with the detention and subsequent deportation of over 1000 Nigerian female pilgrims. I have read or heard the numerous reasons, some plausible and some not convincing at all, given by the Saudi authorities, Nigerian government, Nigerian Hajj officials as well as some of the opinions of Nigerians on the matter.
But I have refused to subscribe myself to allegation that the Saudi Arabian government specifically singled out Nigerian female pilgrims to embarrass the Federal Government of Nigeria. The detention and subsequent deportation of such female pilgrims equally affected many other countries other than Nigeria on the same ground of lack of Muharram.
Some highly placed Nigerian Muslims, surprisingly including Clerics, were even quoted as challenging the Saudi authorities to tell us (Nigerians) our offence(s) since according to them the issue of Muharram (an approved male relative companion on a trip) was not tenable. If this was not from a Cleric, I wouldn’t mind!
I equally don’t agree with insinuations that Nigerian female pilgrims were into crimes or that the Saudi authorities don’t like Nigerians. Nigeria, like any other country participating in an international assemblage of many nationals like Hajj, could not be free from its fair share of bad eggs, but the truth is such would not be limited or exclusive to Nigeria alone. Those who were alleging that the Federal Government caused the embarrassing problem also missed the point completely. As a matter of fact, I have not seen a serious, frank and tough diplomatic talk in Nigeria in recent days like in the case of yellow fever vaccination card with South Africa and the current Hajj imbroglio with Saudi Arabia. As soon as the problem emerged, the Vice President, in the absence of Mr. President, summoned the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria. The wordings of Federal Government were so tough and strong with even a threat of an ultimatum!
From far away United States, the President directed for the constitution of a high level Federal Government delegation to discuss the way out of the imbroglio with the Saudi Arabian Government. The National Assembly leadership, the Senate and House Committees on Foreign Affairs were all on their toes in search of solution to the problem. That to me was commendable.
But on the other hand, I don’t believe that the action of the Saudi authorities should be viewed as “an insult” to Nigerians. It certainly was not. While I sympathise with the female pilgrims’ ordeal on how they were allegedly left without food or access to our diplomatic officials in Medina and Jeddah, I also noted that there were some cases where the female pilgrims had met the condition of having a Muharram but were turned down because their names, as they appear on the passport, did not tally! That was quite unfair. In Islam, and I am sure the Saudi authorities are aware of that, that married women are not compelled to bear the names/surnames of their spouses. Nana Fatima bint Rasuulullah was a good example.
It is also a fact that we (Nigerians) have invented ingenious ways of violating the same Muharram policy in the past especially during Umrah. The Muharram policy is a strong sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad SAW and its conditions were clearly stipulated and anything short of that is simply not a Muharram. Therefore, our invented ways should be officially discouraged henceforth.
The truth is that the problem, in my opinion, lies in the fact that the Saudi Arabian Government is guilty on one count charge and we are on two charges! I only blamed the Saudi Arabian Government for not enforcing the Muharram policy, which is not a new policy any way, at the point of Hajj visa issuance here in Nigeria. But the truth is that we (Nigerians) should take the larger portion of the blame. We always think every country is like Nigeria where you have too many unimplemented and ineffective laws and by circumventing them. The second blame is our seeming ignorance of Islamic laws that provided for a Muharram (an approved male relation such as brother, father, husband etc) for a trip that is more than a day or our pretence in violating or ignoring the laws! The provision of the Muharram for a female traveler is to preserve the chastity of the Muslim woman, to protect her and most importantly to provide for her needs on a trip. This provision is not only for Hajj or Umrah, but for every trip! Are we now saying that as Government, Traditional Rulers, Clerics and ordinary Muslims we don’t know this for a fact? Or are we just being emotional about it?
I therefore think the problem of this year’s Hajj as it affects the Nigerian female pilgrims lies in our obvious collective ignorance of our religion or refusal to abide by its provisions! It is always my considered opinion that knowledgeable practice of Islam by Muslims, especially in Nigeria, is vital for us and even our non-Muslims compatriots to appreciate the incomparable true value of Islam in our lives.
Abdulrahman Mohammed Alfa
No 6, Mukum Close, Badarawa
P.O. Box 7677, Kaduna Main Post Office
Kaduna – NIGERIA.