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‘Our mandate is to satisfy our pilgrims, secure Allah’s pleasure’

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ALTHOUGH, the yearly pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah, as fundamental pillar of Islam, embarked upon by Muslims worldwide is several months away, the Muslims Pilgrims Welfare Board (MPWB), Lagos State has commenced process for the 2015 edition. The intending pilgrims, about 3000, have undergone screening exercise that ran between February 6 and 26, 2015. This step, which many Muslims consider as too early, according to the Board Chairman, Dr. Abdul-Kabir Olawale Paramole, has been part and parcel of Lagos State mandate to ensure that adequate preparation, spiritually, financially and health-wise, is perfected before the real exercise.  

  The screening programme, Dr. Paramole, in a chat with The Guardian on Tuesday at the Ikeja office of the MPWB said, “is part of the strategies put in place to ensure that this year’s Hajj record more successes better than the previous editions. For instance, in our ICT department, we have engaged more hands. Ditto the publicity unit where efforts have been made to procure necessary tools for efficient performance. Our understanding is that for you to achieve success in any endeavour, you must prepare well and solid. We started early in order to beat our record of last year. The essence is to convince our pilgrims that we care for them, and we understand what it takes to ensure hitch-free pilgrimage. 

  “This is also reflected in the composition of the Board as we have scholars of Islamic Studies, Arabic Language as well as expert legal practitioner. It is an all-encompassing team with experience and expertise in all aspects of Hajj operation.”

   He explained further that the screening exercise was to ensure that Lagos pilgrims satisfy all conditions associated with the spiritual exercise. “Also, from the experience and because of our good record of performance, most Muslims in the Southwest Nigeria always desire to follow Lagos. So, the Board has to devise some mechanisms ensuring that only Muslims resident in Lagos follow the Lagos State Board. This is because the Hajj seats are limited and allotted by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to each state of the Federation. We have to screen out people who are not really living in Lagos State. For instance, one of the criteria for screening is the provision of LASRA certificate to authenticate that you are a genuine Lagos resident. Also, your level of understanding of Islam is tested to ensure you are truly a Muslim. Questions are asked on the five pillars of Islam; six articles of Faith, purification such as Janaabah (ritual bath), Wuduuhu (ablution) and so on. That is the essence of the screening. About 3000 people purchased the screening forms and they have all been screened. It ran between February 6 and 26, 2015. Alhamdulillahi, majority of the intending pilgrims that came for the screening performed well.”

  The next step, he said, is for the intending pilgrims to make the initial deposit of N800,000.00. Ultimately, he clarified, “only 1500 Hajj forms are available for the intending pilgrims, so, 1500 people will be screened out. In any case, not all the people that purchased screening form and participated in the exercise would eventually perform the Hajj owing to financial reason or inability to score the cut-off mark. Total mark is 40 and if one scores below 20, he/she is already out. The financial reason has always been the main impediment, and because of the hike in the exchange rate, which is being experienced in Nigeria at present, many people, who even passed the test, might be dropped if they couldn’t pay the initial deposit. This is because the Saudi Arabia authority will issue an ultimatum for payment, ditto the NAHCON, and if you couldn’t pay within that stipulated period, automatically you are out. That is the reason why more screening forms were sold in order to accommodate people who are ready with their money. Collection of Hajj form is after the payment of the initial deposit.”

  Meanwhile, Dr. Paramole is delighted that the Board has begun to record success in the area of pilgrims’ welfare with the procurement of new accommodation facility in Ray’a Bash, Makkah. The magnificent edifice, he disclosed, has the capacity to house over 2500 pilgrims, meaning that all Lagos State pilgrims will stay in one place this year. “The accommodation last year as well as in 2013, was also of international standard but we used two separate buildings in Masfalah Quday area of Makkah. This year, Lagos will return to its traditional home in Ray’a Bash using only one imposing building for all our pilgrims. The structure, which is closer to the Haram, has already been secured.”

  The Board has also stepped up its sensitisation activities among the pilgrims in order to ensure that the pilgrims remain good ambassadors of the state, and Nigeria especially during their sojourn in the holy land. The chairman said, “the Board has first class scholars who are chief imams of their respective communities; senior lecturers at various universities; as well as teachers of Arabic and Islamic Studies at secondary schools in the State. During this pre-Hajj period, we have lined up series of interface between these scholars and the intending pilgrims. And while in Saudi for the Hajj, regular engagements with scholars are a feature that has distinguished Lagos pilgrims in terms of good conduct from the rest.”

  Alhaji Paramole foresees support from the federal government especially in the area of sky-rocket exchange rate (Dollar) that the country is experiencing in order to lessen the financial burden on the pilgrims. “The Federal Government has never, for once, left Hajj affair unattended to. They have always been subsidising, at least, in the flight fare, Hajj fare… Last year, the exchange rate in the market was 168, 169 Naira to one Dollar, but the government gave it to us at N150. I believe similar step will be taken this year.”

  To the intending pilgrims, Dr. Paramole advised that they should have confidence and trust in the Board officials as they are appointed to serve the pilgrims satisfactorily. “But they should see us as human beings like them. We are not perfect. Only Allah (SWT) is absolutely perfect. Pilgrims should endeavour to follow the rules guiding the exercise. They should always get their information from the appropriate quarters (the officials). They should also exercise patience and fear Allah as everybody – the officials and the pilgrims – is working to secure the pleasure of Allah.”   



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