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Sierra Leonean pilgrims grateful for attending Hajj

Sierra Leonean pilgrims grateful for attending Hajj

About 2.5 million Muslims converge on Mecca each year for their pilgrimage (Hajj). It is never easy to manage such a huge gathering of more than two million people from 180 countries around the world, including locals comprising citizens and expatriates, so smoothly and successfully. Handling growing numbers of pilgrims every year and making arrangements for their housing, transportation, medical and other necessities is a herculean task.

Full credit goes to the Saudi Government, which has been organizing this pilgrimage each year with great enthusiasm. Credit also goes to our President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma for the unflinching support he has been given to Sierra Leonean pilgrims.

The Global Times newspaper recently quoted the President to have told the 753 Sierra Leonean pilgrims at State House last  week that had paid a courtesy call on him upon their return from a successful Hajj  that: “As long as I remain in power, there will be no more Haja and Alhaji Abuja.”

Well, the Information Bureau of the Sierra Leone Embassy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia caught up with some of the pilgrims at the King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah shortly before they boarded their flight for Sierra Leone and asked them about their Hajj experiences and what they made of President Koroma’s financial assistance to them.  First to be contacted is Sierra Leone’s envoy to Ghana, H.E Alhaji Osman F. Yansaneh – this is what he had to say: 

Ambassador Yansanneh

First of all, I must applaud the Saudi authorities for organizing such a safe and wonderful Hajj.  Let me also commend my colleague Ambassador, H.E Wusu B. Munu and his entire staff for the hospitality they gave us since we arrived. To me, Hajj is perhaps the greatest experience I have ever had. All races, colours and culture were in the same place – at the same point, standing shoulder to shoulder – they all came to seek the favour of Allah, they wear the same clothes, they all perform the same rituals. No matter if you are black or white, rich or poor, strong or weak; at that stage all are equal. My dear Jalloh! Hajj is an experience of a lifetime. The experience was unbelievable and therefore cannot be explained in words.

I think we should also thank our President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma for the financial assistance he gave to the pilgrims without discrimination. He’s a benevolent leader who has helped to promote religious tolerance in our country. I was not surprised when I saw almost all the pilgrims offering prayers for him, his government and the country on Arafat day. He is indeed a leader with distinguished and positive qualities.

Hon. Alhaji Mohamed Soufian Kargbo – Deputy Parliamentary Leader

I will never forget the experience for the rest of my life. My impressions about the whole Hajj exercises from Mecca to Mina, Arafat to Muzdalifa and to Mecca again, are a vivid reminder of the trueness or the whole truth about what Islam stands for.

It is very consoling, motivating and convincing about the certainty of the existence of the hereafter – that’s after death. If man sincerely worships his Creator as taught by His Prophets, he will surely receive salvation.

For Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s support, I would say,  he’s  is a pace-maker whose examples are difficult to be equated, let alone surpassed in a way as a Christian  President who has supported the entire Hajj mission last year and even more so this year. To try to praise him in words, could be misinterpreted by his detractors as dressing him in borrowed robes.

The truth is whatever robes the Muslim community of Sierra Leone dresses him in; he religiously deserves it with wanton blessings from the Almighty Allah. May he ever remain successful in all his endeavors.

Deputy Mayor, Freetown City Council - Alhaji Gibril I.B Kanu

Hajj is an experience one will never experience anywhere, anytime or on any other occasion. It is here that you realise that you are just a tiny being. It enhances the feeling and knowledge of the greatness of Allah. The first time I saw the Kaa’bah, I was reduced to tears – happy to be there as Allah’s guest in Allah’s house. I am looking forward to be here again, God willing!!

I also want to Salute H.E. the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma for the great assistance he rendered to the entire Hajj programme. The Muslim community in Sierra Leone will remain grateful to a leader who has been very instrumental in helping them perform their fifth pillar in Islam.

Moreover, to help his people meet the cost of coming here to perform Hajj, I think the president and his government deserve commendation by reducing the cost from US$ 4,200/00 to US$ 3,850/00. I am out of words for the 250 pilgrims he personally supported. I think they can speak for themselves. I don’t want people to say I am politicizing the President’s kind gesture. 

Prof. Alhaji Abu Sesay, Vice Chancellor and Principal of Njala University College

If you ask me about my first Hajj experience, I would say it is physically and financially demanding. But on the whole, a very satisfying experience – while going through the activities and rites at the Holy Kaa’ba, Jamaraat, etc., I found them to be physically demanding. 

I think the living conditions at Mina were quite difficult. In my view, I also think the National Hajj Coordinating Committee needs to improve on educating pilgrims. The educational aspect is very important, I must emphasize. I have never been here before and I can’t claim to know much about Islam and Hajj in particular, but I think there is need to be educated about what to do and what not to be done at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifah, etc.  

For the Hajj experience to become more meaningful, I think the Hajj Committee should sit down and plan the Hajj properly by preparing reading materials for the literate pilgrims and do some proper orientation for the others before they come here.  Pilgrims should leave Sierra Leone with a designed and well- thought out programme. There should not be ad-hoc arrangements.

There is also the need to understand that all of the 753 Sierra Leonean pilgrims who performed this year’s pilgrimage come from different districts in Sierra Leone and speak about 14 to 15 different languages. Communicating with all these diverse group of pilgrims becomes a challenge.  On the whole, there is room for improvement, if proper organization is taken into consideration. Having said that, I also think President Koroma deserves commendation for his unflinching support to the entire Hajj programme since he assumed power in 2007.

Haja Isatu Turay, a pilgrim from Bo

I performed Hajj in 2006 (when I was 58 years of age) along with my husband. Before that, I was lucky to perform Umrah a few times when I was younger and fit. But due to my deteriorating health condition over the last three years, I was not expecting to perform this year’s Hajj. Before boarding the plane at Lungi, I fell very sick with high fever and vomiting.

At a point, I was even thinking whether I should cancel the journey. I became very depressed and prayed to Allah to help me perform the fifth pillar of my faith. By the grace of Allah from somewhere, I got the confidence that Allah would answer my inner prayer. My son and my daughter-in-law encouraged me to undertake the journey and by the grace of Allah, we boarded the plane late in the evening.

Throughout the flight, I was in a sort of stupor. Early in the morning we arrived at Medinah. I was amazed that after arrival at our hotel, I started getting my strength back and I completed all the Hajj rituals without help. I only wish I could have the opportunity to talk directly to President Koroma about my personal observations on accommodation, transportation and feeding. He’s a generous and caring leader, but he needs to know some of our problems. I am afraid; I have to leave you now, my son as check-in has started. Thanks for talking to me.

Alhaji Sheka Mansaray, a Sierra Leonean pilgrim from Baltimore, United States

For second generation Muslims growing up in the West, I feel most of us use Hajj as a turning point – from Westernized youths to finally affirming our faith.  From now, I will pray my five daily prayers, perform all my religious duties and never drink again!!

May Allah accept the prayers of those who are still praying and dreaming to perform it. I am glad I have been able to complete the pilgrimage at a young age. The thing that I miss and will miss a lot in the future is the voice of one of the Imams, Abdul Rahman Sudais. Wow! His voice brings peace to my mind.

As a recent Muslim convert, I was unsure if I was ready for this journey. All doubts were erased when I reached Mecca. It was the most uplifting, faith-affirming experience in my life. On arrival at Mecca, I remembered what Malcolm X considered the turning point in his life.

When he saw Muslims from all races and walks of life praying together, he realised that the anti-white rhetoric he had been attracted up to at that point was against the spirit of Islam. In his autobiography, he mentioned this as a turning point in his life when he felt he must strive for the good of all people, not just one race. ‘Meah’! Hajj is truly an awe-inspiring experience and a vital antidote to the rampaging materialism taking over our lives.

Haja Fatmata Kamara, a pilgrim from Makeni

Hajj is the most humbling experience of my life. I was fortunate enough to be called only after a year of being married.  I pray that my husband will be fortunate to perform next year’s hajj. I also pray for the financially disadvantaged to be able to attend. It is definitely a great experience.

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