Appeal To Umrah Addicts: Re-channeling Resources As An Act of Worship, By Umar Yakubu
My appeal to Umrah addicts is to channel those funds being dissipated on pilgrimages towards the advancement of their societies, even if only for the next few years. There is a lot of development to be carried out. The current security challenges all over Nigeria are mainly an economic problem. These, coupled with the issue of corruption, reveal how berserk our spending choices are.
The corruption of religions comes from turning them to mere words and appearances. – Imam Ghazali
The performance of Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is essentially a visit to the Holy land of Makkah to perform some set of prescribed rituals. It is obligatory for every Muslim at least once in their lifetime, provided the person is healthy and financially capable. Umrah is termed as the ‘lesser’ pilgrimage, which is however not compulsory. The major differences between both pilgrimages are their timing, the length of the rites involved and the obligatory status of one of them. The Hajj is performed in the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, while Umrah could be done at any time of the year. Although they share common rites, Umrah can be performed in a few hours, while Hajj takes a number of days. Both pilgrimages are rewarding and of immense benefit.
There are also a few dozen, silent, but equally important conditions attached to those performing either of the pilgrimages. Islamic jurisprudence defines certain conditions and if some of the rules are not adhered to, this may invalidate the pilgrimage. One of such conditions generally agreed upon is that the ‘resources’ used to fund the ritual should be from ‘clean’ sources. Specifically, one cannot perform the Hajj or Umrah unless the funds used for it are obtained through purely legitimate means. The theological and jurisprudence sources supporting this condition are hardly debatable.
The focus of this piece is to examine the behavioural economics aspect and the categories of persons who attend the Umrah from our dear country, Nigeria, on a regular basis. The first category are politically exposed persons. This includes governors, ministers, parliamentarians, heads of MDAs and other senior and mid-level civil servants – all those pampered lot who cannot survive without some access to public funds. Of course, they must travel with their families, aides, stewards, hangers-on and some say, girlfriends. While I cannot speak with certainty about this last group of ‘pilgrims’, what I do know is that some of them actually go on pilgrimages in order to get hooked for marriage or business. By any means, this group must stay in hotels with those who came on public funds, hoping to get a favour or two from latter group. Anyway, this category utilises the month of Ramadan for ‘spiritual cleansing’ with a few tens of thousands of dollars used to stay in luxury hotels, to shop in high-end plazas and hold political and business meetings. What they spend is way out of their known sources of legitimate income. Look out for this category of persons in the next one or two weeks and they would have mostly checked out. They are the largest group.
The second category pertains to those who aspire to be like their oppressors in the first group. Without being seen in the corridors of high-end areas or mingling with their thieving leaders, they feel less of themselves and feel left out. Hence, they ensure that at whatever cost, they must attend Umrah, to ensure that they are seen with the ‘right’ people. The first category actually goes with funds to cater for this newer category because it would be ‘embarrassing’ for them not to dole out dollars to ‘parasites’. This second category forgets that the oppressors do not like competition from people not of their income class. The oppressors won’t allow this category to replace them because their kids and proteges are strategically positioned to take over and live like them.
The third category comprises those who go frequently to Makkah for the purpose of worship, as well as the business of catering, sales or the importation of goods. Hence their frequency is tied to business and survival. Some in this group tend to overstay their visits. The last category, which is the seeming minority, involves those who go to perform their rites with a high sense of responsibility and who return to the country when they are done.
Zamfara has more Umrah goers than the total number of students who wrote the JAMB examination in the State; and poverty is not abating in the whole region. Meanwhile, there are less than 10 fully functional factories in Kano, while Zamfara does not have a single factory!
Somehow, we assume that we can deploy our mentality of bribe-giving in every matter. We bribe policemen after committing crimes, bribe teachers to allow our kids to pass examinations, bribe regulators to avoid sanctions and bribe supervisors to evade adherence to rules. We now seek to apply this skill in spiritual and heavenly matters.
In 2006 or 2007, Daily Trust newspapers reported that about N106 billion was spent on Umrah during the Ramadan period. Our Hajj pilgrims have approximately been over 70,000 every year since 2005. In 2013, 73,000 people went on pilgrimages, while 79,000 attended in 2017 alone. So for the lack of reliable data from the National Hajj Commission, another spoon-fed government agency, we can assume that we spend at least N100 billion on Umrah every year.
Whether one believes he can go for Umrah with stolen funds or not, this appeal is to the first and second categories identified above. Since the main purpose of the pilgrimage is to get spiritual rewards, the Islamic tradition has thousands of avenues for using finance for gaining these rewards. Many people are keen on building mosques. The Emir of Kano recently stated that Kano State has over 500,000 mosques for a population of about 10 million people. Zamfara has more Umrah goers than the total number of students who wrote the JAMB examination in the State; and poverty is not abating in the whole region. Meanwhile, there are less than 10 fully functional factories in Kano, while Zamfara does not have a single factory!
We seem to forget that building a factory that will employ people is an act of worship. Or is fighting against poverty through legitimate means not an act of worship? How about giving capital to fund businesses for graduates? 20 million graduates could receive soft loans of N5 million each and that would amount to N100 billion, which is a third of the estimated amount. How about channelling the funds towards taking almajiris off the streets?
It must be a killing exercise to reconcile our rituals with our actions. With the same high rate of religiosity, we also, rather paradoxically, top the charts of those who commit the most heinous crimes known on earth; there is hardly any global crime that we don’t have well skilled Nigerians drawing the medals in.
Just last week, the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) licensed 64 new institutions, comprising 18 polytechnics, two mono-technics, four colleges of education, 32 innovation enterprise institutions and eight vocational enterprise institutions. Daily Trust newspaper reported that there is no single one of these institutions in the North-East region! None in the trio of Sokoto, Zamfara and surprisingly, Kebbi States. Kano has three of these newly licensed institutions, Kaduna – one, Plateau – one, and Nassarawa – one. Meanwhile, Osun State has five, while Lagos has seven of them. The innovation and vocational institutions are all privately driven. The Boss of NBTE is from Jigawa State, so there is no need to point at conspiracies.
My appeal to Umrah addicts is to channel those funds being dissipated on pilgrimages towards the advancement of their societies, even if only for the next few years. There is a lot of development to be carried out. The current security challenges all over Nigeria are mainly an economic problem. These, coupled with the issue of corruption, reveal how berserk our spending choices are. We certainly can’t shoot our way out of these problems. We all have to invest in people, education and agriculture. And if the sources of such investments are clean, then that will attract a double reward!
In 2005, Nigeria was reported to be the most religious country in the world. The ranking research body based its outcome on mainly external activities, consisting of things that are visible and hence can be seen. This range from the number of people who confirmed that they attend either a mosque or church, etc.
Since 2005, we have been shuffling between the ranking of the first and the second country on the religiosity index. This piece is not about the correlation between the external and the internal aspects of worship, since it is almost impossible to read the minds of adherents, although there is a valid and strong argument that the internal leads to the external. It must be a killing exercise to reconcile our rituals with our actions. With the same high rate of religiosity, we also, rather paradoxically, top the charts of those who commit the most heinous crimes known on earth; there is hardly any global crime that we don’t have well skilled Nigerians drawing the medals in.
Umar Yakubu is of the Counter-Fraud Centre.