What makes this year’s Hajj different from previous years? – Minister Minkailu explains in an exclusive interview
The Muslim pilgrimage, “Hajj,” being the fifth pillar of Islam, is of paramount concern to every Muslim all over the world. A journey, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their life if they can afford it and are physically able, notwithstanding, involves a great deal of arrangements, if a successful and comfortable performance of pilgrimage is to be secured. (Photo: Alhaji Jalloh (r) conducts an exclusive interview with Hon. Minkailu Mansaray, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources)
As the old adage goes, “Charity begins at home”. For pilgrims to enjoy their journey to the Holy Land in a peaceful and comfortable atmosphere, proper arrangements must be put in place by their home governments and all the authorities concerned. Failure to have responsible authorities in charge and failure to put proper mechanisms in place, pilgrims would definitely be prey to all sorts of sufferings – something that would negatively impact on their performance of the highly crucial Hajj rituals.
Talking of the status of the Sierra Leonean pilgrims over the years would prompt one to make a comparison between 2010 Hajj and that of previous years for the fact that prior to 2010, Hajj and pilgrims affairs used to be handled by a number of Sierra Leonean agents under various organizations. But most of the pilgrims were allegedly reported uncomfortable and that explains exactly why Government was actively involved into the Hajj affairs this year.
But has Government’s involvement brought any difference to the Hajj? Hon. Minkailu Mansaray (the new Minister of Mines and Mineral Resources) is the Chairman of the 2010 Hajj Mission who led the first batch of over 500 pilgrims to Mecca this year. Shortly before he left the Holy Land, I caught up with him outside the Sacred Mosque in Mecca – Al- Masjid Al-Haram and asked him to respond to the aforementioned question and other issues related to the Hajj.
This year, Chairman Minkailu said, we worked as a team. “Government brought in experienced people on Hajj issues and this enhances a lot of consultations among the Hajj Coordinating Committee members. The committee worked stringently within the frame of their plans and was able to quickly make shifts and adjustments where necessary.”
“Before arriving in Saudi, we addressed most of the difficulties faced in previous years that were raised by some of the pilgrims in a workshop organized by the Hajj Mission. Some of the difficulties have been that of late payment of royalties at the airport, indecent accommodation, insufficient food, poor medical facilities to name but a few,” he pointed out.
Hon. Alhaji Minkailu reiterated that: “This time, airport royalties were paid promptly, thus making it easier for the quick movement of pilgrims from the airport to their hotel accommodations.”
The minister also pointed out that: “The first plight that Sierra Leone pilgrims usually face on their arrival in the Kingdom used to be the long unnecessary time they would waste in the terminals. However, our Committee made sure that pilgrims spent only a little time in the terminals to finish up the normal formalities and were immediately taken thereafter to their hotel accommodations.”
Observers say another major source of discomfort and suffering pilgrims invariably used to go through was the poor, shabby and dilapidated accommodations. Such accommodations would very often lack quality sanitation facilities and proper ventilation. Observers have argued that these are facts that cannot be denied by any pilgrim or Sierra Leonean national resident in the Kingdom who has had the opportunity to perform Hajj in recent years. So, what was done this year for accommodation? Minister Minkailu said this year it was totally different. Hear him:
“Frankly, Mr. Jalloh, it is different in the sense that pilgrims who were in both Medina and Mecca were accommodated in decent and comfortable hotels in close proximity to the Holy Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the Sacred Mosque of Mecca. These facilities allowed pilgrims perform their five daily prayers in the Holy Mosques.”
The minister said food for pilgrims was well prepared and served on time. “Food and drinks were also served in all the Holy sites. “Every Muslim was served three square meals per day,” he said.
Medical facilities for pilgrims are very important and the Saudi Government has always emphasized that pilgrims must be accompanied by their medical team. What was done in that direction? The minister said this year they had a very good working relationship with the Saudi Hajj ministry and that his team complied with all rules and regulations set up by the Saudi Hajj authorities.
“The pilgrims were indeed accompanied by a Medical team. The team was very operational and we brought some drugs from Sierra Leone which were effectively administered,” he said.
He stressed that: “We also established good relationship with all the designated health centers and hospitals in Medina and Mecca. And all referral cases were treated with the utmost seriousness they deserve.”
“We also gave special preference to the aged, sick and physically challenged. They were always given first priority in the exercise and all activities related to the Hajj. Special attention was accorded them to make them very comfortable,” he added.
Links with Sierra Leoneans in Saudi
Sierra Leoneans in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been widely commended by both the print and electronic media for the complementary role in assisting the pilgrims. Did the Hajj Mission recognize that? This is what Chairman Minkailu said: “Indeed, Sierra Leoneans in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia played an important role in this year’s Hajj. Our committee also re-established a fresh link with the Sierra Leonean students in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) who have proven experience and are committed to assisting pilgrims from Sierra Leone.”
He acknowledged that: “The cooperation of Sierra Leoneans in general in the KSA helped in making this year’s Hajj successful than previous years. And it made the work of the Hajj Committee easier as all our nationals co-operated at all times in accordance with the needs of the pilgrims.”
Movement between the holy sites was another area where pilgrims used to undergo a multitude of hitches and sufferings. Many a time pilgrims got missing or critically stranded in the process of moving from Arafa to Mina. What was done this year to put it under control? Hon. Mansaray said: “This time around the Government Hajj Committee, in collaboration with dedicated and experienced Sierra Leonean nationals and students resident in the Kingdom, ensured the safety of Sierra Leonean pilgrims. Pilgrims were duly accorded every attention and care they needed at all times.”
He added that: “Besides the staff recruited by the Hajj Committee from home, experienced and dedicated Sierra Leonean nationals’ resident in Saudi Arabia were mobilized and assigned by the embassy to various functions which, to the admiration of all, were effectively carried out.”
The minister emphasized that: “The involvement of our compatriots in Saudi Arabia in the management of the just concluded Hajj affairs has clearly manifested that their contribution is a sine-quanon, to the successes of this year’s Hajj.”
Sierra Leoneans who are highly knowledgeable in the fields of Islamic Call (DAWA) and Jurisprudence were also given accolades for their job. This is what the Minister said: “Most important of all, the exemplary roles played by the DAWA members in Medina and Mecca and also on the holy sites of Mina and Arafa are invariably remarkable.”
He continued: “The Hajj Committee is very impressed about their activities. We admired them for the courage they have in serving their people for the sake of Allah. They traveled from different distant cities in the Kingdom just to accomplish this noble goal of theirs. Their primary goal and function is to enlighten pilgrims about the correct and acceptable performance of the Hajj rituals for which they have come to the Holy land.”
They did not stop there, the minister added; they assisted in leading the pilgrims to the Jamarats, (the pebble throwing sites) the Holy Sanctuary, the Ka’aba and other places.
The Minister said information dissemination was very vital. This is what he had to say: “We also created a forum for information dissemination- Independent Journalists came with us and were given the opportunity to report objectively. More importantly, the Government accredited Information Attaché based in the Kingdom, was actively involved in the dissemination of news locally and internationally.”
He said the Hajj activities were widely covered by the media since they arrived to the day of their departure.
President Koroma – A President for all
In conclusion, the Chairman attributed the successes to none, but to H.E. President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and his Vice President, Alhaji Chief Sam Sumana.
“The President and his VP have been very much concerned about the welfare of the pilgrims before and after we left Sierra Leone,” he reiterated.
He said the President has not only restricted his “Agenda for Change” to economic, agricultural, rural and infrastructural reforms; but, rather, he has extended it to the religious aspects as well.
He said the president has demonstrated that he is spiritually devout religious statesman with tolerance for all religious sects.
The president has once again made it abundantly clear that he is president for all Sierra Leoneans, irrespective of their ethnic, tribal or religious affiliations. “This is the kind of leader Sierra Leoneans had been yearning and craving for over the years. He is now here to translate their dreams into reality,” the minister said, adding that, “this is the president who has no time for bipartisan politics. To him, pragmatism and total commitment to the welfare of all citizens is his top priority, and, therefore, must be the norm of the day as long as he remains at the helm of power.”
Saudi King Commended
The minister also attributed the successes to the excellent facilities and arrangements put in place for use by the pilgrims by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al- Saud and his government.
Co-operation of Pilgrims
He concluded that the Hajj could not also have been successful if the pilgrims had not cooperated with their committee. “They have been very co-operative since we left the shores of Sierra Leone and law-abiding,” he noted.
By Alhaji Jalloh, Information Attaché, Sierra Leone Embassy, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia
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