Hajj pilgrimage was held this year after two years of restrictions due to the spread of Covid-19 with the presence of a large number of pilgrims from different parts of the world.
However, issues such as the reduction of the quota of pilgrims in some countries and the application of the lottery system for European and American pilgrims became a source of worry for many Muslims around the globe.
To further discuss the Hajj pilgrimage, IQNA has reached out to an African expert Ahmed Badawi Mustapha.
Mustapha is a Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the Middle East Technical University, Ankara, and M.A. in Political Science from the National University of Singapore. His research focuses on Islam and Muslim societies, particularly in Africa, the interconnectedness of state and religion, militant organisations, political violence, radical ideologies, counter-extremism and decoloniality.
Following is the full text of the interview:
IQNA: Islamic scholars have long highlighted the Hajj ritual as force to unite Muslims. What is the view of Muslim scholars in your country on Hajj and its effects on the Muslim community in Ghana?
Mustapha: There is, generally, a consensus on this in Ghana as well, among scholars be they Shia or Sunni. Besides, the unity heralded by the Hajj season starts demonstrating at home as there is no demarcation between any of the Islamic sects in Ghana when it comes to preparations and embarkation of the pilgrimage. They all face the Hajj season with a united front.
IQNA: What do you think is the impact of Hajj on African Muslim communities?
Mustapha: This is a very broad question. Well, Muslim communities across Africa hold Hajj in high regard as a pillar of Islam that uplifts spiritually, which is the crucial point of the journey. However, its general impact is immeasurable and multifaceted.
Internally (in Ghana and perhaps in the neighboring countries), travelling agencies and organizations in charge of the facilitation of Hajj make some economic gains as would be pilgrims make deposits of the fees involved in securing their place for the sacred journey. The intercity movements of the would be hujjaj(i.e. the pilgrims) within the various countries generate additional income for the commercial transport sector. Socially, families are united in seeing to organization and sending off the person who is embarking on the journey, collectively.
Externally, Muslim political leaders in Africa sometimes use the opportunities presented by the Hajj to interact with their fellow Muslim politicians from Africa and beyond on matters concerning their respective countries. Individuals also network with other Muslims from various part of the world for diverse reasons. So, in a nutshell, Hajj impacts on African communities socially, economically and spiritually.
IQNA: This year, the Saudi government imposed restrictions on the number of pilgrims while also implementing a lottery system for Hajj applicants in Western countries. What do you think about these restrictions?
Mustapha: Well as far as I am aware, I know the ‘lot system’ is imposed on North America and Europe. However, for Africa the quota system still applied especially for Ghana. However, the quota was cut further from its original 6000 plus to below 4000 making it impossible for some would be pilgrims to embark on a journey so dear to their hearts.
So, for most African countries the sudden slash in original quotas has been a major source of worry and agony for those who could not make it after being assured otherwise. However, for Europe and North America the late introduction of the direct application system through an online channel has caused fear, panic, uncertainty and scrambling for place via random lots among many other complications.
IQNA: Is there an organization in Ghana to send pilgrims to Hajj, and what is it currently doing to facilitate sending pilgrims to Hajj?
Mustapha: Hajj Pilgrims Affairs Office, popularly known as ‘Hajjboard’ is in charge of overseeing the pilgrimage to the holy land from scratch to finish. Of course, not without its own challenges as the office struggles to make the Hajj better for the Muslim Societies in Ghana. Every single year, since inception, comes with its own challenge for the board. We hope and pray that very soon the office would be able to have seamless Hajj organization, without some of the major setback it has been facing over the years.
IQNA: Are there any travelogues about the Hajj of African pilgrims? What topics do these travelogues focus on the most?
Mustapha: I am not sure if you refer to an individualized account of hujjaj or a generic travelogue of the collectivity of all African pilgrims. The latter would largely be impossible, I guess, as the continent is giant enough to account for huge diversified experiences. There isn’t anything specific that I know of, but I believe there could be especially as we are in an era of smart phones where one or group of pilgrims can easily shoot a video and account about their own experiences . However, ‘Peace dawah media’ a Ghanaian indigenous social media platform takes keen interest in Hajj and has been very active making videos, discussing and giving updates on general issues relating to Hajj, not just for Ghana but also other African countries.
IQNA: What are the customs of Ghanaian Muslims to escort and welcome pilgrims?
Mustapha: There are a number of noticeable ones. I could remember some few. A custom regarding escorting and welcoming pilgrims involving large number of extended family members who would accompany the traveler in the name of ‘seeing the person off’ and similar large number of family members gathering at the airport to welcome the person as the person is back, is very popular among Ghanaian Muslims. Besides, especially, for women in Ghana they put on a golden metallic cover on one or more teeth to symbolize that they earn the title of ‘hajia,’(meaning someone who has performed the Hajj). They also do organize a feast popularly known as ‘azuuma’ where family, friends and well-wishers come together to dine, pray and celebrate the successful Hajj embarked upon.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi