“An account of Issues faced by Overseas Pakistanis willing to Perform Hajj”
I and my younger brother are residing in Qatar with our wives and kids; our parents and majority of family lives in Karachi. I and my family were too concerned about getting my parents to Hajj for the past few years. Both my father and mother are around 60 years of age. I somehow convinced them to go to Hajj this year and subsequently started gathering information about criterion and documents required during the application process. Our initial group was formed of 6 persons including My Parents, Me, my wife with an infant son and my mother in Law (living in Punjab). Keeping the growing good reputation of Government Hajj scheme, we decided to try our luck with the same. The main questions that arose were as below:
1. How can Overseas Pakistanis apply through government scheme and how the Passports will be shipped to and from Pakistan for Visa purpose. Can we form same group with our parents?
2. Can a person living in Punjab make a group with those living in Sindh?
3. Is an Infant aged one and a half years allowed to go with Parents?
I started from calling the Ministry of Religious Affairs Office in Islamabad who were very helpful and Co-operative. They responded affirmatively to the above questions. They said that you have to come to Pakistan about 2 months in advance for the visa purpose; I said that I cannot have such a long leave from my company. “Once your Hajj application is approved, you can write an application to the Ministry requesting special handling of your application as per your constraints; hopefully they will resolve this issue”. Then to further refine my plan, I called Haji camp in Karachi and discussed my situation with the responsible person there. He was also very considerate and co-operative. “You apply for Hajj and once your application is approved, we will handle everything Insha-Allah” he said. Now, I was quite satisfied and confident and gave green signal to my father to go ahead with the application process explaining him the strategy.
With the passage of time, 6 more family members were added to our Hajj group making a handsome potential group of 12 including an infant. Our family chose Seelani Welfare trust for filing our Hajj application who applied our Hajj application for initial screening in the local bank. I was alerted by my relatives that Seelani and bank showed reservations on my application due to residence abroad and cannot assure of my application. “The only option is that you come here in Ramadan to give your passport for visa stamping” they told me. I then again contacted the Ministry of Religious affairs who again told me the same thing (as mentioned above) but without taking any responsibility on their part. I then contacted Embassy of Pakistan in Qatar who told me “Sorry we are not doing anything regarding Hajj applications and you should contact relevant ministry in Islamabad”. “As you know I cannot get such a long leave of about 3.5 months and can you provide me assistance transferring my passport for this purpose within your diplomatic mail?” I asked. “We usually do not do handle passports, you can come and contact Higher Officials for special consideration” they said. During all this activity, I observed that there is no proper procedure for Hajj application of Overseas Pakistanis; there are different un-conventional way-outs but ON YOUR OWN RESPONSIBILITY. While the applications were finalized by the bank, the bank manager demanded that all the applicants must be present in front of him and that he will not entertain applications of absentees like us (living elsewhere). So dream of doing Hajj with my parents received a major blow. The feelings cannot be explained in words…
I kept on trying my luck through various different Channels. I applied for Hajj application through the online system practiced in Qatar; here I found out that only people living for 3 years or more here are eligible for application. So my wife’s application was automatically rejected due to this clause.
Overseas Pakistan nationals usually go to Hajj via Hajj Quota given for Expats in few countries OR through Private scheme in Pakistan. In private Hajj scheme, they apply via private tour operators and send their passports with their acquaintances back home and then after visa stamping somebody coming back from Pakistan bring their passport back. But worthy to mention, this is illegal practice as per rule #6 listed down at the last page of Pakistani Passports (see Image below). “Sending passport through mail or some other way is illegal as per Laws”. The second option via private scheme is to go back to Pakistan about 7-10 days ahead of Hajj flight and the resourceful Hajj Operator gets visa stamped within this time; this way is usually more expansive than normal channels.
I contacted one of such private tour operator by which one of my friend went to Hajj 2 years back. “We will do everything for you; you just need to send us documents and payment on time”. When he came to know that my parents have applied via Government Hajj scheme, he said “Ohh Son what have you done”. “What happened?” I asked him. “Son the difference between Government and Private Hajj Schemes is same as the difference between Civil Hospital and Agha Khan Hospital, government Hajj scheme leave people helpless at times” he said.”People dealing with us are majorly from America, UK and Gulf countries” he told me proudly. I absorbed the situation somehow. I contacted few other Hajj Operators in Pakistan and followed their Facebook pages as well. While explaining their Packages the most marketed things were Buffet, type and variety of food/drinks, the quality and standard of hotel etc. The whole episode seemed to be a mere Business dealing leading to a leisure holiday rather than a spiritual journey; Ahhh…
After considering my budget, level of risk/uncertainty involved and intend of not taking un-due favor from my colleagues and acquaintances; I dropped Private Hajj Option. Now I was relying upon my pending online application through Qatar ministry of Islamic Affairs. While I browsed my chances through this option I came to know that Qatar has only 1200 Nos. this year due to renovation of Haram out of which only 300 were available for non-Qataris like me. My chances were lean and wrapped up soon after.
I reached Karachi at the end of August, 2015 where my uncle was Co-coordinating with his friend tour operator for any probable chance (on waiting List) which never came my way. One option was to get visit visa and perform Hajj without Official documents; I discarded this option as I was not ready to perform Hajj in this way. Reduced 8 family members went on to Hajj with majority of elders. Luckily one of my cousins Farrukh Shah went with this group and played a brilliant and memorable role (like an angel) especially for my mother who needed special attention on wheel chair. May Allah grant him all success and satisfaction in life and hereafter.
I was continuously following website of Ministry of Religious affairs Pakistan over past year. The ministry shared useful information all the time and also kept people informed and educated though newspapers. The good intention and sincerity was very much visible. My family on Hajj was praising Pakistani delegates on such wonderful arrangements for the pilgrims. I would like to congratulate Government of Pakistan, Minister for Religious Affairs Sardar Muhammad Yousuf and all his team for their efforts. They are gaining confidence and respect every passing year and will remain in our prayers forever.
However, the purpose of writing my struggle is very simple i.e. to let resourceful people know about unseen issues faced by overseas Pakistanis. Above events are just a summary, if I try to note down a detailed review; it would become a small booklet of problems I faced while trying to be a Hajj Companion with my parents. There is no proper procedure and policy for us and people have to spend more money and find un-conventional/risky procedures to perform Hajj. Government should consider devising an appropriate Hajj application structure for 6.5 Million (Approx) Overseas Pakistanis around the world. This can be easily done via Embassies. Such efforts will certainly go a long way; serving Millions of patriotic overseas brothers and sisters and earning priceless payers.
By: Muhammad Sultan Shah