2 December 2003

Nigeria: Umra: Lesser Pilgrimage Or Ramadan Vacation?


Allah (The Most High) praised the month of Ramadan out of the other months by choosing it to send down the Glorious Qur'an, just as he did for other divine books such as Torah, Injil and Zabur to His prophets.

"The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion " Q 2:185.

Positioned ninth in the arrangement, the month of Ramadan remained a milestone in the history of the Islamic calendar and Muslims in general.

This esteemed and divine position gained by Ramadan no doubt was informed for it to be commemorated with fasting throughout as ordained by Allah; "Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil, for a fixed number of days and let any of you who is at home during the month (Ramadan) fast in it, any one who is ill or on a journey shall (set) a number of other days. God wants things to be easy for you and does not want any hardship for you, so complete the period and magnify God because He has guided you, so that you may be grateful " Q 2:183-87.

This goes to show that God (Almighty) has opened up a lot of opportunities for us (Muslims) in order to tap the immeasurable dividends if we utilize the period properly.

These opportunities, besides devoting ourselves to the duties of Allah, there are other virtues such as charity and kindness to one another that also count. Qur'an 2:177 Allah buttresses this " and to give one's wealth away, no matter how one loves it, to near relatives, orphans, poor, the needy, the warfare, beggars and towards freeing captives, and to keep up prayer ".

Abu Hurairah also narrated Prophet Mohammad saying, "for he that offers his hands to giveth as (charity) during the holy month of Ramadan, his reward will be multiplied ten times." Therefore, this unfolded that the privileged among Muslims will be on the front line if they understand.

Unfortunately, to a significant number of our well-to-do Muslims in this country, the holy month of Ramadan is celebrated by a vacation to the holy land claimed to be 'Umrah' or lesser pilgrimage.

Of course, there are quite a number of prophetic traditions that stressed the significance of performing lesser hajj or pilgrimage during the month of Ramadan. However, it is not as pleasurable as perceived by some of the privileged Muslims in Nigeria.

Ibn Abbas reported that the messenger of Allah said "Umrah during Ramadan is equal to one pilgrimage (in reward)." Simply put, to he who has never been to the greater and compulsory hajj. Even the prophet of Islam, Mohammad (S.A.W), performed Umrah for four times as Anas reported that the messenger of Allah made Umrah for four times, each being in the month of Zul-Qadah except that (Umrah) which was joined with Hajj.

Part of the rules for one to perform well and accept pilgrimage whether Hajj or Umrah includes fair intention. Umra Ibn Al-Kattab reported that the messenger of Allah said "all actions are judged according to their motives..."

Lesser pilgrimage, according to Imam Ahmed in Alhadith Miskaful Masadih, was taking an un-obligatory visit to the House of Allah (Ka'aba) at any given time by a Muslim where some rituals such as waiting at Arafat and sacrifice of animal as in the greater pilgrimage are dispensed.

Recently, what dominates the commercial breaks of NTA Maiduguri was the advertisement ventured by Kabo Air in collaboration with Zam-zam Travels and Tours Ltd on this year's (2003) Ramadan fare to the holy land (Mecca).

The minimum fare required for every Alhaji is the sum of N115,250 and sum of N135,250 from every Hajiya.

One may begin to wonder even if the trip was motivated legitimately, is there a well defined reason for it? Without prejudice to hadith on Umrah mentioned earlier and considering the opportunities provided in the holy month of Ramadan and the leadership role of privileged Muslim. Is Umrah trip more reasonable or staying amidst their talakawas of Nigeria to experience the predicaments of the month together more important?

As mentioned earlier, Ramadan is characterised by observing fasting which strengthens morality and brings them nearer to the creator. Abstinence from taking food, water and sexual act for a specific period of time gives privileged Muslims the opportunity to experience first hand, what the poor and the masses go through daily. After suffering the pains of deprivation, hunger and thirst, the privileged class is placed in a better position to help others, a duty they are supposed to perform during the period of Ramadan when the reward of every good action is multiplied.

Allah (The Most High) mentioned in various places in the Qur'an the kindness, humility, sacrifice and generosity Q2:274, "those who spend their wealth night and day, both privately and publicly, will receive their earnings from their Lord " Also in Q 9:60 Allah said "charity is (meant) only for the poor, the needy " similarly in Q107:1-6 Allah (SWT) said " have you seen someone who rejects religion? That is he who pushes the orphans aside and does not promote feeding the needy "

Many Nigerians that go for lesser hajj are there for luxury and expansion of their business activities particularly during Ramadan. Many of them spend the days in their bungalows under air-conditioners etc.

In Nigeria, with a population of over one hundred million and majority of them living below poverty line, hunger, destitution and diseases, it is most appropriate to utilise the holy month amidst hungry masses, so that the little that you may offer them God will equally reward you abundantly as well as enjoy their company. This reminds me of the words of Plato " to achieve the greatest happiness of the whole and not for any one class."

And to some of our top civil servants and elected representatives that are fond of making lesser pilgrimages to Mecca, you should understand that God is pure and thus does not accept anything that is not pure.

You should also understand that by absenting yourselves from your duty posts informally will render your mission illegitimate.

Remember that Allah (SWT) mention Q 5:89 "God will not take you to task for any slip in your oaths, but He does take you to task for whatever you have sworn to solemnly uphold (and then ignore).

Kuna Usman, Department of Mass Communication, University of Maiduguri

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