Thrills and frills of 2017 Hajj





ABDULLAHI GULLOMA recalls the highpoints of the 2017 hajj exercise

Yours sincerely performed the 2017 Hajj courtesy of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). Hajj is one of the most life-changing spiritual exercises every true faithful must endeavor to experience at least once in one’s life time. The reason is not hard to comprehend. Aside from being one of the five fundamental obligations of Islam, being in the Holy Land and performing the religious exercise is as indescribable as it is soul-stirring. No wonder, millions who have had the privilege of being to the Holy Land once still crave opportunities to sojourn there again and again as a way of recharging their spiritual battery.
Hajj is done in the twelfth month of the Muslim lunar calendar and it involves five basic things thus:
MINA: Visit to Mina is one of the significant components of the pilgrimage. In a typical exercise, the pilgrims who troop to Saudi Arabia from across the globe would converge on Mina and pray their Duhar, Asar, Magrib, Isha and Fajr shortening their four unit prayers making them two without combining them. Adorned in white robes, pilgrims devote hours of the day observing their religious obligations.
ARAFAT: When the sun rises, the pilgrims’ next port of call is Mount Arafat. Located about 22 kilometers east of Mecca, Mount Arafat is one of the holiest sites in Saudi Arabia. Here, the pilgrims converge on the plains of what is also known as the Mount of Mercy. Being the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, also known as Arafat Day, staying at the Mount of Mercy is the most essential component of Hajj. So much so that if, for example, a pilgrim fails to spend the prescribed duration of time at the plains, his or her religious journey would amount to nothing.
MUZDALIFA: After the sun set, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifa. Here they will spend the night of the 9th day of Zul-Hijjah. It is from here that the pilgrims will move to Mina on the third day (10th Zul-Hijjah). In this respect, Muzdalifa could be said, in a sense, to be a vital link between Arafat and Mina where pilgrims stay for three or more days.
STONING OF THE DEVIL: After dawn, pilgrims proceed to Mina from Muzdalifa to perform the rituals of stoning of the devil. They throw seven pebbles at Jamrat Al Aqbah and proceed to perform tawaf Al-Ifadha (circumambulating The Ancient House) and do the Sai.
RETURN TO MINA: After tawaf Al-Ifadha and Sai, pilgrims return to Mina to spend three days and nights. After the declination of the sun at midday of the three days, they throw seven pebbles each at the three Jamrah, starting with first one which lies immediately after the Khayf Mosque.

Saudi Arabia and Hajj Management
If millions of people from all over the world gather in a city or town at the same time for an exercise, attending to them entails various aspects of labour such as transportation, security, accommodation, traffic control, and so on. The task is not made easier by the fact that being people of different nationalities, the mammoth crowds have vastly different cultures, languages and idiosyncrasies. Yet, you must provide for all of them for a couple of weeks and be on full alert until they have all safely returned home.
For as long as anyone can remember, this Herculean chore has been confronting the Saudi authorities year after year. Being the host of the Holy Sites where Muslims from across the globe perform Hajj and Umrah year after year, the burden of management of these religious exercises rest squarely on their shoulders come rain, come shine.
Consider, for example, the aspect of Hajj called “Stoning of the Devil.” The three Jamarh (pillars) in Mina used for the stoning exercise were such that the pebbles thrown often hit people on the other side. To prevent such, the authorities in 2004 removed the pillars and constructed in its place 26-meter-long (85 feet) walls for safety. The foregoing is, needless to say, just one out of many examples of the series of efforts geared towards successful management of the Hajj exercise.
Pilgrims arrive Saudi Arabia by road, sea and air every year. On arrival, they are transported either to Mecca or Medina, depending on the date of arrival. While in Mecca or Medina, they are accommodated either in private lodges or hotels, depending on the choice and financial means. All these arrangements are made, in most cases, before pilgrims arrive Saudi Arabia.
In countries like Nigeria where governments participate in the management of Hajj operation, their officials are sent to take care of the needs of their pilgrims, notably in the area of transportation, accommodation, guidance and medical service.
Management of Hajj exercise is no child’s play, even as the officials concerned have been living up to expectations against all odd, as evident in the virtual hitch-free Hajj exercise which have become the rule rather than the exception over the years.

Commendable roles of NAHCON
In December 2015, a heart-warming development was witnessed at the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria. For nearly ten years, the commission and its leadership had been striving to actualize the introduction and gazetting of Hajj and Umrah regulations. Having such rules would make all and sundry aware of the frame work for Hajj and Umrah, a common standard for pilgrims’ registration and provision of basic services for all and sundry. That long-delayed struggle eventually materialised, thanks to the yeoman and proactive efforts of the NAHCON leadership.
As was the case in 2015 and 2016, the 2017 exercise was a thrilling experience. Pilgrims from the length and breadth of the country had an exciting and fulfilling Hajj exercise. There were of course some breaches in terms of feeding and accommodation by some Tour Operators.
The 2017 airlift of pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia was also a success story. Before anyone knew what was happening, NAHCON had ensured that all Nigerian pilgrims were safely airlifted back home in record time. The last flight, Max Airlines NDL 2110, took off from the King Abdulaziz International Airport, Jeddah, to Kano via Port Harcourt, with 172 pilgrims from Kano state, 76 from Rivers state and 30 officials, bringing to a close the airlifting which started on September 7. A total of 65,008 pilgrims from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were involved.
Earlier, NAHCON had moved swiftly when it emerged that two Nigerian pilgrims were maltreated at the Prince Mohammad Bn Abdulaziz International Airport, Medina. Acting on the instruction of NAHCON’s chairman and chief executive officer, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, its officials brought the matter to the attention of their Saudi Arabia counterparts, who in turn reacted promptly by correcting the ill-treatment meted out to the two Nigerians.
Appreciating Saudi’s good gesture, NAHCON chairman commended them for their quick action, especially the apology tendered by the Deputy Governor of Medina and the Deputy Minister of Hajj. Few years ago, this and many other well-documented examples would have been exception rather than the rule.
Back then, the annual Hajj exercise was littered with pains for many pilgrims. Pains brought about largely by the inactions and actions of the same people vested with the responsibility of making the religious voyage as hitch-free as possible.
How times change. With the breath of fresh air injected by the leadership that mounted the saddle in 2015, not only has the story changed dramatically; results have started manifesting before our very eyes.
Even as accolades keep pouring upon NAHCON, the commission has began fine-tuning strategies with a view to making the 2018 pilgrimage more successful. The target, according to officials of the commission is to “make the next Hajj not just hitch-free but refreshingly different in a manner and way that would pleasantly surprise all and sundry.”
Chairman of the commission said NAHCON already has a team in Medina to start negotiations and kick-start planning for the Hajj 2018. According to him, part of the team’s mission is to discuss downward review of payments for services.
Elsewhere, NAHCON has started working hand-in-hand with the state to get “befitting houses that are close to the Haram for the pilgrims” as opposed to the prevailing situation whereby pilgrims are housed in a multitude of hotels acquired by the states Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Boards and agencies all over Mecca. Furthermore, the commission is mulling the idea of centralizing the region of accommodation just like what obtains in Medina where Nigerians are accommodated in Markaiyya area very close to the Holy Prophet’s Mosque.
“It is our hope that we can accommodate many states in one building for the 2018 Hajj,” the NAHCON chairman said.
In the same vein, efforts will be made in 2018 to bridge what the NAHCON chairman called the existing gap between members of the National Team and those for the states as the commission plans to “network media services such that all information coming from the state will be shared by those in the national media team and vice versa in order to avoid duplication of stories.”

Nigerians in Saudi Arabia
Every country in the world has them: the good, the beautiful, the bad and the ugly. And needless to say, so does Nigeria. Whether here at home or abroad, good and bad citizens can be found in varying proportion. The situation is not different in Saudi Arabia.
A case in point was the Nigerian pilgrim who allegedly picked the pocket of someone at the Haram. The pilgrim was said to be sentenced to a prison term. The case nonetheless highlights the sort of anti-social indulgence of some Nigerians who either reside in Saudi Arabia or travel there for pilgrimage or business.
In fact, stories of Nigerians who were nabbed for alleged sundry crimes including illegal migration, prostitution, drug-pushing and the like, have made the headlines at various times over the years. Nonetheless, this negative development is somewhat mitigated by the ennobling adventures of a high percentage of Nigerians in that country.
While many of them are involved in petty trading, few others are actively involved in sectors such as manufacturing, oil and gas, real estate, education and so forth. Indeed, even though stories of the good and beautiful ones are rarely told by the media, they are nonetheless plenty in the Holy Land, doing diverse things that make them stand tall as proud, exemplary Nigerians.