Religion of Sat, 5 Dec 201526

Muslim, Christian groups kick against establishment of NPA

Muslim and Christian groups have kicked against the government’s plan to set up a National Pilgrims Authority (NPA) to supervise the management of religious pilgrimages in the country.

Speaking separately at a stakeholders’ conference on the National Pilgrims Authority Bill in Accra on Wednesday, the religious leaders indicated that they did not want the government to exert any authority in the management of Muslim and Christian pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem because pilgrimages were purely religious affairs.

The Muslims indicated that once Hajj was a sacred Islamic institution, its organisation should be the sole preserve of Muslims.

The stakeholders’ conference was organised by the three-member committee set up by President John Dramani Mahama in 2013 to draft a bill for the establishment of the NPA.

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The committee, chaired by the Senior Pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, Rev. Dr Fred Deegbe, has drafted the bill. Other members of the committee are Sheikh Isaak Nuamah, an Islamic scholar, and Dr Abdul Baasit Aziz Bamba, a legal practitioner.

The conference was, therefore, to solicit the input of the Muslim and Christian stakeholders into the Draft Bill.

But it turned out that many of the stakeholders were not in support of the idea of having the NPA. Other suggestions were that Muslims and Christians should have separate NPAs and that the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts should regulate the organisation of pilgrimages.

Even the proposal in the Draft Bill for the setting up of a committee consisting of only Muslims to manage Hajj and a separate committee comprising only Christians to organise Christian pilgrimages did not soften the positions of the stakeholders.

Conveying the position of the Muslim groups, a member of the Advisory Council of the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Armiyawo Shaibu, said it was crucial for the government to avoid a situation where the control and influence over Hajj would be exercised directly or remotely by non-Muslims.

“Control of major activities, processes and procedures related to Hajj must, of necessity, be exercised by Muslims. This is in line with the position that the Muslim community took at the first national Hajj conference in Accra in 2015 - a position that we still maintain,” he indicated.

Sheikh Armiyawo mentioned the Office of the National Chief Imam, the Ghana Muslim Mission, the Ahlussunna Wal Jama’a, the Tijjaniyya Muslim group, the Shia Muslim group and the Coalition of Muslim Organisations, Ghana (COMOG) as members who supported that position.

He said the organisation of Hajj by government-instituted committees had been fraught with mismanagement and the absence of transparency and accountability.

Sheikh Armiyawo, therefore, suggested that the government should rather support the creation of a National Hajj Management Board as proposed in the report on the Stakeholder Hajj Structure Committee.

The General Secretary of the Christian Council, Rev. Dr Kwabena Opuni - Frimpong, the Secretary General of the National Catholic Secretariat, Rev. Father Nicholas Afriyie, and the Bishop of Damongo, Bishop Peter Paul, said there was no need for the government to constitute a constitutional body to manage religious pilgrimages.

Their argument was that the constitution of the NPA would offer governments the opportunity to put their political favourites on the authority.

They indicated also that it was wrong for the government to have the sole responsibility of appointing an executive secretary for the NPA to superintend over religious affairs.

They were of the view that it was Hajj that had a lot of challenges, and, therefore, the Hajj management issues should be addressed separately.

Dr Deegbe said the committee’s mandate was to draft the bill, and indicated that the views of the stakeholders would be communicated to the government.

He said it was the corrupt attitude and poor management style of some religious leaders that prompted the government to want to step in to correct the situation.

In a speech read on his behalf, the Vice-President, Mr Kwesi Bekoe Amissah-Arthur, said the government’s involvement in the management of pilgrimages provided more security for pilgrims and “ensures that they are well protected and respected when on the pilgrimage.”

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