10 March 2004

Nigeria: Hajj: Different Colours, One Mission


On Mount Arafat, two fleeting thoughts both in one direction came to my mind. "This day I have perfected your religion for you and have chosen for you Islam as your religion." (Sura 5, verse 3).

"Every Muslim is a brother to another Muslim. You are all equal. Your lord is one...All are from Adam, from clay. Nobody has superiority over the other except by piety and good action. Not the Arab over non Arab but those with fear of Allah."

I reflected, half conscious and half drifted into a conscious hallow and pondered, with the picture of two of the noblest of men, prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and Prophet Ibrahim (A.S.), as I recalled part of that Sura and those last words of the last messenger of Allah, atop the Holy Mount Arafat.

On this mountain once stood Allah's noble prophet Rasulullah Muhammad, on that day, Islam finally conquered ignorance as manifested in his proclamation during the prophet's farewell sermon to the Ummah (community of Muslims) and the entire world.

From this holy mountain of mercy, the light of the final message of equality, peace, brotherhood and equity spread across the corners of the globe.

No pilgrimage is complete without either coming atop Mount Arafat for supplication, or staying around the feet of the mountain for those two weak to ascend. Nations gathered, races melted into one, people of all lives... male and female to pray to Allah for favours. No doubt scholars argue that Adam and Eve met on Mount Arafat which invariably means that humanity began in this mountain of glory.

There are indeed many enduring memories that form the spiritual stamp one carries from going on Hajj. Consider the first spiritually ordained 'chance' meeting between the prophet (S.A.W.) and Angel Jibril, at the onset of the revelation, when the Angel commanded the prophet of Allah to 'read' thereby setting the pace for the revelation of the holy Qur'an from Heavens and the beginning of an enduring union.

Such is the case for many pilgrims who formed instant friendships, unions, bond and groupings with one another. It also reminds me of a lady I met at the holy prophet's mosque in Madina. Apparently unsure of the road to the prophet's tomb, she walked up to me, gestured and murmured just one word, Rassul?. And completed the sentence with signs, to suggest whether I was heading towards the prophet's tomb. She probably thought that I as a younger fellow, could easily assess the way through the thickly crowded mosque. I nodded in agreement and there she held my hand, as both of us walked towards the prophet's tomb until the surging crowd overwhelmed and separated us. As I walked into another group, I thought, she too must have established another relationship.

Again the thought of a Singaporean lady who told me how she had to retire from her job as a teacher, to be able to perform the pilgrimage. I couldn't help but ponder over the instant friendship between us after we had met at the Haram (Kaaba mosque), prayed beside each other and uttered salam to each other. She demanded to know my nationality.

The mention of Nigeria assured her I could speak English. We agreed to reunite by gate 94, to meet with her husband, who was by then at the other side of the mosque.

On sighting me from afar, she rushed towards me as I did and in moments of elation, we both embraced. She introduced me to her husband and we shared pleasantries. These were familiar scenes in the holy land.

Examples like those above are the hallmark of pilgrimage, of brotherhood unity, and Ummah that the prophet emphasised in his, famous farewell message.

Again I reflected on the presence of the whole world, literally speaking, in one place, regardless of all known universally acknowledged barriers just for the same mission-the fulfillment of God's mandate upon us, in total submission, in humility to worship Him.

There are indeed beautiful scenes to behold, interesting stories to tell and lingering memories to recall out of which few are recorded below.

Benevolence on Arafat

On Arafat day during this year's Hajj, Saudis' generosity was no less visible as charity organisations competed for pilgrims' attention in offering food, drinks, confectionaries, water etc.

No doubt Arafat offers pilgrims the best opportunity to stand in humility, in bond of oneness to offer heartfelt prayers. Therefore pilgrims' zeal to go close to this mountain of mercy, bounties and peace, take the better part of them when ascending the rocky terrain. The results of these painstaking efforts are exhaustion, fatigue and tiredness at the time pilgrims descend towards Arafat plains. As such the need to cool off and recoup for the remaining part of Arafat rites, this was the time the Saudis displayed their generosity and kind heartedness. As soon as pilgrims started coming down, charity organisations that had already stationed themselves in various parts of Arafat plains went to work. They shared food, drinks and confectionaries.

There were different groups. Some served steamy hot cooked rice with whole chicken to pilgrims while others served snacks and confectionaries like, beverages, bottled water, canned drink, fresh milk, and fresh fruits.

The best of fast food and Saudi kitchen chains came out to announce with loudspeakers beckoning pilgrims to branch and eat having brought all these in trucks and trailers. For those who served freshly cooked food they had earlier created their makeshift tents and kitchens for the purpose. One such is Abdulaziz Al-Ibrahim Foundation whose manager in charge of food aid, Mr. Al-Olayan-Suleiman told Daily Trust in an interview that his foundation is situated in Riyadh with branches in Venezuela, the US, Kenya, Syria, Spain, Moscow and Makkah.

While explaining the activities of his foundation, Olayan-Suleiman said their services were rendered during Hajj period in places like Arafat, Muzdalifa, Mina and Madina, with workers on ground to cook and serve the food being cooked. For this year's Hajj, Olayan-Suleiman said his foundation budgeted 21/2 million riyals.

He also explained how the foundation is financed. "We started this charity work in 1987. The foundation is sustained financially through the family members of Abduaziz Bin Ibrahim in whose memory the foundation was established. We have a board of directors led by a chairman. All the directors are from the same family. The late Abdulaziz Bin Ibrahim was the pioneer chairman and all our activities are sponsored by the family."

Many other charity groups were on hand to serve some of the items mentioned above but one particular group-Ulker had an insightful inscription on the pack of its packaged varieties of snacks, juice, cakes, biscuits etc. "This food is from your brothers and sisters in Islam, please don't forget them in your supplication."

As for as Hajj activities were concerned, many groups were indeed into charity works. There were pamphlets on Islam, and Hajj activities distributed freely within the kingdom. And these were in various international languages including Hausa and English.

At the Saudi Telecom., workers there magnanimously allowed us to recharge our mobile phones and compcorder video cameras. The Saudi authority provided the Telecom office close to Arafat to serve communications needs of pilgrims just for that one day.

As the officials told Daily Trust, the office is opens once in a year on Arafat day and "we come to work here (Arafat plain) just for this purpose." We found this interesting that an office that serves just one purpose, and opens once in a year, at the outskirt of the town is so tastefully furnished without any fear of vandalisation.

Those who offered Sabil as it is called, must have felt spiritually uplifted as it was obvious in the satisfaction Olayan-Suleiman expressed, each time pilgrims entered his shed to eat, as he uttered Alhamdulillah.

Muzdalifa: Endurance as pilgrims' companion

The entrenchment of social justice and equality as the basis for the creation of man forms the bedrock of the triumph of Islam against the oppression, subjugation and social ills that existed before its advent. There is no where all social barriers are reduced to nothing and equality of all is elevated to a spiritual level than Muzdalifa. In Muzdalifa all pilgrims abandon the tents, cars, hotel rooms and sleep on any part of the ground, pavement, roads, etc all in the open.

A compulsory one night stay in Muzdalifa is one of the enduring aspects of Hajj activities. Here is one place, all pilgrims must converge, before Maghrib (early evening prayer) on departure from Arafat.

The unanimity and uniformity in the performance of hajj and its rites are indeed a true manifestation of equality of all creatures before God.

However, in the performance of all these rituals, pilgrims can choose the easy way out-such as performing some of these rites in the night when, human traffic is less. Some might adorn their tents with expensive rugs. They may ride into Arafat in the most expensive car affordable. but this is where Muzdalifa's relevance comes into play. The place is striking because it is a true perfection of equality, humility perseverance, patience, faith and protection from Almighty Allah. It is indeed the ultimate social leveler. Here the only significant feature seen all over is plain sleeping materials and the rosary. Every one sleeps outside, without the comfort or choices open to pilgrims at other places.

Afterall for the Saudis and nationals of other surrounding Arab countries, pilgrimage can be made easy. From Arafat they came in sleek, chauffer driven, air-conditioned beautifully crafted cars and buses in varying types-especially the rock-climbing, rough terrain-friendly 4-wheel drive jeeps. These were the Arabs from within, all joined by non Arab Muslims from all over the world.

Again at Mount Arafat, pilgrims could decide to stay within the plains without necessarily going to the tip of the mountain. At Jamrat, pilgrims had many hours within which to perform the required rituals and within Makkah, a well-to-do pilgrim could decide to stay in one of the best hotels around Haram.

On reaching Muzdalifa everyone abandoned such modern luxuries and conveniences and put them under lock and key, brought out their mats (rugs) because they, like the paupers, races, nations were there to heed the compulsory rite of passing the night in Muzdalifa before the Jamrat day; in solemnity, prayers and total submission to the will of Allah. Many therefore had to spend the night to pick stones and pray in preparation for the following day's activity of stoning at the Jamrat Bridge. It was indeed a cold, windy night. Pilgrims were equally prepared, psychologically that is, to endure in order to seek forgiveness and mercy from God.

By the time pilgrims arrived from Arafat plains, all entrances in nearby tents were tightly locked and guarded by stern looking and uncompromising security men who were on guard to entrances to each tent to avoid any one sneaking in to pass the night. This writer experienced this firm and strict compliance to rules when some of us were pressed. We pleaded with the security men from one tent to the other and none of them budged. Instead we were directed to the toilet facility in an area within Muzdalifa boundary, and which was located in an open place and this was quite some distance away. Because pilgrims are expected to stay on plain grounds here (Muzdalifa), the toilet facilities available within those areas are also on plain lands and not within any tents.

One of the pilgrims, Abdullah Waheed told Daily Trust his view of Muzdalifa thus: "Muzdalifa underlines the true manifestation of God's words-that is, we are all equal before Him," adding that for everyone on the holy pilgrimage, a night in Muzdalifa offered one the opportunity to reflect on the day of resurrection when position, prestige, power, wealth, affluence and influence would cease completely.

Zainab O. Suleiman, Deputy Editor, Daily Trust was in Saudi Arabia, courtesy of Kabo Air.

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