Rejection of Female Pilgrims – Saudi Arabia Blames Nigerian Officials

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Nigerian female pilgrims

Nigerian female pilgrims

The Saudi Arabia government yesterday defended its decision to continue deporting Nigeria female pilgrims no accompanied to this year’s hajj by their Muharram (male guardian), saying it has no choice but to adhere to the provision of Islamic laws.

Addressing reporters in Abuja yesterday, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Nigeria Khaled Yousef Abdrabuh, blamed the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and Nigerian hajj officials for not adhering to the rules.

Also speaking when the House Committee on Foreign Affairs visited the FCT hajj camp in Abuja, the FCT Amirul Hajj, Major-General Abdullahi Bagudu Maman (Rtd), said Nigerian authorities should be blamed for the controversy and difficulties encountered by the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

“Some of our actions at times leave much to be desired. There is a saying that if we are to blame the rat for stealing, we should also blame the locust bean for smelling,” he said.

In his comments, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador explained that the company of a male guardian is a prerequisite and an obligation established by Islam which made it serve as a requirement for female pilgrims entering into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The envoy said the Saudi Arabian authorities have not introduced anything new as the policy has been in existence and also has been implemented for many years.

“No female pilgrim from Nigeria had been returned during the previous years because they were always accompanied by their male guardians,” he said.

The envoy recalled that a particular Nigerian flight which arrived in Jeddah carrying many female pilgrims numbering about 100 without their male guardians, and who were disallowed entry into the holy land, was the first instance which led to commencement of negotiations between the Saudi Arabia and Nigerian officials.

He said following the incident “Saudi authorities contacted Nigerian embassy there (in Jeddah) to provide guardian for them and guarantee the Kingdom that the ladies will return to Nigeria after their Hajj operation but surprisingly, the number increased to about one thousand female pilgrims without Mahrams.”

“Those negotiations were aimed at resolving the problem by allowing the female pilgrims to enter into the holy land as soon as their male guardians arrive in Jeddah on the following flight. It was also agreed upon that no new flight with similar problem should be allowed to travel to the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the Saudi Authorities were surprised when more flights with similar cases arrived at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and the Airport of Al-Madinah which compounded the problem and made it more complicated,” the Saudi envoy said.

He explained further that, “The Saudi Authorities therefore became hard pressed to take a decision that the female pilgrims affected should return to Nigeria with a promise to allow them enter into the Kingdom when they are accompanied by their male guradians (Mahram) since their visas were not cancelled.”

He said in spite of existing challenges on ground, a Nigerian flight with female pilgrims unaccompanied by their male guardian arrived in Jeddah on Monday October 1, and were also instructed to return to Nigeria.

While responding to question on why the embassy did not verify the presence of Muhram for the female pilgrims before issuing visas to them, the envoy said: “The embassy received information about all pilgrims including that of ladies’ from NAHCON before we process their visas.

“Hajj visas could only be issued to female pilgrims after the names of their male guardians are inserted in their visas. This implies that their male guardians should arrive with them on the same flight, otherwise the inclusion of the names of their male guardians will be of no use.”

He however added that the minister in charge of Hajj exercise in Saudi Arabia usually meets with Hajj authorities of all countries with Muslims that will perform hajj to know the challenges and proffer solution. He however said the problem of unaccompanied guardian for female pilgrims was not part of discussions during this year’s meeting.

Abdrabuh also said: “The policy implemented by Saudi Authorities applies to all female pilgrims from all nationalities that arrive in the Kingdom without their male guardians without any discrimination.”

When contacted, the commissioner operation, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad said: “I am not reacting on what he said. What I can only say is that the commission and the states are taking measures to address the situation.”

Part of the measures taken according to him is that all the airlines have been directed not to issue boarding pass to female intending pilgrim without her male guide, the Muharram. Both the female pilgrim and her Muharram must enter the same flight.

He said immigration officials on their part have been asked to also make sure that female pilgrims present male guide before being allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia.

In the attempt to avert further crisis, the FCT pilgrims’ welfare board yesterday retrieved passports from its intending pilgrims and took them to the Saudi Arabian embassy for visas to be re-issued.

Acting director of the board Surajo Ado Faskari said their action was on the advice of the Saudi Embassy.

“We seek for their advice and the ambassador directed that we should return all the female passports for them to re-issue visas to them. We hope to get the visa very soon,” he said.

Chief Imam of Abuja National Mosque and the Chairman FCT Pilgrims Welfare Board, Sheikh Musa Mohammad said yesterday that out of the eight flights scheduled for the FCT, two had left with 1, 000 pilgrims.

Meanwhile the House of Representatives yesterday urged Nigerian pilgrims to this year’s hajj to be of good behaviour and not to allow the controversies surrounding the deportation of some female pilgrims dampen their moral for the exercise.

Chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Nnena Ijeoma Elendu-Ukeje, made the plea yesterday in Abuja while leading her committee on oversight visit to the FCT pilgrims’ transit camp.

 

In : Nigeria

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