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Opinions of Thursday, 13 December 2007

Columnist: Alhassan, Amin Dr.

The Annual Hajj and its Perennial Troubles

The recent Daily Graphic news story of the ordeal of prospective Hajj pilgrims in Accra and the uncertainty of their flight arrangements for this year comes as a shock and leaves one wondering what curse has Allah slapped on the leadership of the Muslim community in Ghana. Last year 499 Ghanaian Muslims, most of them elderly, after going through similar uncertainty of flight arrangements, and being left without any decent hotel arrangements had to go back home disappointed without fulfilling their wish. This year we seem to be heading for such a similar experience.

It appears the magnitude of this record of stinking abysmal failure has not yet dawned on the different layers of leadership of the Muslim community in Ghana. By layers of leadership I am referring to the leadership at the political level both in government and in opposition, at the associational level and the religious level.

One school of thought has it that the main reason why the Hajj process suffers from perennial maladministration is the issue of free hajj tickets that are more or less funded through the inflation of ordinary pilgrims’ ticket prices. Serving on the committee responsible for organizing the Hajj is more about scrambling to get free air tickets than serving Allah.

Last year the painful, ironic twist was that most of the free riders whose tickets were subsidized by the ordinary prospective pilgrims, got seats to go. The fully paid ordinary folks did not. You do not need a sermon to remind you that going on Hajj as a free rider places a high moral demand on you.

Why should prospective pilgrims who have paid for the market value of their tickets be treated with contempt? Organizing chartered flights to Hajj is a tour business and should meet hospitality standards that the Ghana Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism have set out. The clients must be treated with respect and they should get value for their money. The pilgrims are not asking for favors, for heaven’s sake!

The decision by the Minister of Interior, Mr. Kwamena Bartels to set up an investigation committee to look into this year’s organization of the Hajj is a commendable step and I hope it will go beyond the possible prosecution of anyone found guilty to culminate in the overhauling of the entire Hajj process in Ghana for subsequent years.

Suggestions for Solution

My favorite definition of insanity is when one continues to repeat an error without recognizing the approach is wrong. We need to not just think of changing a new set of Hajj actors, we have to question the entire process. So here are a few clues:

1. With the exception of the medical team, no other person should go to Hajj as a free rider. Members of government delegation tickets should not be subsidized by the ordinary full paying prospective pilgrims

2. No prospective pilgrims should be camped anywhere. They can be checked into hotels and bused to the airport when the plane is ready for them. The cost of the hotels should be added to the flight ticket.

3. Alternatively, since boarding a plane is not like boarding a tro-tro from Accra to Medina, why can’t the pilgrims be made to stay home or with relatives (for those out of town) and given time to report. Some four or five hours to departure as reporting time will do.

4. Lastly - and this is important - why should they fly from the nation’s busiest airport? Common sense will suggest that because these are chartered flights, Kumasi or Tamale airports can be used so that we ease the stress on the Accra airport.

Some of these suggestions require governmental interventions. And from this angle, we need to take seriously the call by the head of the Anbariyya Sunni Community in Ghana, Sheikh Saeed Abubakr Zaakaria that the government take active interest in the Hajj process in Ghana. The Ministry of Tourism and the Ghana Tourist Board can put their institutional expertise to use here. The Muslims in government and in opposition can all collaborate on fixing this. The senseless pain and ordeal that our elderly prospective pilgrims go through is a sad commentary on the quality of our faith as Muslims and the poverty of our imagination as political, religious, and associational leadership of the Ghanaian Muslim community.

Allah is watching.

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Dr. Amin Alhassan teache s in the Graduate Program in Communication and Culture at York University, Toronto, Canada. Email: amin.dada@gmail.com

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.