Pakistani businesses that rely on Hajj pilgrims face bleak future

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Updated 29 July 2020

Pakistani businesses that rely on Hajj pilgrims face bleak future

  • The decision to severely restrict this year’s pilgrimage has badly affected nearly 5,000 small businesses in Karachi alone
  • Almost 180,000 Pakistanis planned to take part in the pilgrimage; the nation’s Hajj industry is worth an estimated 160 billion rupees ($1 billion)

KARACHI: Each year in the run-up to the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, hundreds of Pakistanis visit Shaikh Rafi’s store on Karachi’s busy M. A. Jinnah Road to buy prayer mats and ihram clothing, the two seamless pieces of cloth that Muslims wear during Hajj.

But not this year. Since the announcement last month by Saudi authorities that Hajj would be limited to a few thousand pilgrims who reside in the Kingdom, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Rafi has spent his days dusting off unsold goods as he waits anxiously for customers who never arrive.

“This has been our routine for the past couple of months,” said Rafi, whose store is in Karachi’s Allahwala Market.

The plans of about 2.5 million Muslims around the world were upended when this year’s Hajj was scaled down dramatically. In Pakistan, almost 180,000 people had their trips canceled, and the effect on the country’s 160 billion-rupee ($1 billion) Hajj industry has been devastating. Rafi’s store is just one of at least 5,000 small businesses in Karachi that have been badly affected.

“Since the decision by the Kingdom to suspend Umrah flights and limit Hajj, almost all related businesses are experiencing reduced sales,” he said. “We open our shops expecting that someone might come but the day ends with no customers.

Wholesaler Muhammad Rizwan said: “In normal circumstances, people used to buy prayer rugs and caps, before or after performing Hajj or Umrah, as gifts for their relatives and friends — but since the lockdown, the industry has completely shut down.”

Traders say it is not only the lack of sales that is causing problems, but also delayed payments.

“There has been no business for about the past five months and our payments from retailers and shop owners who buy on credit have been held up,” said Muhammad Hanif Katlia, a wholesale supplier of ihram clothing. “Many shopkeepers have defaulted (on their bills) and have not paid rent, and many have fled without paying what is due.”

Some factories that produce goods for the Hajj and Umrah industry have been force to shut down completely, costing jobs, while others have switched to manufacturing other items.

“Production has been stopped for the past five months and we have laid off workers,” said Jannat Gul, whose business manufactures ihram clothing and other Hajj-related products. “There is no buying and selling, and borrowers have not been paying back what they owe since Umrah was suspended due to coronavirus.”

This year is the first time in the modern era that pilgrims from other countries are not allowed into Makkah. According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, which oversees the nation’s Hajj arrangements, 179,210 Pakistanis had registered to attend this year: 71,684 with private tour operators and 107,526 through cheaper, government-supported packages.

Related


Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

Updated 01 October 2020

Indian court accused of ‘betrayal’ over mosque verdict

  • Senior BJP officials acquitted of conspiracy to destroy historic Muslim place of worship

NEW DELHI: A special court in the northern Indian city of Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all 32 politicians and senior leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to demolish the 16th-century Babri Mosque in 1992, ruling that the move was not “preplanned.”

Muslims described the judgment as “yet another betrayal by the judiciary.”

The BJP under the leadership of then-party president Lal Krishna Advani led a political campaign in the late 1980s and early 1990s to build a temple on the site of the disputed 16th-century mosque in the eastern city of Ayodhya, claiming that it was built by the first Mughal ruler Babar. 

On Dec. 6, 1992, in response to a call by BJP leaders, hundreds of Hindu extremists gathered at the disputed site and demolished the mosque, resulting in religious riots across the country that claimed more than 2,000 lives.

Most of the BJP leaders and its affiliates were blamed for razing the Babri Mosque.

However, on Wednesday, Surendra Kumar Yadav, the judge at the special court, said that the demolition of the 500-year-old mosque was not pre-planned.

“They have been acquitted for lack of evidence,” defense lawyer K.K. Mishra said after the verdict.

Muslims reacted to the verdict with disappointment.

“The judgment pronounced by the special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court is wrong. We will appeal in the high court,” Zafaryab Jilani, general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said.

The BJP was elated with the court’s decision.

“It is a moment of happiness for all of us; we chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Hail Ram) after the court’s verdict. The judgment vindicates my personal and BJP’s belief and commitment toward the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. Along with millions of my countrymen, I now look forward to the completion of the beautiful Shri Ram Mandir (temple) at Ayodhya,” 92-year-old Advani, one of the accused in the case, said.

Another BJP leader and former party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, who was also among the accused, called the judgment “historic.”

“This proves that no conspiracy was hatched for the incident in Ayodhya. Our program and rallies were not part of any conspiracy,” Joshi, 86, said.

The verdict comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s controversial judgment giving the disputed land to a Hindu trust and awarding five acres of land to Muslim petitioners to build a structure of their choice at another location in the city.

“It’s a betrayal by the court,” Ayodhya-based Hajji Mahboob, one of the original Muslim petitioners, told Arab News.

“So many BJP leaders have claimed openly that they were involved in demolishing the Babri Mosque. If the court gives this kind of one-sided verdict, I can only say that it is compromised,” he said.

“We know that there cannot be any justice for Muslims in this country because all the decisions given by the courts are wrong,” he added.

Reacting to the verdict, the main opposition Congress party said it was “counter to the Supreme Court judgment.” 

The apex court held that the demolition of the Babri mosque was clearly illegal and an “egregious violation of the rule of law.” 

“But the Special Court exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the Special Court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said.

The demolition of the mosque was “a deep-rooted political conspiracy to destroy the country’s communal amity and brotherhood, and to usurp power at any cost,” he added.

According to Hilal Ahamd, of New Delhi-based think tank Center for the Study of Developing Societies, there is a growing belief among Muslims that India is a Hindu country and “they have to adjust themselves accordingly.”

Meanwhile, former chairman of the minority commission Zafar ul Islam Khan said the verdict will encourage the BJP to take the law into its own hands in the belief that the police and judiciary will protect them.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a New Delhi political analyst who has written several books on the Hindu right-wing politics, said: “The demolition of the mosque was a criminal offense and the failure to establish guilt after 28 years is unfortunate.”

He described the verdict as “a betrayal for Muslims and risky for the security of the country if its largest minority keeps getting marginalized like this.”