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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Columnist: Shaban, Abdul Rahman Alfa

Hajj Pilgrims Strife: Passport Wahala


Passports are the basic travel document especially for people willing to travel by air. Yet the processes involved in obtaining them have proven to be an uphill task for the many people who apply for them.

An ample example is exhibited by the droves of people who are seen at the premises of most passport offices. From those there to present their documents, others come in to present their signature/thumbprints, biometric details and pictures whiles others pass by to pick their passports.


In the run up to the annual hajj pilgrimage, passport offices the country over are akin to Muslim gatherings where prospective pilgrims troop, to apply for passports. This is usually at a time when their sponsors or they themselves would have paid some three and half thousand dollars or more for the round trip.

The hustle associated with most of these applicants (especially aged Muslims) obtaining these passports is intriguing for the simple reason that MOST OF THEM WOULD NOT USE THESE PASSPORTS EVER AGAIN (caps mine)

Whiles that is certainly no excuse that such people should sit back and wait till the period is close, I wish by this piece to put forth issues I am convinced would be measures through which we can collectively serve the larger interest of our country.


In times past, when pilgrims have petitioned the passport office because their chances of gaining passports were sliming whiles the period of the hajj drew ever closer, the idea of travel certificates were mooted.

Essentially, this is a temporary travel document (something akin to a onetime passport) that allows a prospective pilgrim to make the journey to Saudi Arabia and fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam.

At the risk of my ignorance in matters of inter governmental diplomacy, I am wondering whether we cannot settle on something especially for these old folk, who are most likely to travel outside of the country on this one occasion.

The good herein is that, the particular process CANNOT or at best; can hardly be abused for the reason that they are issued within particular periods, say within two months of the beginning of the hajj. This technically could also reduce the pressure associated with people having to frequent the passport offices.


There has been a constant tussle with the Hajj Board year in and out, because pilgrims without passports turn to the leadership to petition the powers that be to ‘do something’ about their plight.

Mind you, here is a Board that is regrettably struggling with getting flight consistency except a few times in the recent past, clearly the passport issue is an added burden on its already strained operations.

What we should be aiming at is not for stopgap measures to state bodies to bend the rules because of Muslims every now and then, instead a few measures must be instituted to ensure that issues surrounding the hajj are seen as year long.

a. The Hajj Board should at every point maintain a skeletal staff after presenting their reports to the appointing authority. About the reports; they should be made public in the greater interest of transparency and accountability; two key tenets of the religion.

b. That skeletal staff should be tasked with continuous education of the Muslim populace about the need for instance to obtain passports far in advance of the hajj peak season. This they can do by using the various pulpits on Fridays. They also should employ the use of media and of social media in this drive as best as they can.

c. When that is done, the few whose issues come in the heat of the period and they would always be such persons, their situation would not put too much pressure on the system as it were.


Passports are rights of all citizens except that when a person applies for it in the heat of the hajj, they have to pay far in excess of approved fees (a penalty for being late).

Whiles not justifying the price hikes as has become customary of most officers and perhaps hangers-on at your premises, it is an area that officials at the passport office are making cool money.

The passport issue perhaps could be a first step in pulling the brake on the elementary blips and inefficacies that have long dogged the smooth organization of the Hajj.

It certainly is an indictment on Muslims that we are not able to organize ourselves in 11 months yet allow ourselves to be ridiculed whenever the operations of Hajj comes around.

May this year’s be a marked improvement on years gone by and may the Almighty Allah accept the worship of all who are opportune to make the trip to perform this pilgrimage. Ameen.

Abdul Rahman Alfa Shaban