Hajj pilgrims return home in Pakistan to hero’s welcome 

A girl drapes a garland around the neck of her grandfather as he returns to Pakistan after performing the Hajj, at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Thursday, August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)
Updated 22 August 2019

Hajj pilgrims return home in Pakistan to hero’s welcome 

  • Over 200,000 pilgrims expected to return through 500 flights between August 17-September 15
  • Rules relaxed to allow maximum family members and friends to enter airports to receive pilgrims 

KARACHI: Retired school teacher Muhammad Saleh lives in Naushahro Feroze, a small city of 1.6 million in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, some 342 kilometers away from the port city of Karachi. On Wednesday, Saleh and dozens of his relatives and friends made the grueling journey from their hometown to Karachi, traveling through the night to reach Jinnah International Airport in time on Thursday morning to receive his nephew who was returning home from the Hajj.

Gul Faqir, a resident of Naushahro Feroze, poses for a photo with relatives and friends at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport upon his arrival from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after performing the Hajj on Thursday, August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

As Abdul Hakeem appeared through the international arrivals gate, Saleh and others accompanying him rushed to hug and kiss the pilgrim and put garlands made of flowers and currency notes around his neck. 
Hakeem is one of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the globe who have begun returning to their home countries since last week to a hero’s welcome after performing the annual pilgrimage to the Great Mosque of Makkah in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, one of Islam’s most holy rites. 
Pakistan began its post-Hajj flight operations last Saturday as a Saudi airliner brought more than 200 passengers to Karachi. Over 200,000 pilgrims are expected to return home from Saudi Arabia through 500 flights between August 17 and September 15, according to airport authorities.

People pose for a selfie as they wait for a relative to arrive at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Thursday on August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

“We have come in four cars and on our return journey, as we get closer to our hometown, more cars will join us and it will be a full-scale motorcade by the time we reach our home,” Saleh told Arab News before the arrival of the Saudi Airlines flight carrying over 200 pilgrims from Jeddah, including his nephew.
He said when a pilgrim returned to his hometown, it was as if a VIP person, or a top government minister, was visiting. 
“He or she is more special than a bride or bridegroom,” he said, adding that people traveled from far and wide to reach the airport to greet returning pilgrims because they wanted to be the first to see the eyes of someone who had “been looking at the Kaʿbah and Roza-e-Rasool (PBUH) for forty long days.”
Mujtaba Baig, a Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson in Karachi, said if a regular international flight attracted around 100 people to the airport, including cab drivers of hotels, thousands thronged to welcome returning pilgrims. Zafar Aitemad Siddiqui, the chief operating officer of the Karachi airport, said rules had been relaxed to allow a maximum number of people to enter airports to receive Hajj flights.

Pilgrims arrive at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on August 22, 2019. (AN Photo)

In homes around the city, too, families and friends prepared for pilgrims to return, cleaning their neighborhoods, arranging lavish banquets and buying gifts. 
“My uncle will especially come from Lahore to receive his brother,” said Noman Bashir, the son of Bashir Ahmed who will return from the Hajj on August 30. “We have cleaned our street which will be decorated a day before my father’s arrival. We have made all arrangements for a grand dinner and chosen the best rice, curry and sweet dishes for over two hundred guests.”

People from remote areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh province travel on buses and wagons to reach Karachi's Jinnah International Airport to receive pilgrims returning from the Hajj. Photo taken on August 22, 2019 (AN Photo)

After the dinner on the day of his father’s arrival, Noman said his father would begin visiting people’s homes for feasts held in his honor. 
“We have confirmed ten invitations from relatives and friends,” Bashir said. “Hajj is a special occasion; in our family, we make it memorable for those performing it.”

Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

Updated 16 September 2019

Blasphemy accusation in Pakistan sparks ransacking of Hindu temple, school

  • The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy

KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: A crowd in Pakistan ransacked a school and Hindu temple after a Hindu principal was accused of blasphemy, police said on Monday, the latest case to raise concern about the fate of religious minorities in the predominantly Muslim country.
The violence erupted in the southern province of Sindh after a student accused the Hindu principal of blasphemy in comments about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. The enraged crowd ransacked the school and damaged a nearby temple, a district police chief said.
The principal had been taken into protective custody and police were investigating both the alleged blasphemy and the rioters, he added.
“It seems the principal had not done anything intentionally,” the district police chief, Furrukh Ali, told Reuters.
Insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim and has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of it.
Rights groups say the blasphemy law is often exploited by religious hard-liners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle scores.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan condemned the weekend violence, footage of which was recorded in a video and circulated on social media. It called on authorities should take prompt action.
“The video ... is chilling: mob violence against a member of a religious minority is barbaric, unacceptable,” the commission said in a post on Twitter.
Hindus make up about 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s population of 208 million, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.
In January, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of a Christian women who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in a case that had drawn alarm from religious and human rights advocates.
In March, Pakistan’s government sacked a provincial minister for making offensive comments about Hindus as tension between Pakistan and Hindu-majority neighbor India ran high after a militant attack in the Indian-controlled portion of the contested Kashmir region.