Memories abound as Pakistan says sea travel for Hajj pilgrims to soon resume

A Saudi man looks on as Sudanese pilgrims wait to disembark from a ship after arriving at Jeddah's port on Jan. 3, 2006 for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File)
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Updated 16 November 2020

Memories abound as Pakistan says sea travel for Hajj pilgrims to soon resume

  • The last ship for pilgrims left Karachi for Jeddah in 1994 
  • Preparations underway to resume international travel to Saudi Arabia and Iraq, minister says

KARACHI: Pakistan announced on Saturday that sea travel would soon resume to Jeddah for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, 26 years after the last ship full of pilgrims sailed from the Karachi port-- bringing back fond memories for some.

In 1994, the MV Shams was the last ship that carried pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, amid a boom in air travel that rendered sea trips almost defunct. 

But Pakistan’s federal minister for maritime affairs, Ali Haider Zaidi told Arab News his government has opened the maritime frontiers of Pakistan for sea travel, and would soon resume the ferry service for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims.

“I’m going to start the service for pilgrimage and different destinations of the world, very soon,” Zaidi said.

The policy was approved by the cabinet in September this year, and the minister said he would soon be inviting the private sector to begin ferry services.  

Zaidi said the defense ministry had issued the required No Objection Certificate (NOC) for ferry services to resume, and immigration, customs and other desks-- all required for international travel-- were being set up at the Karachi port in the country’s bustling southern metropolis.

“We will soon see sea travelling to different destinations including Saudi Arabia and Iraq,” the minister said.  

For those who journeyed years ago on one of three ships that sailed for Saudi Arabia until the 90’s-- the Safina Arab, Safina Hujjaj and MV Shams-- Pakistan’s latest announcement brings back memories of a week of journeying on the open water towards Makkah.

“My first journey [to Makkah] was via the sea,” Karachi fisherman Muhammad Ramzan, 90, who travelled by sea for Hajj in 1974, told Arab News.

“I went from Karachi on board Safina Arab. I bought a ticket for Rs. 6000. In air travel, it doesn't take much time. One reaches within three hours. But in those days one would remain at sea for seven days and seven nights before reaching (Jeddah),” he said.




Haji Muhammad Ramzan, a 90 years old fisherman at Karachi's Chashma Goth, speaks to Arab News about his Hajj journey through sea in 1974 on Nov. 13, 2020. (AN photo)

Ramzan said he took his food rations with him and would cook meals for himself and his colleagues. 

“One would get everything on the ship. They would give us food, and prayers would be offered collectively. I would roam the ship like I roam freely here in the city,” he said.

Over two million Muslims from around the world make the journey to Makkah to perform the mandatory Hajj every year, with Pakistanis forming one of the largest nationalities at the holy pilgrimage.

The first ship to set sail from the South Asian, Muslim majority country for Jeddah left in 1952 and the Hajj sea service continued in full swing till the late 70’s.

In recent years, different governments have strived to revive the service but plans have so far failed to materialize. 

Muhammad Saleem Qureshi, 66, a Karachi-based businessman, took the journey to Jeddah via the Safina Hujjaj in 1974, newly married and 20 years old.

“When we started our journey, I was unwell for an hour but as time passed and I woke up the next morning... it was the most beautiful morning of my life,” he said.

“I still remember the twilight. The sun was rising and its rays on the sea made it an amazing scene.” 

“It cannot be explained in words,” he said, and recalled Eid celebrations on the ship on the way home.

“It was strange that we had our Eid on the sea,” he said. “The sailors served us vermicelli with our meals and we greeted each other in the spirit of Eid.” 

For veteran Hajj officials in Karachi, the memories of a camp full of thousands of Hajj pilgrims is laced with nostalgia.

“Here, would be a great and pleasant scene,” Rehan Shafiq, a Hajj official at Karachi’s Hajji camp told Arab News.  

“Pilgrims from different provinces and districts would come and be together, eat their meals together and live like one family,” he said, gesturing at the deserted camp.

“Here, they would be trained for their great Hajj journey.”


Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

Updated 21 min 34 sec ago

Nearly 90% Pakistanis in favor of compulsory Arabic classes — Gallup survey  

  • Senate approved Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 on Feb. 1
  • The bill makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the federal capital

ISLAMABAD: Nearly 90 percent of Pakistanis are in favor of a senate bill that makes Arabic classes compulsory at school, a recent survey shows.

Pakistan’s upper house of parliament last month approved the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020 which makes Arabic classes mandatory at all primary and secondary schools in the capital, Islamabad.

“Eighty-nine percent Pakistanis said that they are in favor of the approval of a Senate bill that calls for Arabic to be a mandatory part of the syllabus in educational institutions,” Gallup & Gilani Pakistan said in the study released on Friday.

The study was carried out on a sample of 1,503 men and women in urban and rural areas of 100 districts of all four provinces of Pakistan between Feb. 6 and Feb. 27.

To become law, the senate bill on Arabic teaching now requires approval by the National Assembly.

The lawmaker who presented the bill, opposition senator Javed Abbasi, argued that a command of Arabic, the official language of over 25 countries, would open up more job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East, leading to lower unemployment and increased remittances.


Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

Updated 07 March 2021

Pakistan Air Force offers support, training to Sri Lankan military

  • Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan earlier this week met Sri Lankan PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials in Colombo
  • Pakistan last month offered a $50 million credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security  

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chief has offered support to and agreed to strengthen cooperation with the Sri Lankan military, PAF said on Saturday.

Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan arrived in Colombo on Thursday, where he met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and top military officials.

As Marshal Khan lauded the efforts of Sri Lankan Armed Forces in their fight against terrorism during a meeting with Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, he offered Pakistan's support and cooperation, PAF said in a statement.


In this photo released by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on March 6, 2021, Pakistan Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan meets Sri Lanka Defense Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne in Colombo. (Photo courtesy: PAF)

"The leaders agreed to further enhance bilateral cooperation especially in training and professional enhancement programs," PAF said, adding that Gen. Gunaratne welcomed the Pakistani air chief's visit as "manifestation of the strong bond between the Armed Forces of both the countries, especially the two Air Forces."

The Pakistani air chief's visit follows Prime Minister Imran Khan's official visit in late February, during which Pakistan offered a $50 million new credit line to Sri Lanka for cooperation in the field of defense and security.


Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

Updated 55 min ago

Train derails killing 1, injuring 40 in southern Pakistan

  • Accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province
  • Eight cars of the 18-car train from Karachi to Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch

MULTAN: Eight cars of a Lahore-bound train derailed in southern Pakistan early Sunday, killing at least one passenger and injuring 40 others, officials said.

The accident took place between the Rohri and Sangi stations in southern Sindh province and caused a temporary suspension of railway traffic in both directions, said Kamran Lashari, a railway official.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the derailment. Train accidents are common in Pakistan, where successive governments have paid little attention to improving the poorly maintained signal system and aging tracks.

Lashari said eight cars of the 18-car train that departed from Karachi for the eastern city of Lahore derailed and six fell into a shallow ditch.

Rescue official Muhammad Arshad said darkness and the remote location of the derailment hampered rescue efforts. He said the body of the woman who died and 40 injured passengers were taken to hospitals in nearby towns. It wasn’t immediately clear how many passengers were on the train.

Railway Minister Azam Sawati told a local television station that the accident was being investigated and the government would provide financial compensation to the heirs of deceased woman and all the injured.


Pakistan’s security forces kill eight militants in North Waziristan — ISPR

Updated 51 min 33 sec ago

Pakistan’s security forces kill eight militants in North Waziristan — ISPR

  • The tribal district bordering Afghanistan remained a militant stronghold for many years until authorities launched military operations in the area
  • The militants killed in the recent attacks were involved in terrorist activities against security forces and locals since 2009

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces conducted two separate intelligence-based operations in North Waziristan district, said the military’s media wing, ISPR, in an official statement on Saturday, adding that eight militants were killed in the ensuing battles. 

The tribal district bordering Afghanistan remained a militant stronghold until Pakistani authorities launched clear-and-hold military operations to destroy the hideouts and communication centers of various proscribed groups. 

The recent operations in the territory were launched against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in which three senior commanders of the outfit were also killed, the ISPR statement informed. 

It added that these people were “involved in terrorist activities against security forces, law enforcement agencies and locals of the area since 2009.” 

The militants used improvised explosive devices and indulged in target killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. 

The statement continued that the TTP members were also involved in recruiting young and impressionable minds, adding that security personnel recovered huge caches of arms from their hideouts. 


PM Khan asks Hafeez Shaikh to continue as finance minister after Senate defeat

Updated 06 March 2021

PM Khan asks Hafeez Shaikh to continue as finance minister after Senate defeat

  • The prime minister expresses his faith in Shaikh's professional abilities while praising him for shoring up the national economy
  • Shaikh can work in his current capacity until June, though the government may try again to get him elected to parliament

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has told his close aide Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to continue working as finance minister after Shaikh lost a general seat from the federal capital to a joint opposition candidate in the recent Senate elections, local media reported on Saturday.
In a one-on-one meeting after securing the vote of confidence from parliament earlier in the day, Khan said he had complete faith in Shaikh's professional abilities and applauded him for shoring up the ailing national economy.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration relied heavily on its finance minister to bring down the current account deficit and keep the financial system on track during the coronavirus pandemic.
After the Islamabad High Court ruled in a case in December that no special assistant or advisor to prime minister could chair or participate in cabinet committee meetings, Khan exercised his constitutional authority to elevate Shaikh as a federal minister for a period of six months.
According to Article 91 (9) of the Constitution, the finance minister cannot be reappointed to the same position as an unelected individual, and his defeat in the Senate election implies he may only be able to serve in his current capacity until June.
According to The Express Tribune, however, the government is likely to make one more effort to get him elected to the upper house of parliament by de-seating an opposition member, Ishaq Dar, who was elected to the Senate from Punjab in 2018 but did not take oath to the office.