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.”


England pile up mammoth 657 against Pakistan in first Test

Updated 02 December 2022

England pile up mammoth 657 against Pakistan in first Test

  • England became the first team to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match
  • Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood conceded 235 for his four wickets, the most by a bowler on a Test debut

RAWALPINDI: England piled up a mammoth 657 runs before being all out Friday on the second day of the first Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Resuming at 506-4, the tourists added 151 runs in 125 minutes, with Harry Brook taking his overnight score of 101 to 153 -- one of four centurions in the innings.
Skipper Ben Stokes (41), debutant Liam Livingstone (nine), and Brook -- were all dismissed by pacer Naseem Shah, who finished with 3-140.
Leg-spinner Zahid Mahmood conceded 235 for his four wickets -- the most by a bowler on a Test debut.
On Thursday England became the first team to score 500 runs on the opening day of a Test match, bettering Australia's 112-year-old record of 494-6 against South Africa in Sydney.
Zak Crawley (122), Ollie Pope (108), and Ben Duckett (107) were the other centurions in the innings.
The three-match Test series is England's first in Pakistan for 17 years.


Pakistan led efforts for climate ‘loss and damage’ fund, now world should deliver — PM

Updated 02 December 2022

Pakistan led efforts for climate ‘loss and damage’ fund, now world should deliver — PM

  • Group of 134 states led by flood-battered Pakistan presented united front at UN summit
  • Details on how fund will operate, where it will source money will be worked out by a committee

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said Pakistan had led the effort at last month’s UN climate summit to get a deal approved for funding arrangements for climate change impacts suffered by vulnerable countries, but now the world needed to “deliver” on the landmark development.

Two-week talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh ended last month with a deal to establish a ‘loss and damage’ fund to help vulnerable countries pay their rising costs of climate damage. The details on how the fund will operate and how it will source money will be worked out by a committee in the coming year.

A group of 134 African, Asian and Latin American states and small island nations, led by flood-battered Pakistan, presented a united front to push through the controversial fund.

“Pakistan ably led the Global South in crafting a consensus towards climate justice. The journey has only begun,” Sharif said on Twitter.

“The world needed to continue with a win-win approach to deliver on the landmark development. Transitional Committee has its plate full with time running out fast. We have to build on the hope by resetting our priorities for a bright future.”

While climate activists have broadly welcomed the new fund, they are cautious that many aspects of its governance are still to be resolved, and it is unclear how much money it will be able to raise and from where.

The United States, European governments and other industrialised countries had swung their weight behind the fund after years of resistance, their opposition rooted in fears of being held financially liable for the impacts of their historically high greenhouse gas emissions.

But that line became tougher to hold amid the "growing gravity, scope and frequency in all regions of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change," as the final "Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan" noted.

Climate "loss and damage" includes not just harm to people, their homes and infrastructure from disasters such as floods, droughts and storms but also forced displacement from slower impacts such as sea level rise, as well as losses of cultural heritage and community livelihoods, it added.

The new fund will differ from other UN-backed climate funds because it will gather money from a far wider range of sources, including development banks and innovative sources of finance such as taxes on fossil fuels or airlines.

Traditional donor governments, including European Union (EU) members and the United States, insisted on this as a condition for supporting the fund.

They faced push-back from China and other emerging economies, so the thorny issue of who exactly will pay into the fund was put off to be settled later.

The United States and other nations have argued that China, as the world's biggest climate polluter since 2006, should have a role in contributing to the fund, which Beijing has rejected.


In Pakistan’s southwest, two Pashtun women footballers score against taboos

Updated 02 December 2022

In Pakistan’s southwest, two Pashtun women footballers score against taboos

  • Rozi Bakht and Masnoora Kakar are the first female footballers in Balochistan from ethnic Pashtun families
  • The young sports women want to serve as an inspiration for other girls from their impoverished towns

QUETTA: Two women footballers in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province are shooting for greater inclusion for women from their ethnic Pashtun community, hoping that they can become an example for other girls from their impoverished hometowns who want to pursue sports.

Meet Rozi Bakht, 23, and Mansoora Kakar, 22, who are the only women footballers in Balochistan who hail from the conservative ethnic group, the Pashtuns.

“In my village, there are meager educational facilities for girls, so how can a girl even think about playing football or any other sport?” Bakht, who hails from the remote town of Tuba Kakari in Balochistan’s backward Pishin district told Arab News, outlining her battles against both poverty and the conservative values of her community.

This undated file photo shows Pakistani woman footballer Mansoora Kakar in action. (AN photo)

But the hurdles did not dampen Bakht’s enthusiasm and passion for the sport and she began to regularly attend practice sessions at the Balochistan Women’s Football Academy (BWFA).

For the last three years, she has been the captain of her team, whose coach is a man.

“It was very challenging for me to seek permission from my parents but despite negative criticism, including attacks on my character, my father allowed me to play because he trusted me,” Bakht said during a practice session with more than a dozen other girls at a small futsal ground in Quetta on a chilly evening last week.

Bakht is the only woman from her district who plays football at the provincial level, and hopes to be a source of encouragement for other girls in her village who have a passion for sports.

Just like Bakht, Kakar, another Pashtun girl who belongs to Kuchlak, a town on the outskirts of  Quetta, is also the first women footballer from her home district. She joined the Balochistan Women’s Football Academy two years ago.

Dressed in a black tracksuit that she paired with a red head scarf, Kakar cheered along with her teammates after scoring a goal during a practice match last Saturday. Now a forward player in the team, she too spoke about the hardships she had to face when she initially expressed her desire to join sports.

“I had a passion for football since my childhood, I used to play in my home but when I enrolled myself in college, I started playing there,” Kakar told Arab News. “But when I came to know that there is a football club [for females], I came here. Now it's been two years that I am in this team.”

“When I asked for permission to play football, my family refused because it was very difficult for me to commute for practices as the ground was 30km away from my home,” Kakar added.

“I come for my regular practice matches via a local bus which is the only affordable source of transportation for me because my father and brothers have their own work and can’t provide me pick and drop services.”

This undated file photo shows footballers Rozi Bakht, second left, and Mansoora Kakar, left, during a practice session in Quetta, Pakistan. (AN photo)

Many girls in Kuchlak, Kakar said, had a passion for sports, particularly football, but couldn’t play due to familial and cultural barriers.

But Muhammad Yasir Khan, 22, the head coach at the women's academy, hoped more girls would join the football club.

“The presence of sportswomen from the Pashtun belt,” he said, “is very limited which needs to be increased.”


UAE remains largest relief assistance provider to flood-affected people in Pakistan — envoy

Updated 02 December 2022

UAE remains largest relief assistance provider to flood-affected people in Pakistan — envoy

  • The embassy of the Arab state organized a colorful ceremony to celebrate its 51st National Day
  • The ceremony was also attended by senior Pakistani ministers, politicians and veteran diplomats

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan’s flood-affected families, said its envoy on Thursday while addressing a ceremony in the federal capital to celebrate the 51st National Day of his country.
The event was organized by the UAE embassy to highlight the culture of the Arab state by setting up colorful stalls and arranging traditional dance performances.

UAE citizens performs traditional dance to celebrate their country's 51st National Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 1, 2022. (AN photo)

Pakistan’s defense minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif cut the cake as the chief guest of the ceremony which was also attended by information minister Maryam Aurangzeb and other political leaders and diplomats.
UAE Ambassador Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi welcomed the guest while pointing out his country’s relations with Pakistan had only become stronger with time.
“As the wise leadership of UAE always stood first to assist and provide humanitarian support to the brotherly Pakistani people, as and when needed in times of national crisis and natural calamities, it remained the largest relief assistance provider to the flood affectees,” he said.
Al-Zaabi noted an airbridge of humanitarian aid had been immediately established after the floods on the directives of President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
“The airbridge of humanitarian aid established by UAE carried 57 flights to Pakistan and 205 containers carrying thousands of tons of foods, health packages and various shelter materials,” he continued.

Other than that, he added, several non-governmental organizations based in his country, such as the UAE Red Crescent and Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation, were still working in the field to provide rescue and relief assistance to the survivors of the devastating floods.
Al-Zaabi said the UAE believed that the future of regional security depended on strong multilateral partnerships and a common commitment to stability and prosperity through peaceful political and economic means.
“As home to more than 200 nationalities from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, the UAE is deeply committed to safeguarding human rights and building upon its steady progress in this field,” he continued. “Over the years, the UAE has signed several treaties to protect human rights and, in October 2021, the UAE won the membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the 2022-2024 term for the third time in its history.”

The UAE embassy arranged a colorful event in Islamabad, Pakistan, on December 1, 2022, to celebrate the Arab state's 51st National Day. (AN photo)

The UAE envoy said his country had adopted strategies that stimulated economic diversification by moving away from oil and working for greater prosperity by relying on scientific and technological progress.
Speaking on the occasion, Pakistan’s information minister congratulated the government and people of UAE on their National Day on behalf of her country.
“The UAE is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and one of the largest foreign investors,” she said while adding that Pakistani people considered the Arab state as their second home.
“The two countries have established brotherly relations based on common heritage and multilateral cooperation,” she added.


After success of Maula Jatt, biopic on iconic Pakistani wrestler Gama Pehlwan in the works

Updated 02 December 2022

After success of Maula Jatt, biopic on iconic Pakistani wrestler Gama Pehlwan in the works

  • ‘The Great Gama’ is expected to feature international cast and crew in addition to Pakistani artists
  • Gama Pehlwan remained India’s undefeated wrestling champion during the early 20th century

KARACHI: After the enormous success of “The Legend of Maula Jatt,” veteran Pakistani scriptwriter Nasir Adeeb is working on the dialogues of a new film focusing on the life of a legendary wrestler, Gama Pehlwan.

Born as Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt in a traditional Kashmiri Muslim family in 1878, Gama remained India’s undefeated wrestling champion during the early 20th century.

Even after more than five decades of his death, he continues to be a major inspiration for wrestlers in Pakistan.

“People are not expecting an ordinary film from me after Maula Jatt,” Adeeb told Arab News, adding “The Great Gama” would make an attempt to do justice with the iconic wrestler’s larger-than-life persona.

“The film will feature original events from his life, though we will tweak the rest of the story around it,” he continued. “We are not making a documentary. We are making a film.”

Adeeb said he found the idea of making the film on Gama “unique” since no one in Pakistan had tried to bring him to life on the big screen. He added he had been reading a lot about the subject while writing the script.

“A book has been published on him in India,” he informed. “We are getting it delivered here. I have already read everything on him that is available on Google.”

Gama was popular for defeating his opponents within the first few minutes of the fight. He also challenged several national and international players and overpowered them during the peak of his youth.

“I found him to be a very intriguing character,” said producer Shayan Khan whose company, Zashko Films, is working on the project. “I feel that Gama’s strength is very inspiring. It can set an example for our youth that anything is possible if we put our mind to it. Gama went around the world while proving the strength of our region.”

Khan hoped the film would be released in 2023 after being shot abroad with international cast and crew.

“We will have locations in the European and North American region as well as Pakistan,” he said. “Our goal will be to use as much cast and crew from Pakistan as possible.”