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Hajj 2011 in retrospect

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By Alhaji Abdullah Taufiq Bola Ojuolape

Hajj is the last pillar of the Islamic five pillars which ought to be performed once in the life time of a Muslim, as enjoined by the Holy Prophet (SAW).
Accordingly, the year 2011 Hajj exercise or 1432 AH., has come and gone with the usual ups and downs, but there was considerable improvement despite the fact that a new set of Commissioners were on their first outing with the National Hajj Commission.
The Commission has done its homework with the seriousness associated with movement of large number of pilgrims, about 95,000 from the Nigeria to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the exercise with most of the pilgrims travelling for the first time.  It was a great challenge as most were undertaking such a trip for the first time, and flew in an aircraft for the first time to a terrain not known to them.
As usual, the National Hajj Commission held series of meetings with stakeholders prior to the bidding of carriers interested in the Airlifting of pilgrims following which four Airlines were selected and forwarded to the various states to further choose the carrier to ferry their pilgrims to the holy land for the exercise.
The carrier included Kabo Air, Med-view Air, Max Air, and Meridian Air while Tradecraft were to ferry international pilgrims accordingly.
Outward Journey
Nigerian pilgrims commenced their outward journey to Saudi Arabia on the 2nd of October 2011, using the Aircrafts provided by the four carrier allotted transportation of the pilgrims as per the selection of states.
Some Nigerian pilgrims were ferried directly to Medina to fulfill their Ziyara (visitation) to the Prophet's Mosque and other Islamic historical sites as well as to afford them opportunity to pray their five daily sallats at the Prophet's Mosque.
Expectedly, the National Hajj Commission, solely responsible for the accommodation of Nigeria's pilgrims except those on international flight, performed wonderfully well, especially at Madinatul Munawara as most of the accommodations engaged were close to the mosque because they were just between 10 to 25 minutes trekking distance which made it possible for pilgrims to conduct their affairs easily. 
Their evacuation to Mecca was wholistically carried out as at when due (after seven days).
Pilgrims who departed Medina for Mecca were usually expected to perform the combined Umrah and Hajj known as Tamattu and in most cases enter their (Ihram) at the outskirt of Medina (MIKATI). This is when pilgrims wear their white cotton robe, it is regarded as a holy state.
On their arrival at Mecca they are expected to perform their Tawaf (circumambulating of the Kaaba) as well as their runs of Alsafa and Marwa then barbing of their hair to enable them return to their normal state.
In Mecca however, some constraints were observed. The states pilgrim's board were said to be responsible for accommodation of their pilgrims, this situation made it difficult for some of their pilgrims who desired to observe their five daily sallat at the Haram to restrain themselves to the early morning prayer (Alsubhi) and the two early salat, night prayer (Magrib & Isha) due to the scorching sun of the afternoon as unlike motorists in Medina, who were lenient to pilgrims as regards fares, in Mecca, drivers were bent on exploiting pilgrims to make brisk money.
Journey to Minna/Arafat/Musdalifa
On the 8th of Zul-hujja the Hajj rites fully commence with all pilgrims totaling about 3 million departing Mecca for the tent city of Mina, about 10 kilometers to Mecca with pilgrims wearing their Ihram of the two loin white clothes recommended.
These five days of Hajj rites is the pinnacle of the yearly Hajj as on the 9th of Zul-Hijjah pilgrims all over the world that were opportune to participate in the Hajj were expected to assemble at the Arafat plain to supplicate to Allah (SWT) from sunrise to sunset near the Arafat mountain.
Most pilgrims were ferried out of Mecca between the hours of 12 midnight to early hours to avoid the bumper to bumper go-slow and  snail speed movement of vehicles usually encountered on the many express roads and tunnels that lead to Minna. 
All the pilgrims across the globe were taken to their designated tents in Minna where they were expected to stay in preparation for their movement for the Arafat on the next day. Movement of the pilgrims to Arafat commenced between the hours of 2.00am to early morning to overcome any inconvenience.
After sunset on Arafat day, pilgrims were ferried to Musdalifa about 8 kilometers to Arafat where they were expected to pass the night as well as collect the seven pebbles to be used at the Jamarat on the next day.
Most pilgrims, due to lack of transportation trekked from Musdalifa to Jamarat to observe their first task of stoning the devil and from there move back to Mecca to perform their Tawaf, Saffa and Marwa runs as well as shave their head to remove their Ihram and celebrate the the Id-il-Kabir as observed by other Muslims worldwide, but must return to Minna before sunset.  While others stayed at their tents in Mina to avoid congestion at the Harami.
Pilgrims also used the two remaining days to stone the three Jamarats at Mina in fulfillment of the Hajj rites before returning to Mecca to either await their homeward journey after performing their tawaf or proceeded to Medina for their Ziyara. 
At the end of the 5 days Hajj rites, most pilgrims' minds were set for home since their desire as Muslims had been successfully achieved, but all the people could not be airlifted at the same time since all the pilgrims were brought to Saudi Arabia in batches.
Those that normally have their return leg early were those on International flights while states took their turn in their Airlines' schedule.
Most of the Air-lines engaged in 2011 visited all the pilgrims' accommodation locations to collect their luggage of 40Kg for onward movement to Jeddah - King Abdulazeez International Airport for the homeward journey.
The pilgrims who were able to afford it bought gifts and other items for their loved ones at home and sought for alternative mode to transport their excess cargoes which their carrier turned down as they adhered strictly to the 40/10 Kg. luggage's and hand luggage respectively.  Airlines that classified themselves as cargo carriers charged between Saudi Riyals of 15 to 20 while the Saudi post charged between Saudi Riyals 150 to 400 for cargoes of between 10 to 30 Kg for EMS.
An episode I witnessed in Diamond Hotel Mecca was the forceful ejection of officials of Saudi Post for those of Nigeria cargo Air operators by an official of the FCT Pilgrim Welfare Commission.
This situation nearly degenerated into lawlessness as the official was accused of benefitting from the exorbitant charges of the Air carrier rather than sympathising with the Nigerian pilgrims who sought cheaper means of getting their excess cargo home.
Also at the Jeddah, King Abdulazeez International Airport, most of the bottleneck experienced yearly, were de emphasised as Africans or non Arab nations were allowed the use the departure bays instead of a single bay, thereby facilitating quicker movement/departure of pilgrims.
There is no doubt, that most of the Air carriers engage in malpractices when ferrying other African pilgrims on charter basis leaving the Nigeria Pilgrims stranded, and at times some pilgrims who were ferried together with other African countries had a bitter experience of spending extra hours on their home bound flights as well as having some of their luggage mistakenly discharged at the airports of some of the African countries.
Some pilgrims who also departed from a designated Airport are flown into another Airport in Nigeria, without explanation and left to find their way to their homes.
The National Hajj Commission, should as a matter of policy, direct all carriers to ensure that pilgrims come home with their 40kg luggage on the same flights, and in fact wait for their luggage at the point of arrival like it is done in Airports all over the world. NAHCOM can do this because other African countries have succeeded in doing so.
The Amirul Hajj, and Sultan of Sokoto, and his team deserve commendation for their strict supervision of the exercise while the Chairman, Commissioners of National Hajj Commission and other staff are also commanded for ensuring a hitch free Hajj due to their effective planning and execution. The hajj commission should however, ensure that the 1433 Hajj exercise supersedes that of 2011 in terms of the above observations and points made for the benefit of the Muslim ummah. May Allah (SWT) grant us long life to witness many more Hajjs.

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