Religious affairs minister delivers self-aggrandising speech on foreign trip

Published May 28, 2022
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Mufti Abdul Shakoor speaks during a National Assembly session on Friday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Mufti Abdul Shakoor speaks during a National Assembly session on Friday. — Photo courtesy NA Twitter

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly session was prorogued on Friday without taking up any agenda item on the last day, as Deputy Speaker Zahid Akram Durrani provided full opportunity to Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Mufti Abdul Shakoor to deliver a speech during the question hour to justify his recent visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia in the wake of criticism in some circles.

During a self-praising speech in the name of a policy statement on Haj, the minister told the house he had been invited by some Arab “organisers” to Abu Dhabi to attend a conference on the issue of interfaith harmony and how he managed to get from them a ticket to Saudi Arabia to examine Haj arrangements.

Previously, he said, the former religious affairs ministers used to visit Saudi Arabia for Haj arrangements by using “Pakistan’s national exchequer”, but he had saved money for the country by putting a condition before the UAE organisers that he would attend the event only if they provided him with the ticket for the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

“I told [the organisers] they will have to arrange his air ticket to Saudi Arabia and that not a single rupee of Pakistan will be spent on it,” he boasted, adding that his condition was accepted.

Explains how he managed to get a ticket to Saudi Arabia from UAE to examine Haj arrangements

“I reached Riyadh at their (organisers’) expense without spending a single rupee of Pakistan,” he said, adding that he also attended a Motamar-i-Alam-i-Islami (World Muslim Congress) there.

“Then, at the expense of Arabs, I performed Umrah [and then] started my work and visited houses (where Pakistani pilgrims stay during the Haj),” he added.

Without naming anyone, he said some people were criticising him and saying that he had gone on an excursion trip. Stating that he had never been fond of visiting places for recreation, he declared that no one could prove that he had ever visited a foreign country before becoming MNA. “Yes, I had gone for Haj and Umrah.”

Mufti Shakoor, an MNA of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) from the erstwhile tribal areas, said his speeches in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh were lauded by the religious affairs ministers of the Muslim world and other participants.

The minister said those who had arranged the UAE programme were so impressed with his speech that they came to the airport with him, where they informed him that they had decided to launch 14 scholarship programmes for the Pakistani students.

In his speech, he also lashed out at former prime minister Imran Khan and alleged that there was massive corruption in the Haj affairs during the time of the previous Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government and vowed to expose it. The deputy speaker, who also belongs to the JUI-F, expunged some of Mufti Shakoor’s remarks he had passed for Imran Khan.

The minister said he was making efforts to bring down Haj expenses to Rs650,000. He said Saudi Arabia, which was also facing economic problems, had fixed an expense of 9,500 riyals for each intending pilgrim of D-category, adding that had there been the PTI government, the Haj expense would have been up to Rs1.1 million.

The minister said his ministry had hired residential buildings in Makkah at the rate of 2,100 riyals per head against the rate of 3,500 riyals paid in 2019. Similarly, he said, in Madina, pilgrims had to pay 2,100 riyals per bed for a week, whereas he had brought down the rate to 750 riyals. He said the government of Saudi Arabia had also reduced food and transport expenses at Pakistan’s request.

He said he was shocked to know about the Haj expenses when he was briefed about it after taking charge as the minister.

“I made it clear that I would prefer to resign and leave the government rather than announcing the expensive Haj,” he said amid desk-thumping by some members. He vowed that an affordable package for the minorities would also be introduced soon to facilitate them in visiting their sacred places.

The minister’s claim of reducing the Haj expense to Rs650,000 was challenged by the lone Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) member in the house, Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali, who questioned that if the minister was right, why the banks were collecting Rs800,000 from the intending pilgrims.

Maulana Chitrali said: “If it is correct what the minister has said, I would like to congratulate him. But I want to put a question before the Maulana sahib. On the one hand, the pilgrims are being asked to deposit Rs800,000 and on the other hand, Maulana sahib is saying that they will bring it down to Rs650,000. Take notice of it.”

As Maulana Chitrali began lashing out at the government’s decision to raise fuel prices by Rs30 per litre “on the dictation of the International Monetary Fund”, the deputy speaker started reading out the president’s prorogation order.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022

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