By Ahmad Muazu
Around the sixth year after Hijra of Prophet Muhammad SAW from Makkah to Madinah, he dreamt of performing Umrah along with his followers.
The Prophet thereafter embarked on that trip with 1400 followers. An unexpected hurdle and uncustomary to the people of Makkah hindered them from proceeding for the Umrah. Ordinarily, the Arabian custom gives pilgrims unrestricted access to the city of Makkah for reasons of discharging religious obligations.
However, the entourage of Prophet Muhammad were denied entrance leading to a treaty that forced them to return home in apparent defeat such that, that year they could not fulfil their mission.
The hudaibiyah encounter tested the courage and faith of early Muslims, but at the same time, it highlighted the foresightedness of the Prophet because it later prompted the tactical defeat of pagan Makkah.
In comparison to the time of Prophet, a treaty for our healthy being had to be entered. It was a choice between safety of intending pilgrims and the risk of the Corona virus pandemic. Saudi Arabia’s authorities pulled the much-awaited trigger, heart breaking but necessary.
Allowing a limited number of pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage due to the health risk associated with large gatherings like that of the Arafat is a wise decision. It was necessary to minimize the risk of further transmission among worshippers and the world in general.
Health officials and their ilk are of the opinion that if the Hajj holds as it usually does, the fallout will hurt not only Muslims but also the world profoundly.
By allowing less than 1% of the normal Hajj population to perform the Hajj this year, it is obvious the Saudis had scratched all their creative thinking brains in order to reach this hard decision.
Back here in Nigeria, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria’s leadership is of the conviction that it will not be reckless in dealing with the affairs of the pilgrims.
This links us back to the Hudaibiyah treaty where the Prophet (SAW) not only retreated from but protected the lives of his wards. The congregation gladly returned with 2000 pilgrims, a number higher than the initial figure that left home for the maiden journey.
Now the leadership of the Commission is offering pilgrims an option of refund for their deposit or for the intending hujjajj to give consent to the funds being rolled over against next year’s Hajj by God’s grace.
This offer comes with an advantage as the commission will now have the ample time to prepare for what would be the most craved Hajj of our time. Pointers are that next Hajj will be massive and slots profoundly lacking.
The shock and dejection being experienced by those affected by the cancellation this year should be effaced with the analogy that Hudaibiyah became the prelude to conquest of Makkah without bloodshed. They should take solace in the hope that 2021 will be their own year of the conquest.
This is not the first time that Hajj will be postponed or limited to a few number of pilgrims.
History is replete with episodes of cancellations, unknown to many because this is the first time since 1932, the year of Saudi Arabia’s independence, and the year it assumed title of Kingdom, that Hajj will be cancelled.
This year’s decimated number of pilgrims is certain to strike a big financial blow to a kingdom already reeling under low oil prices and economic slowdown from the Covid-19 lockdown. In this pendulum, the holy cities of Mecca and Madinah will be most hard hit.
Here in Nigeria, several Licensed Tour Operators will scotch from the revenue heat wave that will blow as a result of this Hudabiyya-like treaty of our time. Even the government will not be spared, as revenue generated through the Hajj process will be down.
An example is the Nigerian Immigration Service that sells an estimated 35,000 e-passports for people traveling for Hajj each year.
The aviation authorities like NAMA, FAAN, NCAA will also witness a cash crunch from dwindling of the income they generate from levies and services they offer during the Hajj exercise.
Not even local businesses experiencing boom during Hajj period like tailors sewing uniforms of the pilgrims down to people that help wrap pilgrims’ goods will be insulated.
This writer is of the conviction that Nigeria’s intending pilgrims will accept the decision in good faith and also plan towards next year’s Hajj in accordance with the Prophet’s advice against traveling to places suffering plagues.
Therefore, the cancellation coming from the Islamic ideology is very much in consonance with science and prophetic guidance.
The Saudi government has chosen to rather count economic loses than to count dead bodies. Herein lies the importance of human live in Islam.
Now intending pilgrims have a choice either to demand for refund or have faith in the authorities to leave their money and book for next year’s Hajj.
Will history be gracious to Covid 19 pandemic that saw the world going into hiatus with outright cancellation of events only a few would have thought possible? How many would have imagined that events such as Hajj, Olympics and sports activities all over the world could be halted?
May God see us through this pandemic in good health and prosperity.
Ahmad Muazu writes from National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON)