Afghans hope to tackle ‘extravagant’ Hajj traditions

Afghan government officials discuss Hajj preparations at the yard of a center for Hajjis in Kabul on Sunday. This year 30,000 Afghan are set to perform Hajj. (AN photo)
Updated 04 July 2019
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Afghans hope to tackle ‘extravagant’ Hajj traditions

  • The cost of Hajj for each Afghan stands at $2,700 per person, but they will also spend on average at least $1,000 on small gifts for relatives

KABUL: Like many Afghans, Habibullah longed for years to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Given the long list of Afghans who have been anxiously waiting for their turn, the 65-year-old carpenter never thought his luck would shine.

But last month, he got a call from an official at the Religious Trust and Haj Ministry in Kabul to tell him that his dream will soon come true.

“I became so excited because going to Hajj has been for years my top priority and I have been putting aside part of my income for years for this very purpose,” he told Arab News at a center for Hajis in Kabul.

“I am counting each hour and day for my flight. I am going there to seek forgiveness from Allah and pray for peace in my country and the world. I’m seeking to start a new life based on virtue and firm conviction afterwards.”

His other goal will be to urge fellow Afghan pilgrims to stop the tradition of offering gifts and lavish meals to relatives and acquaintances upon return from Hajj because the country was drenched in poverty and caught in decades of war. The money could instead go to help the needy, he said. “We have to change this culture and tradition because it is a waste of money and our religion forbids extravagance.”

Some 30,000 Afghans are set to perfom Hajj this year. The Afghan government has chartered Emirates and the national flag carrier, Afghan Ariana Airlines, for the pilgrims.

The cost of the return trip, accommodation and food for each Afghan pilgrim stands at $2,700 per person, but they will also spend on average at least $1,000 on small gifts such as prayer mats, prayer beads and scarfs to relatives and family members and a small feast after the visit as part of the tradition.

Pilgrims throw lavish parties and give expensive gifts such as luxury watches and even gold jewelry to their friends and family. 

Many Afghans, who can just afford to cover the Hajj expense but not the extravagance that follows, have refrained from registering for Hajj because they would not be able to maintain the tradition.

The comparatively wealthy pilgrims can take frequent Hajj journeys, which deprives some of the other visitors.

Faced with a huge backlog of pilgrims — some waiting for years — the Afghan Ministry of Religious Trust and Hajj said that it has imposed a fine for repeated Hajj performers in order for them to give chance to the first-time visitors.

The ministry has also launched a campaign to encourage pilgrims to avoid frequent visits and instead help their less privileged countrymen cover the costs as Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and poverty grinds on.

With the Hajj season around the corner, business is booming for those who trade in prayer-mat, beads, scarves and perfumes, which the pilgrims usually offer as gifts upon their return.

“On average, each Haji (pilgrim) buys 100 prayer mats, prayer beads, dates, sweets among other things. Business is good for us,” Samir, a 22-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul, told Arab News.

Some of the pilgrims belong to families of government security forces killed during the recent war. Their cost of Hajj is borne by the government.

However, poor management, nepotism and a lack of government transparency means the process is either slow or sometime not fair, Said Mumtaz, 50, the father of a slain soldier claimed.

“I was supposed to go for Hajj two years back but could not due to my heart ailment. Now I am reapplying.” said Mumtaz, who comes from eastern Nangarhar.

He said that officials told him he had lost his chance of going after failing to fulfil his chance two years back, but he is struggling to change the policy.

“If you have something under your name as your right or property, then you deserve it and should be able to use it when you can,” he said.

“If I can go to Hajj, I will invite others to perform it too and urge people to do the right thing. I will also pray for our leaders to be shown the right path and for them to show sympathy for ordinary Afghans because poor ones like myself suffer, not our leaders who live in cozy and secure houses, drive in armored vehicles and their families live abroad,” said Mumtaz.


Duterte ‘seriously considering’ cutting ties with Iceland over UN rights probe

Updated 16 July 2019
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Duterte ‘seriously considering’ cutting ties with Iceland over UN rights probe

  • Iceland spearheaded a resolution that asked the UN’s top human rights body to look into the Philippines' deadly anti-drug crackdown
  • Philippine police have killed more than 6,600 suspected drug dealers in sting operations since Duterte took office in 2016.

MANILA: The Philippine president is “seriously considering” cutting diplomatic ties with Iceland, which spearheaded a resolution that asked the UN’s top human rights body to look into the thousands of deaths of suspects under his anti-drug crackdown.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters late Monday that the Iceland-initiated resolution which was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in a vote last week in Geneva showed “how the Western powers are scornful of our sovereign exercise of protecting our people from the scourge of prohibited drugs.”
Panelo says President Rodrigo Duterte “is seriously considering cutting diplomatic relations with Iceland” for initiating the “grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow, and maliciously partisan” resolution.
Human rights groups, however, have lauded the resolution as crucial to helping end the drug killings and bringing perpetrators to justice.
The Philippines’ highest-ranking lawmaker said on Monday a UN resolution to probe the country’s bloody war on drugs should be ignored, and its chief backer Iceland be investigated instead for human rights abuses in allowing abortion.
“They have more unborn babies that they have aborted or killed. There are more killings in abortion than the drug pushers who are fighting the police,” Senate President Vicente Sotto told ANC news channel.
The Nordic nation lacks moral grounds to lecture the Philippines on human rights, Sotto said. “So we should disregard that resolution.”
His remarks are the latest in a series of comments from lawmakers urging the government to not cooperate after the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday adopted Iceland’s resolution to investigate thousands of deaths under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.
Police have killed more than 6,600 suspected drug dealers in sting operations since Duterte took office in 2016. Critics and rights group said authorities summarily execute suspects, which the police deny.
“The criminals can fight back, the babies cannot. What human rights are they talking about?” Sotto said, adding that drug dealers that fight back and destroy families lose their human rights.
His comments about abortion echoed those made by incoming Senator Imee Marcos, the daughter of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rights groups, which hailed the UN vote as a step toward accountability, point out that the bloody anti-narcotics campaign is marked by systematic cover-ups, planted evidence and impunity.
The president’s spokesman on Monday warned countries not to meddle with the state’s affairs.
“All incidents in the war on drugs are tallied, recorded. All they have to do is ask us, not to pre-judge us,” presidential spokesman Spokesman Panelo told a regular news conference. “It behoves them to render respect to a sovereign state.”
Duterte on Friday mocked Iceland as an ice-eating nation without understanding of his country’s problems.