Hajj brings peace hopes to Pakistan

Islamabad, November 01: Charging their batteries for the soul-searching journey, Pakistani pilgrims are heading for the holy lands in Saudi Arabia with hopes that hajj will bring peace to their violence-wracked country.

“This year’s Hajj has much more importance for us as compared to any other country as we have been facing a total chaos,” Hashmat Hashmat Khan, 53, told on Saturday, October 31.

“I am hopeful that our journey to the Holy land will bring peace to our beloved country.”

Pakistan has been plagued by a deadly cycle of violence since the 2001 US invasion of neighboring Afghanistan.

The country has been rocked by deadly bombings that killed hundreds of civilians over Islamabad’s participation in America’s so-called war on terror.

“I believe that the growing chaos in the country is because of our wrong deeds,” said Hashmat.

“We all must bow to Allah and invoke His blessings. And Hajj will provide us a great opportunity to rejuvenate our spirits and vow to return to the path of Allah.

“Even before Islam, Arab tribes would stop wars at the time of Hajj. I expect the same from the warring sides in Pakistan,” he said.

The father of three is preparing to head with his wife for Saudi Arabia for hajj, to start next month.

“My heart danced with joy when I came to know that my and my wife’s applications (for Hajj journey) have been accepted,” he said.

Nearly 169,000 Pakistani pilgrims will perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, this year.

Almost half of the pilgrims are performing the ritual through a government-sponsored scheme.

Under the government scheme, pilgrims pay between RS 160,000 ($2000) to RS 180,000 ($2300) for hajj.

The first batch of Pakistan pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia on October 21.

Every able-bodied adult Muslim — who can financially afford the trip — must perform hajj once in their lifetime.

Around three million pilgrims from over 160 countries are expected to perform hajj this year, which is expected to climax on November 26, when the faithful descend the Mount `Arafat.

Pakistani pilgrims are unfazed by the growing concerns over the spread of swine flu virus during the Muslim ritual.

“What the guarantee that I would be alive next year?” asked Hashmat.

“When there is no guarantee then why should I miss the chance?

“I have been by Him (Allah). I will be His guest, and He will take care of everything,” a devout Hashmat said.

“Inshaullah (God willing) nothing will happen.”

Concerns have been growing over the spread of the swine flu (H1N1), a mixture of various swine, bird and human viruses, which first emerged in Mexico in April.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the virus is moving around the globe at “unprecedented speed.”

The virus has so far killed more than 3,917 people in 191 countries.

Pakistani authorities have issued a swine flu warning for the pilgrims.

“We have informed all the Hajjis about the swine flu threat,” Agha Qazalbash, the secretary of Hajj and religious affairs, said.

“We have just asked them to take precautionary measures against this disease. They have been advised to take extra face masks with them from Pakistan.”

Hashmat says he will take all precautionary measures to avoid contracting the virus during the ritual.

“This is the command of noble Prophet Muhammad (be peace upon him) to take precautionary measures first and then let it be on Allah,” he said.

“I will not take it (swine flue threat) easy.”

Rozina Begum, Hashmat’s wife, is also resolved to go on hajj despite calls by relatives to miss the ritual this year over the virus.

“I consider myself so lucky because people apply for years and years and then their turn comes. We applied for the first time, and we got that,” she said.

“Why should we give up if Allah wants to bring us to His house,” a jubilant Rozina said.

“I don’t know that I will be alive next year or not. So I am not at all ready to miss this chance.”