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Opinions of Friday, 26 November 2010

Columnist: Alpha & Shaibu

Alhaji Ken Kuranchie's Searchlight On Hajj 2010

Deafening sickening, nauseating, atrocious, ghastly and what have you, are only but a few words to describe the way and manner in which a certain phenomenon called “politics” has crept into our lives almost always, leaving in its trail why and how one thing or the other is, was, isn’t and/or hasn’t been.

We find ourselves in a nation so polarized by political lines that it is either you side with the elephant or stand under the umbrella whiles the eagle watches over you. It is virtually as though everything has to be politicized for any sense to be made out of it.

The media by their pro/anti government or oppositions posturing which are largely entrenched have not in any way helped the state of polarization except to deepen the existing rift, making Ghana a “them versus us” equation that has proven to inure only to the benefit of a few.

The media by their “agenda-setting role” are a critical institution that has so much power the world over especially in under-developed and developing countries as ours. The simple reason being that with the high illiteracy levels amongst the citizenry, the media by what it chooses to project or other wise enforce tacitly or otherwise, perceptions that in the long run have been counter-productive in the general scheme of events.

Having put this piece within a context, permit that I state the obvious albeit at the risk of being tagged political, I may not have witnessed the conduct of Hajj over the period it was started in the country, but that of last year (2009), was by far the best in recent history. For Hajj to be largely incident-free was like a dream but if it indeed was, then last years’ pilgrims had a pleasant dream.

Then comes the political angle to the whole saga, call it the twist of the tale, the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), by their successful organization of the Hajj, had earned enough political good will within a very sensitive fabric of the political landscape.

A place that has been identified by political pundits, largely as a hotbed and bustling point when it came to grassroots politicking in the country perhaps, rightfully so. The Muslim dominated Zongos to be precise – although divided along lines of the two major parties – were largely seen as voting in a particular direction with Hajj being a key ingredient during elections.

Against the backdrop that Hajj was perhaps the biggest issue on the minds of Ghanaian Muslims, it came as no surprise to see all things humanly possible being done to ensure that the National Hajj Committee (NHC), succeeded in building on the gains chalked during the 2009 Hajj period, thanks to political expediency and parochial feasibility, frantic and calculated efforts, I dare say was also being employed to create an impression that all was not well with the Hajj.

Indeed as a media savvy person, I know far too well that newspaper work and what is presented on the front page of a newspaper as the lead story, rests on an editorial team, but with private newspapers the decision is usually vested in the bosom of one man, the editor.

Let me emphasize though that, this piece seeks to play along a line of simply doing an assessment of a particular trend of reportage on Hajj as was carried by the “Daily Searchlight” newspaper of which Kenneth Adjei Kuranchie is managing editor, it is neither to question the editorial nor to foster any ill-feeling for the man in question.

Hajj as a religious exercise, permit me to reiterate is about the most important part of the general Muslim populace, the main reason for which politicians across the divide have time and again made it an subject espousing at one moment why they can better organize it when their opponents fail or why things did not go well with organization in previous years – all in an effort to secure political votes.

The other reason is that, it is during the Hajj season that the media usually turns attention unto Muslims and issues affecting them. As a result, the deplorable conditions under which past Hajj events were organized vis-à-vis the El-Wak, Cargo village chaos meant that Muslims were missing out on opportunities to be seen in positive lights at a time when the media was ready to give us airtime and print space.

So heart wrenching was the bad press in the days of ill-organized Hajj that, agitation and threats to “raise hell” as was usually the case on that part of stranded pilgrims further deepened perception of the fact that Muslims generally were rowdy, last years’ experience meant at least for the month or so that pilgrims were processed and flown out, a large chunk of issue relating to Hajj was going to be good.

Lo and behold, what could best be seen as political expediency was making issues relating to Hajj look everything but well. Suffice it to state that the media generally deserves commendation at least for efforts on diverse levels to seeing to it that the Hajj was on top of the national agenda, proffering solutions at times and fostering a certain level of serenity in the general scheme of events.

Specific mention could be made of state owned “Daily Graphic,” whose Musah Yahaya Jafaru and Timothy Gobah were in the thick of affairs relative to the Hajj, right from the commissioning of the Hajj Village through to the departure of some batch of pilgrims, then through the court wrangling and most importantly, putting out assurances from the vice-president and NHC on the need to allay any fears.

The “Daily Guide” thanks to one of our own, Alhaji A.R. Gomda, also did well putting out Hajj issues looking on several occasions making cautious and guarded pronouncements on what is transpiring at any particular time as well as coupling it with the possible repercussions of such action on the Hajj process.

The Heritage newspaper, Ghanaian Times, the Ghana News Agency and the New Crusading GUIDE all put focus on Hajj, with the latter referencing to a large extent co-author of this piece and president of Confidence Muslim Youth Association (CMYA) on a wide range of issues.

Issues expatiated upon by the CMYA president ranged from backing directive by the President, John Evans Atta Mills, at the post-Ramadan Eid-ul Adha prayers that this year’s (2010) must he hustle free, giving plaudits to the passport office and allied agencies for efforts aimed at providing pilgrims with biometric passports as directed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.

Additionally, the CMYA president called for “cool heads” to prevail in the hajj in the wake of the court injunction and accusations thereof, then was the need to politicize the Hajj operations in the wake of reported rejection of gifts of water presented by Nana Akuffo Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

Then comes the immeasurable contribution of the “Daily Searchlight” during the period. To the best of my knowledge, their series of publication on Hajj started with a banner headline, “HAJJ ON FIRE!!” (Nov 9, 2010) culled from and raising red flags over how biometric passports were threatening to scuttle this year’s pilgrimage.

Then came “AZORKA STRIKES IN ACCRA!!” – Demolishes Halidu Haruna and scatters 20 policemen. Another publication about the Hajj in the Searchlight had to do with Communications minister, Haruna Iddrisu and one Hajia Boya whose comments were reported as insulting to pilgrims.

Perhaps for the last time, this piece is not in any way to discredit the “Daily Searchlight,” but by the trend of all Hajj news items and the prominence given them in the paper in question, we ask on behalf of concerned Ghanaians, “what could be the end that the paper is hoping to achieve by constantly harping on all things negative about the Hajj?

The basis for which Ken Kuranchie we think deserves the title of “Alhaji” – a person who has gone through laid down Islamic processes in Saud Arabia – is simply because he allowed his paper to be used to give Hajj front page treatment, emphasis on albeit it was for all the wrong reasons.

We have every reason to believe that Mr. Kuranchie aside pleasing the cause he believes in and creating disaffection for the powers that he disagrees with, in this case the ruling government, has absolutely nothing against the generality of Ghanaian Muslims, - one or the other of whom he surely will be associated with by work, social relation perhaps family and marriage. This in simple terms is what leaves us thinking.

To put it blunt and rub-it-in to the need by Muslims ourselves and politicians for that matter not to politicize the event, if the current Government made the issue of some 399 stranded pilgrims in the erstwhile government an issue, then what is to expected of the about 600 who did not make it this year? If this continues, we only get people, muslims inclusive waiting to see something go wrong in the Hajj so as to capitalize politically, the vicious cycle that results thereof inures to the absolute disadvantage of pilgrims.

The politics of Hajj in our opinion should remain at the diplomatic level, i.e. between Saudi and Ghana Governments. With no fear of contradiction we categorically state that our religion, AL – ISLAM and its fifth pillar of Hajj supersede any political party anywhere any time and politicians within us or outside the Muslim domain should please, respect and stay within those limits.

For our own assessment of Hajj 2010, we must say “Al Hamdu Lil Laah,” – All thanks and Praise to due to Allah – there were positives and negatives with the positives in our very guarded opinion outweighing the negatives, the directive for use of biometric passports came as a worry but was offset by the roving passport offices that went round the country to process the new passports for would-be pilgrims.

The opening of the Hajj Village and the smooth airlifting of some batches left every one brimming with confidence that all was going to be well, more importantly the way and manner in which the Hajj Committee with a frozen account managed to operate is most commendable. And in what could best be described as an open demonstration of “political will” to ensure a good process, the decision of the vice-president, under whose office the NHC was operating to postpone his business summit to Czech Republic.

If for nothing at all, that was key to quelling any agitations with respect to the stranded pilgrims who could not make the trip to Saudi Arabia. The intervention of the spiritual leader of Ghanaian Muslims, Sheikh Dr. Osman Nuhu Sharubutu at the Hajj Village to appease the stranded pilgrims is noteworthy.

The position of CMYA is that the President makes good his promise at the Eid-Ul Adha celebrations to the effect that stranded pilgrims come next year were going to be attended to first.

The low sides in the Hajj started off with the passport scare, which was calmed as above stated. The decision of a fellow Muslim to place an injunction on the operations was perhaps the lowest ebb in it all, not losing sight of the issues as presented to the courts, more sickening was the utterances fellow Muslims hurled all be it unislamic and improper.

The Azorka onslaught on the NHC offices was unnecessary in every respect, much as was the brouhaha/hullabaloo about donation of water, clearance et al. at the Hajj Village. Then was the issues bothering on the enemies within – word used advisedly – those without intentions of going on the Hajj but who took some undue advantage of the Hajj to get their biometric passports, in the long run creating some congestion at the roving passport office.

Referencing the spokesperson of the committee, Halidu Haruna, the passport office also messed up somewhat by mixing up passports of pilgrims and ordinary Ghanaians leading to a situation where the Hajj Committee was having to sort out passports at their Kanda office.

The Hajj pilgrimage which is one of five pillars of the religion comes is a once in a lifetime visit to the sanctified and Holy House of Allah in Saudi Arabia, year in and out it draw millions of people from all over the world to perform a myriad of rites leading to the title, “Alhaji” and “Al Hajia” for male and female pilgrims respectively.

Aside the pain of drawing about $ 3,100 of ones’ cash to embark on a pilgrimage that promises no immediate gains except for the pleasure of Allah, the over 2700 and over pilgrims – except perhaps for persons with gratis tickets - can only feel uneasy to hear that things are not going well whiles they have paid such a whooping amount.

The issue of gratis ticket is another part of the process that should be looked at with keenness, but yet again the politics embedded in it goes to derail any efforts at streamlining what has over the years with successive governments become a drain on national purse. By our calculation, if a total of 328 tickets go out at no cost, the nation would be spending close to GH¢ 1,016,800, - a waste on the back of some beneficiaries on the list, sadly successive Governments have done nothing different.

This underlines the simple fact that Hajj is on the heart of every well meaning Muslim and as matters related to it must be put into its proper context.

From the Government right down to any well meaning Ghanaian Muslim or otherwise, we all are deserving of some praise for how this Hajj has gone and we task the Hajj Committee to give us all an account of what was not like that of 2009 but an exercise that can be improves come 2011.

Was Salaamu Alaikum Warah matul Laah. – May the peace of Allah be on us All.


Shaban Barani Alpha & Abdul Nasiru Shaibu (President, CMYA)



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