ABUJA - The Saudi deportation of Nigerian female pilgrims for being unaccompanied by male guardians is sparking a deep retrospection among Muslims in the western African country about their commitment to the tenets of Islam.
The deportation was a rebuke to the indiscipline and lawlessness our pilgrims do exhibit in the Holy Land as well as the incompetence of so-called officials assigned for the duties, Sheikh Ahmad Mahmoud Gumi told OnIslam.net.
It is a case of the chicken coming home to roost. It is a lesson learnt the hard way.
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Saudi authorities deported more than 1,000 female pilgrims to Nigeria for being unaccompanied by male guardians (mahram).
Saudi authorities argued that Nigerian pilgrims failed to abide by rules, which require female pilgrims under 45 to have a male sponsor during hajj.
Angry with the deportation, Nigerian authorities suspended hajj flights to the Saudi lands, before resuming them earlier this week.
But the deportation has triggered self-reflection among Nigerian Muslims who admit to "shameful conducts" in the holy cities such as unholy exposures and suspicious inter-mingling among male and female pilgrims in hotels and open spaces.
The deportation serves as a timely yet embarrassing warning for our people to conduct themselves especially as Muslims who are guarded by standard moral codes clearly spelt out in the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet, Sheikh Gumi said.
We should take heed.
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
Nigerian scholars blame the misconduct of female pilgrims for the deportation.
When the news came that Nigeria's female pilgrims were being detained and others deported by the Saudi authorities, I telephoned one of our people in the Holy Land and he said to me that the conduct and attitude of many of our female pilgrims was responsible for the embarrassment, Sheikh Muhyideen Bello, a respected Nigerian scholar, told OnIslam.net.
He said some pilgrims were accompanied by their concubines, not their legally-wedded spouses, leading to disparity in the surnames contained in the travel documents of some of the pilgrims and their supposed husbands.
It is the attitude of our women that caused this national embarrassment.
It is usually the practice that the relationship between a female pilgrim and her male companion is stated clearly in the travel documents, he said.
This was what happened to those who were rejected despite having male companions. There was no correspondence in the names of those they claimed were their husbands. Why would people go to Mecca with their concubines?
Garba Shehu, a leading Muslim columnist, agrees.
We always assume that the way we do it here is the way we would do it dealing with others all over the world, he said.
We are comfortable with the situation of being a feudal country where selfishness, cheating, greed and tribal thinking hold sway. We always assume that others will understand that we are what we are and they will bend their own rules to meet out special needs'.
The columnist noted that female pilgrims insisted on violating rules that stipulate women be accompanied by male guardians during hajj.
In this particular instance, the Islamic requirement for a male chaperon or guide, a husband or a close relation for an adult female in Hajj is compulsory, he said.
Where this is not available, the Hajj in itself is not compulsory on such a female person.
But the way we do things in this country is to forge such a relationship or, as in this case to just ignore the requirement in the belief that the Saudis won't care or even if they do, they will waive the rule.
Shehu hopes that the deportation will give Nigerians a lesson to abide by the true Islamic teachings.
This humiliating experience with the Saudis should be used for a serious national introspection, he said.
Corruption has decimated good manners and good thinking in Nigeria. It has decimated good politics and policies and it is even ruining religion including the Hajj.
Some deported pilgrims accuse Saudi authorities for denying them the right to hajj for the misconduct of others.
Maryam Ibitoye, a female pilgrim from southwestern Oyo state, said the deportation as suffering from the sins of others.
She insisted that her passport clearly indicates that she was accompanied by a male guardian.
We were deported because the Saudi authorities said we were not accompanied by our mahram when we approached the immigration stand, Ibitoye, 38, told OnIslam.net.
It is true that we were not accompanied by mahram because our flight contained mainly female pilgrims. But the truth is that I have mahram who was to arrive in the coming flights.
But the deed has been done and I hope our government would save us this sort of embarrassment in the coming years.
Amina Muazu is also angry about the deportation.
I am a single woman. What are they trying to say? Are they asking that one must look for a male companion at all cost? she said.
If so, it means they do not care whether such a person is genuine husband or not. Won't this kind of precondition or issue encourage prostitution in Saudi Arabia?
Some Muslim scholars, however, say that a woman is allowed to travel for hajj without a mahramif she travels in the company of trustworthy women and men with whom she will be secure regarding her life, honor, faith and property.
The fatwa cites a change in travelling these days from what it was in the past, particularly group trips like that of Hajj and `Umrah.
In most cases it is safe and a person can be assured regarding his life, family, property, etc.But, again, it is time for us to reflect as a people. Are we really guilty of the charges against us? It is a question for every individual, said Muazu.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net