Hajj 2012: Saudi Arabia to readmit deported Nigerian pilgrims

Saudi authorities have agreed to allow Nigerian women pilgrims who were deported over lack of male guides to return to the holy land for this year’s Hajj, Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal has said.

Tambuwal, who led a Presidential delegation to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to discuss the mahram impasse, returned to Abuja yesterday, announcing the decision of the Saudis, which paves way for over 1,000 deported women to perform the pilgrimage.

“The first good news is that all of those pilgrims who have secured valid visas are being taken back and the understanding we have secured with them is that they will be allowed entry into Saudi Arabia,” he told journalists soon after his arrival at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport.

“The second success story is that we have reinforced the beautiful long standing relationship between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Assurances have been given to that effect.

“Also if need be we have requested that they extend the time of airlift of pilgrims and also to extend the time of issuance of visa to intending pilgrims.”

The Saudi authorities sent back over 1,000 women pilgrims because they had no male guides (maharam) which they said was an entry requirement for women pilgrims aged below 45.

But Nigeria reacted angrily, suspending airlift of pilgrims for 48 hours.

President Goodluck Jonathan then set up a committee headed by Tambuwal to interface with Saudi Arabia on the matter. Tambuwal’s team waited for over a week before they received the go-ahead to meet with officials in Jeddah.

In the meantime, the Saudis refused to buckle, forcing Nigeria to eat the humble pie and re-start ferrying pilgrims while ensuring each woman had a male guide thenceforth.

Airlift is scheduled to end in two weeks, but with thousands of intending pilgrims yet to be airlifted Nigeria is likely to require an extension of the deadline.

Tambuwal said a request for extension of airlift time and visa issuance still being considered “but we have secured understanding with them that those who have valid visas will be taken back to Saudi Arabia.”

On the issue of male guides, Tambuwal said: “Under Islamic jurisprudence, muharram (sic) is a requirement but there are different kinds of muharram.

“We have the Maliki, the Shafi’i, the Hambali and the Hanafi (schools of thought). These are the more pronounced schools and they have their different classification and definition of muharram and we have passed across that message to them and we believe they understand and reason with us that here in Nigeria the predominant Islamic school of jurisprudence is Maliki school of thought which allows for a group muharram.”

He said at their meeting, the Saudi Arabian team was led by their minister for Hajj affairs Bandar Al Hajjar.

Members of the Nigerian delegation are Emir of Zuru Alhaji Sani Sami, Alhaji Aminu Dantata, chairman of the Nigerian Hajj commission Alhaji Mohammed Bello, Professor Shehu Galadanchi and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs II Nuruddeen Mohammed.

Also in the trip were the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Defense, Bashir Adamu; deputy chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Anwalu Dahiru Saleh; and Rep. Mohammed Shamsuddeen Ango Abdullahi.

Speaking earlier on Sunday in Jeddah, Tambuwal urged deported pilgrims not to lose hope of returning. “With the prompt intervention by the Federal Government and the levels of talks held so far, we can only urge the people affected not to be discouraged. A reasonable level of understanding had been reached with the Saudi authorities and it is believed that an amicable truce would be achieved with our visit,” he said.