President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed her pleasure and delight over the deportment of Liberian pilgrims who went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Muslim Holy City, Mecca, to perform this year’s annual Hajj.
“I’m so happy to see all of you here, having gone to Mecca and returned all smiling and happy, and where nothing happened there to make the country shame. That’s God’s blessings that this Hajj-2012 went so well,” the Liberian leader said.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf was speaking Friday afternoon, November 23, at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex, in Paynesville, at a Special Thanksgiving and Reception Program for the 2012 Hojaaj (pilgrims) who returned safely from Mecca. The President had facilitated the travel of 50 of the 245 pilgrims selected from all 15 counties, and she also negotiated the air transportation to and from Saudi Arabia for all of them.
The Liberian leader said she was also elated at the presence of Christian leaders, including Bishop Jonathan B.B. Hart of the Episcopal Church of Liberia and Reverend Emmanuel Z. Bowier of the United Methodist Church, which she said is necessary to bring back the spirit of previous years when Liberians worshipped, sang and talked together in the spirit of harmony, nationalism and patriotism.
She applauded the efforts of Bishop Hart and the National Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia, Sheik Kafumba Konneh, to reactivate the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, which will initiate the process of bringing the nation together as one people with one destiny and one future. “So the group I see here is representative of that new spirit of togetherness,” President Sirleaf said.
The Liberian President recognized the efforts of all those who made Hajj-2012 a resounding success, most especially the National Hajj Coordinating Committee-2012; the Minister of Transport, Mr. Lenn Eugene Nagbe; former Finance Minister; Lusine Kamara, Manager of Air Maroc, among others.
Earlier, in welcome remarks, Sheik Konneh thanked President Sirleaf, on behalf of the Muslim pilgrims, for the significant contribution she made for them to go to Mecca to perform one of the five obligations, as prescribed in the Holy Koran. He termed the act a source that is clean and pure, not tainted with any suspicion or otherwise.
He informed President Sirleaf that the prayers that the pilgrims offered in Mecca were many, but centered around the country’s peace, security and happiness. “You may not see with eyes; you may not hear with ears; but the mind can tell you that the peace, progress and prosperity of this country are products of prayers, not only from the Christians but the Muslims and from even the traditional people,” Sheik Konneh said.
He appealed to the Liberian leader to continue the program for the remainder of her tenure, by sponsoring less fortunate Muslims to make this important pilgrimage to the Holy Land in their lifetime.
Bishop Hart of the Episcopal Church of Liberia, speaking on behalf of the Christian community, assured the Muslims that both religions are together and will remain united to serve the people of Liberia. He thanked the Muslim pilgrims for their prayers for the nation and for its leaders. “We thank you for your support and pray that we all can work together in promoting the image of peace and harmony in Liberia,” he said.
Rev. Bowier presented copies of an old Souvenir National Fast and Prayer Service Program to President Sirleaf, Bishop Hart and Sheik Konneh. The program, held at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion in 1967, showed that Muslims, Christians and Baha’is, in those days, worshipped together. “I brought this here because I wanted to show that we are all one people and we have been worshiping together for a long time,” he said.
On behalf of the 2012 National Hajj Committee, Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, who provided an overview of the group's activities, noted that this year witnessed one of the most inexpensive trips to Mecca by any Liberian Muslim.
Of the 245 pilgrims selected from all 15 counties of Liberia, 150 persons paid a total amount of US$1,500 each for accommodation, meals, ground transportation, visa processing, airport taxes and transportation to and from Saudi Arabia, unlike other parts of the sub-region where the fee for Hajj ranges between US$4,000 to US$5,000.
Justice Ja’neh also stated that, for the first time in many years, pilgrims from Liberia left for Hajj on schedule and in record time, as a result of which Muslim pilgrims enjoyed the longest stay time of 36 days in Saudi Arabia. “By this exceptional opportunity, Liberian pilgrims were afforded a lot of time dedicated to the worship of Allah in the Holy Land,” he said.
He later recommended to President Sirleaf that to enhance the good image being built and to ensure that the 2012 Hajj success is not reversed, it was necessary to re-establish Liberia’s diplomatic mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“In our view, such action is bound to consolidate the achievements made thus far, as well as ensure the larger national interest in a country that is no doubt the Washington, D.C. of the Middle East and the Arab World,” Justice Ja’neh noted.