Hundreds Of Indian Sikhs Make Historic Pilgrimage To Pakistan

The Shrine of Baba Guru Nanak Dev at Gurdwara Darbar Sahib is seen in Pakistan’s town of Kartarpur near the Indian border on November 8, 2019. A corridor that will allow Sikhs to cross from India into Pakistan to visit one of the religion’s holiest sites is set to open on November 9, with thousands expected to make a pilgrimage interrupted by decades of conflict.
AAMIR QURESHI / AFP

 

Hundreds of Indian Sikhs made a historic pilgrimage to Pakistan on Saturday, crossing through a white gate to reach one of their religion’s holiest sites, after a landmark deal between the two countries separated by the 1947 partition of the subcontinent.

Cheering Sikhs walked joyfully along the road from Dera Baba Nanak in India towards the new immigration hall that would allow them to pass through a secure land corridor into Pakistan, in a rare example of cooperation between the nuclear-armed countries divided by decades of enmity.

Some fathers ran, carrying their children on their shoulders.

Buses were waiting on the Pakistani side to carry them along the corridor to the shrine to Sikhism’s founder Guru Nanak, which lies in Kartarpur, a small town just four kilometres (2.5 miles) inside Pakistan where he is believed to have died.

“Generally people say that God is everywhere. But this walk feels like I’m going to directly seek blessings from Guru Nanak,” Surjit Singh Bajwa told AFP as he walked towards the corridor, crying as he spoke.

At 78, he is older than India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars already and nearly ignited a fourth earlier this year.

For up to 30 million Sikhs around the world, the white-domed shrine is one of their holiest sites.

However for Indian Sikhs, it has remained tantalisingly close — so close they could stand at the border and gaze at its four cupolas — but out-of-reach for decades.

When Pakistan was carved out of colonial India at the end of British rule in 1947, Kartarpur ended up on the western side of the border, while most of the region’s Sikhs remained on the other side.

Since then, the perennial state of enmity between India and Pakistan has been a constant barrier to those wanting to visit the temple, known in Sikhism as a gurdwara.

Pilgrims on both sides of the border hoped the corridor might herald a thaw in South Asian tensions.

“When it comes to government-to-government relations, it is all hate and when it comes to people-to-people ties, it’s all love,” one of the Sikh pilgrims, who did not give his name, told Pakistani state TV as he crossed.

Among the first pilgrims was former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who told Pakistani state media that it was a “big moment”.

The opening even inspired a singular message of gratitude from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan for “respecting the sentiments of India”.

For his part, Khan said a day would come “when our relations with India will improve”.

“I am hopeful that this the beginning,” he told the pilgrims at the shrine.

– Sacred land –
For years India had been asking Pakistan to grant Sikhs access to the shrine.

Many believe it has happened now because of the friendship between Khan, a World Cup winning cricketer-turned politician, and India’s Navjot Singh Sidhu — another cricketer-turned-politician.

“When Sidhu asked me to open the border, I kept it in my mind,” Khan told devotees Saturday.

He compared the situation to Muslims being able to see holy sites in Medina, but never visit.

The opening comes just days ahead of the Guru Nanak’s 550th birthday on November 12 — an anniversary of huge significance for the global Sikh community, and which may also have played a role in the timing.

Sikhs from around the world have been arriving in Pakistan ahead of the celebrations for days already.

An estimated 7,000 were at the shrine to hear Khan’s speech, though it was not clear how many had come via the corridor and how many had arrived from elsewhere. Indian officials said just 700 were expected to cross through the corridor Saturday.

Many were emotional, some in tears. Others posed for selfies before a giant gold- and silver-coloured kirpan, the dagger which Sikhs must carry with them at all times as an article of their faith.

The Sikh faith began in the 15th century in Punjab, a region including Kartarpur which is split today between India and Pakistan, when Guru Nanak began teaching a faith that preached equality.

There are an estimated 20,000 Sikhs left in Pakistan after millions fled to India following the bloody religious violence ignited by partition, which sparked the largest mass migration in human history and led to the death of at least one million people.

“Life is short,” said one of the Indian pilgrims, Davinder Singh Wadah.

“Everyone has to go… so why not enjoy life and make this world a heaven, and I think this initiative is the beginning of it.”

Hajj Pilgrimage: Speaker Gbajabiamila, Aisha Buhari Meet In Mecca

 

Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and First Lady, Aisha Buhari, have met in Mecca where they are currently performing the hajj pilgrimage.

Photos of the meeting where share on the Twitter page of the Speaker.

His tweet reads:

With the First Lady @aishambuhari in Mecca. May Allah answer our prayers for unity peace and progress for our beloved country.

The First Lady was also in the holy land in May, when she and President Muhammadu Buhari performed the Umrah.

Below are photos from the meeting.

The Hajj

More than two million Muslims began the annual hajj Friday under sweltering conditions, as the Saudi hosts sought to deter politicisation of the pilgrimage against a backdrop of simmering Gulf tensions.

The hajj, one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings, is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be undertaken by all Muslims with the means at least once in their lives.

It consists of a series of religious rites which are completed over five days in Islam’s holiest city and its surroundings in western Saudi Arabia.

“All of the arms of state have been deployed (and) we are proud to serve as ‘God’s hosts’,” said security forces spokesman Bassam Attia.

“We feel cleansed by achieving this pillar of Islam and meeting people from across the world. It’s marvellous,” said Mohamed Jaafar, a 40-year-old Egyptian pilgrim.

 ‘A golden opportunity’

“It’s an indescribable feeling. You have to live it to understand it,” said an Algerian in his fifties completing the pilgrimage for the first time.

“It’s a golden opportunity and moment,” said his female companion.

Built in a desert valley, Mecca is home to the Kaaba, a cube structure that is the focal point of Islam and draped in a gold-embroidered black cloth.

Muslims around the world pray towards the Kaaba, which is located in the Grand Mosque, and pilgrims walk around it seven times.

Earlier on Friday, worshippers took part in Friday prayers at the mosque.

Pilgrims from around the world then headed on foot or on buses to Mina, a rugged district of Mecca at the base of Mount Arafat, where the faithful will spend Friday night.

A total of “350,000 air-conditioned tents have been pitched” in Mina, a Saudi official said.

Cooling mist sprays were deployed across the area as temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Mobile clinics and ambulances were on standby along the route, while Saudi Red Crescent helicopters monitored the pilgrims’ progress from the sky.

“The whole world is here… being here in Mecca is the best feeling,” beamed Mohamed Barry, a pilgrim from Britain.

Saudi officials said that 2.26 million pilgrims had arrived in Mina by late Friday, of which 1.86 million were from abroad, the state-run SPA news agency reported.

On Saturday worshippers will climb Mount Arafat, also known as the “Mount of Mercy”, for hours of prayers and Koran recitals.

After descending, they will gather pebbles and perform the symbolic “stoning of the devil”.

That marks the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the festival of sacrifice, marked on Sunday.

Pilgrims then return to the Grand Mosque to perform a final “tawaf” or walk around the Kaaba.

‘Politicising the hajj’

This year’s hajj takes place to a backdrop of Gulf tensions following a series of attacks on tankers, the downing of drones and the seizure of ships.

Riyadh blames regional foe Tehran for the attacks on commercial shipping, accusations Iran vehemently denies.

Despite the absence of diplomatic ties between the two countries, some 88,550 Iranian pilgrims are due to take part in the hajj this year according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

As in previous years, Saudi authorities have been at pains to stress that the hajj is a religious event and have sought to prevent its politicisation.

Riyadh insisted its two-year embargo on Doha — which includes restrictions on Qataris travelling to the kingdom — would not affect the pilgrimage.

But hajj official Hassan Qadi acknowledged “very few Qataris have come to Mecca for the pilgrimage”.

Saudi Arabia’s hajj ministry accused Qatar of “politicising the hajj and creating obstacles for Qatari pilgrims,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The scale of the pilgrimage presents vast security and logistical challenges, with tens of thousands of safety officers deployed.

Riyadh faced strong criticism in 2015 when some 2,300 worshippers were killed in the worst stampede in the gathering’s history.

Nigerian Pilgrims Learn Skills In Israel 

PilgrimsThe yearly performance of pilgrimage is not only the path towards attaining religious heights but should be used to mould the characters of Nigerians.

This is the view of the Director General of the Institute for National Transformation, Professor Vincent Anibogu, who said that grooming Nigerians who partake in pilgrimages is key to attaining attitudinal change in the family and society and large.

He said this at a talk session organized in Israel where about 100 pilgrims from Edo State, South South Nigeria were some of the participants.

The session held after the pilgrims had participated in the primary religious activities which include visitation of remarkable places in Israel, accompanied by songs of worships and prayers.

The training sessions are usually organised for Nigerians who visit the holy land as a way of preparing them to be change agents of their societies.

It also affords Nigerians the opportunity to compare notes in the areas of agriculture, women empowerment and governance

The DG noted that the task ahead of Nigerians is enormous and hoped that some of the skills learned would be used for the development of Nigeria at large.

The Commissioner of Women Affairs in Edo State, Elizabeth Filani as well as the Edo State APC Chairman, Anselm Ojezua, were also part of the training session.

Hajj Stampede Beyond Control – Saudi Mufti

saudi stampedeAuthorities in Saudi Arabia have announced that the stampede that killed hundreds of pilgrims in Mecca during the week was beyond human control.

Saudi Arabia’s most senior cleric, the Grand Mufti, told the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, that he was not to blame for the tragedy.

The Interior Minister’s comments came after Iran and several other countries heavily criticised Saudi authorities for the way safety issues were handled.

King Salman has ordered a safety review into the deadliest incident to occur during the pilgrimage in 25 years.

President Jonathan Leaves For Pilgrimage To Israel On Friday

JonathanPresident Goodluck Jonathan will depart Lagos on Friday to undertake a brief pilgrimage to Israel.

The President, who will be accompanied by the Chaplain of the Presidential Villa, Venerable Obioma Onwuzurumba, and his principal aides will, in addition to visiting Christian Holy sites, join other Nigerian pilgrims in a prayer session for the well-being and progress of the country at an Inter-Denominational Service in Jerusalem on Sunday.

According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, he is expected back in Abuja on Monday.

Before leaving for Israel, President Jonathan would participate in the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the Seme-Krake Joint Border Control Post on Friday morning.

The President would be joined at the event by President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic and officials of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The Seme-Krake Joint Border Control Post is being constructed under the ECOWAS Transport Facilitation Programme which has the objective of boosting trade and economic relations among member countries.

Ebola: Pilgrims Asked To Submit To Screening Measures In Saudi

hajjPilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia for the 2014 Hajj exercise have been advised to submit to Ebola Virus Disease screening exercise and any security measure when they arrive at Saudi.

The Governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Al-makura, gave the advice at a ceremony organised to flag-off the exercise ahead of the pilgrims air lifting in Lafia.

Governor Al-makura urged the pilgrims to exercise restraints and caution in the foreign country.

The government and the people of Nasarawa State have high expectations from the pilgrims while on the holy land, but the major concern is for the pilgrims to intercede for peace in the state.

The Nasarawa State Muslim Welfare Board told reporters on Monday that adequate security and health measures were in place for this year’s Hajj exercise.

The board chairman, Sani Bawa and some of the pilgrims said they were adequately prepared for some of the risk behaviours and how to avoid harmful health and spiritual practices.

“Both security and health measures have been adequately covered for us to enjoy a hitch free exercise,” Mr Bawa said.

A pilgrim, Maryam Umar, said she was confident that the pilgrims would conduct themselves well in Saudi Arabia during the pilgrimage, stressing that the pilgrims were aware of the possible Ebola Virus Disease screening that they could be made to undergo in Saudi.

As excited as the men and women seem about their participation in this year’s Hajj, concerns among the pilgrims have been high with the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Nigeria, a development that has resulted in stringent screening exercises for Nigerians at the port of entry into some foreign country.

How Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission Defrauded Me – Pilgrim

A lawyer and Nigerian pilgrim, Efunbola Coker has described her trip to Israel as ‘horrible,’ stating that the services she paid the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC) for were far from standard.

Mrs Coker while speaking on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily chronicled the events surrounding her journey to the holy land which she said was ‘horrible’.

The lawyer, who disclosed that she paid the sum of N406,450 for the trip, added that the services provided by NCPC especially the hotel accommodation were far below standard.

She said the commission had promised a 5 star or 4 star hotel as part of the benefits the pilgrims were entitled to. However, they did not deliver as promised.

Henry Ezike, who had called her to blame the commission’s agent in Israel. She said her group had met with other Nigerian pilgrims who were given better treatment by their agent.

She said she was forced to find other accommodations for the major part of the 10-day trip.

She demanded that the commission tender an apology and compensation for herself and her travel companions.

3 Nigerian pilgrims die in Saudi Arabia

The Head of the National Hajj Commission, Bello Tambawwal on Sunday said that three Nigeria pilgrims have died in Saudi Arabia.
Mr Tambawwal disclosed this in an interview in Medina, saying the pilgrims were from Kebbi, Kano and Katsina states.

He said the first was a pilgrim from Kano State, who died aboard the plane conveying him and others in the inaugural flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

He said the others died in Medina from illnesses but added that “both of them were in their ripe age at the time of their death.’’

Mr Tambawwal said the Nigerian mission was working hard to ensure that medical services were available to the pilgrims always by operating two clinics in Medina, which rendered services for 24 hours.

He said the commission was working with the medical teams of state pilgrims’ boards to ensure that priority attention was given to the health- care of pilgrims.

He commended the Federal Capital Territory, Edo, Jigawa, Osun and Kogi states for their zeal and commitment to the health-care of their pilgrims and urged others to emulate them.

Mr Tambawwal also commended the states for the thorough screening of intending female pilgrims, which resulted to none carrying a pregnancy unlike in the past.

”Last year we had nine cases of pregnancy cases, resulting in still birth or safe delivery of the babies but we have no pregnancy cases this year,” he said.

Christian pilgrims to pay N406,150 for pilgrimage 2012

The Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission, NCPC, on Wednesday, announced fees of N406,150 for those intending to embark on pilgrimage to Israel for year 2012.

Executive Secretary of the commission, Kennedy Opara, in Abuja, also announced the appointment of two airline, Atlas Jet Airline and Messrs K S Travel/Empire Aviation Services, to airlift pilgrims for this year’s Christian pilgrimage.

On the fees fixed for this year’s pilgrimage, he said: “The package for the 2012 pilgrimage exercise to be paid by intending pilgrims is as follows: pilgrims travelling to Israel alone are to pay N406,150; those going to Israel, Rome or Greece are to pay N529,440, while the special group, which includes the aged and physically-challenged are to pay N400,425.”

He added that President Goodluck Jonathan had approved Easy Link Aviation Service and TAT Nigeria Limited to “be on standby in the event of failure of any of the first approved air carriers.”