Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain meeting with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah on May 21, 2024, in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. (Photo Courtesy: Pakistani religious affair ministry)
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Updated 21 May 2024
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Pakistan religion minister applauds Saudi Arabia for innovation in facilitation of Hajj pilgrims

  • Hajj is one of five pillars of Islam and requires every Muslim to undertake the journey at least once
  • Around 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of the next month’s pilgrimage

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Religious Affairs Minister Chaudhry Salik Hussain on Tuesday met with Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Tawfiq bin Fawzan Al-Rabiah and commended the innovative reforms implemented by the Saudi authorities to facilitate Hajj pilgrims, the Pakistani religious affair ministry said.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
According to Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry, 26,711 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Saudi Arabia ahead of next month’s Hajj, less than two weeks after Pakistan kicked off its pre-Hajj flight operation.
Hussain arrived in Saudi Arabia last week to review Pakistan’s arrangements for Hajj pilgrims and has since toured various departments as well as met with Saudi authorities.
“Hussain appreciated the innovative and exemplary reforms of the Saudi authorities for the facilitation of Hajj pilgrims arriving in the Kingdom from across the globe,” Pakistan’s religious affairs ministry said in a statement.
The two figures had a detailed discussion regarding bilateral relations and arrangements for Hajj 2024, according to the statement. Hussain lauded the Kingdom for extending the best facilities and excellent support to the pilgrims.
He described the progress on new Pakistan Houses, which house the country’s Hajj missions, in Makkah and Madinah as “positive.”
“Saudi companies responsible for providing services under the leadership of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah are doing a good job,” Hussain was quoted as saying in the statement.
Hussain also discussed the matter of pending transport contracts for 40,000 Pakistani Hajj pilgrims facilitated by private tour operators, to which the Saudi minister assured him the matter would be resolved within the next few days.
“Pakistan’s Hajj group operators should reform and follow Saudi directives,” Hussain urged, saying his ministry would take action if pilgrims faced inconvenience due to private operators.
Pakistan has a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which 63,805 people will perform the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest will use private tour operators. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to run from June 14 till June 19.


Pakistanis sacrifice animals worth $1.8 billion on Eid Al-Adha as charities cut reliance on hides

Updated 34 min 22 sec ago
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Pakistanis sacrifice animals worth $1.8 billion on Eid Al-Adha as charities cut reliance on hides

  • Pakistan’s exports of leather products declined from $677 million to $624 million from July 2023 to May 2024, statistics bureau says
  • The decline affected prices of animal hides and Eid Al-Adha now provides 20 percent of the raw materials to the country’s leather industry

KARACHI: Pakistani Muslims have sacrificed more than 6 million animals worth around Rs500 billion ($1.8 billion) during the three-day Eid Al-Adha festival, according to estimates shared by Pakistani tanners on Wednesday, with charities cutting their reliance to generate revenues.
Muslims celebrate three-day Eid Al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, by slaughtering animals such as cattle and goats and sharing their meat among family and friends and the poor. It commemorates Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismail, on God’s command.
This year 6.8 million animals, including 2.9 million cows, 3.3 million goats, 385,000 sheep, 98,700 camels and 165,000 buffalos, were sacrificed, according to preliminary data compiled by the Pakistan Tanners Association (PTA). The value of their hides was estimated at Rs8.4 billion ($30 million). 
“Our estimates show that this year animals worth Rs500 billion ($1.8 billion) have been slaughtered across Pakistan,” Agha Saidain, a member of the PTA central executive committee who prepared the data, told Arab News.
He, however, said that nearly 40 percent of the hides, a basic raw material for leather products, have been wasted due to the hot weather and a lack of proper handling.
“Eid provides about 20 percent of raw material required by the [Pakistani] leather industry, but this year the ratio will further decline due to wastage,” Saidain added.
Pakistani charities as well as religious and political organizations, which used to heavily rely on animal hides on Eid Al-Adha for their revenue generation, say the revenue stream has almost lost its value due to a decline in demand and prices of hides.
“In the past when dollar used to be [equal to] Rs60 in Pakistan, the hide used to be Rs4,500 and now when dollar is around Rs300, the hide is being sold for Rs950,” Maulana Bashir Ahmed Farooqui, founding chairman of Saylani Welfare International Trust (SWIT), told Arab News.
“It has lost its value drastically.”
The SWIT, one of the largest charity organizations in Pakistan, provides three meals a day to 200,000 destitute people daily in addition to extending basic humanitarian aid services to 400,000 deserving people on a daily basis, according to Farooqui. The charity, which prides itself with serving people in about 63 aspects of life, has an annual budget of around Rs13 billion ($47 million).
“Out of Rs13 billion, the organization collects skins and hides worth about Rs20 million, because skins and hides have no value now,” he said. “There was a time when traders would struggle to buy them months before and would pay asking prices even in advance.”
Pakistan’s exports of leather products declined from $677 million to $624 million from July 2023 to May 2024, according to the country’s statistics bureau. A surge in demand for artificial leather globally is one of the key factors behind this decline.
As a result, many Pakistani charities have been forced to look for alternative fundraising sources and methods to support their operations.
“Once skin and hides were a 100 percent source to fund organization’s operations, but now this source of revenue meets about 2-3 percent of the expenditures,” Qazi Sadaruddin, a director at Al-Khidmat Foundation, told Arab News.
In the past, the collection of animal skins and hides worth billions of rupees also led to violence in Pakistan’s commercial capital of Karachi, but this has stopped now.
“The incidents of snatching of skins started when Edhi Foundation was targeted by ethnic groups involved in the activity,” said Professor Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a historian, while referring to a major social welfare organization operating across Pakistan.
He adding the act of snatching hides used to be a source of undocumented revenue, which these groups adjusted in extortion money.
Khan said the situation improved since the government took strict action and implemented regulatory measures in addition to launching an operation against militants in Karachi several years ago. Besides, he added, the business was no more attractive due to almost no demand for the commodity.
“Now the cost of collecting skins and hides is more than the prices,” Khan said. “As it lost market value, it lost the attraction.”
In Pakistan, Eid Al-Adha significantly boosts the livestock sector, involving more than 8 million rural families. The festive period sees an increase in demand for animals, which in turn provides economic opportunities to rural communities.


Italian coast guard searches for migrants, including Pakistanis, missing after boat capsize

Updated 19 June 2024
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Italian coast guard searches for migrants, including Pakistanis, missing after boat capsize

  • A fishing vessel was the first to respond on Monday after the boat capsized and rescued 11 people, one of whom later died
  • The partially submerged boat was still in view, but the commander of the search operation said no bodies were in sight

MILAN: The Italian Coast Guard was searching by sea and from the air on Thursday for dozens of people missing when a boat capsized and partially sank earlier this week in the perilous central Mediterranean, 195 kilometers (120 miles) off the Calabrian coast, officials said.
The partially submerged boat was still in view, but the commander of the search operation said no bodies were in sight.
A fishing boat was the first to respond on Monday after the boat capsized and rescued 11 people, one of whom later died. Six bodies have also been recovered, and survivors say some 60 more are missing.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast some eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. They included more than 20 children.
A spokeswoman for Doctors Without Borders said the survivors have suffered both psychological and physical trauma, and “remained very confused.”
“They have been hospitalized ... and don’t yet know who in their families is alive and who died at sea,’’ said Cecilia Momi, in charge of the group’s humanitarian affairs. “Entire families are destroyed. Some lost a wife, some lost a child, a husband, a friend, a nephew.”
In another incident Monday, the charity rescue ship Nadir rescued 51 people from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh and transported them to Lampedusa. Another 10 people on the same smugglers boat were found suffocated to death on the lower deck.
The deaths bring to over 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
The International Red Cross said that the incidents are “another testament to Europe’s failing approach to migration and asylum, which prioritizes walls and deterrence over humane welcome.”


Pakistani religion ministry urges people to disregard social media rumors about Hajj pilgrims

Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistani religion ministry urges people to disregard social media rumors about Hajj pilgrims

  • The statement came in response to reports and videos that purportedly showed some Pakistani pilgrims had been left stranded during Hajj rituals
  • Pakistan Hajj Mission director-general says the videos shared online are ‘baseless,’ urges people to rely on credible sources for accurate information

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani ministry of religious affairs on Wednesday urged the masses to disregard rumors about Hajj pilgrims and verify information from credible sources before sharing it on social media platforms.
The statement came in response to reports and videos that purportedly showed some Pakistani pilgrims had been left stranded while performing rituals in Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah during the Hajj pilgrimage.
Abdul Wahab Soomro, director-general of the Pakistan Hajj Mission (PHM), said the videos shared online were “baseless” and their authenticity could not be confirmed.
“The PHM relies on information provided by the Saudi government, which is later verified by the mission itself,” the official said in a statement.
“As of 4:00 PM on June 18, a total of 9 deaths of Pakistanis had occurred in Mashair, with 4 in Mina, 3 in Arafat, and 2 in Muzdalifah,” he said, adding that this year’s Hajj was challenging due to extreme heat and harsh weather conditions, with temperatures reaching 50°C.
Soomro emphasized the mission received reports of deaths and verified them before taking any action.
“The Saudi government has set up a system for burials and funeral prayers in Haramain, and arrangements are also made to send the dead body of a pilgrim to Pakistan if the heirs demand it,” he added.
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires every adult Muslim to undertake the journey to the holy Islamic sites in Makkah at least once in their lifetime if they are financially and physically able.
Pilgrims pelted the jamarat and performed the Farewell Tawaf on Tuesday, bringing this year’s Hajj to a close.
Pakistan had a Hajj quota of 179,210 pilgrims this year, of which more than 70,000 people performed the pilgrimage under the government scheme, while the rest used private tour operators.
The South Asian country will begin its post-Hajj flight operation on Thursday to bring local pilgrims back home.


‘Riyadh is where the future is’: British-Pakistani boxer hails Saudi capital as global sports hub

Updated 19 June 2024
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‘Riyadh is where the future is’: British-Pakistani boxer hails Saudi capital as global sports hub

  • Hamzah Sheeraz entered professional boxing arena in 2017 and has won all 20 of his games
  • The undefeated boxer plans to compete again during the Riyadh Season in September this year

ISLAMABAD: British-Pakistani boxer Hamzah Sheeraz, who defeated Austin Williams from the US state of Wisconsin in a bout in Riyadh this month, has hailed the capital city of Saudi Arabia as the future hub of global sports.
Sheeraz defeated Williams on June 1 in a highly anticipated middleweight clash at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh as part of the Queensberry vs Matchroom: 5vs5 event.
The 25-year-old, who intends to compete again in the Saudi capital later his year, says it was an “amazing” experience to fight in Riyadh, though he competed for the first time in the Kingdom.
“[Saudi Arabia has] a massive, huge impact and not just only on boxing. We’re talking all sports here across the board. We’re talking soccer. We’re talking snooker. We’re talking obviously boxing. We’re talking UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship],” he told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Riyadh is where the future is in terms of sports. I see for the next, however, for the foreseeable future, Riyadh is where it’s all happening.”
Sheeraz was born in Ilford, London into a family of athletes. His father hails from Matore village in Kahuta tehsil of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Sheeraz’s father was a cricketer who played for Gloucestershire, while his paternal grandfather and uncle were both boxers. Sheeraz’s uncle also won ten national amateur titles for Slough and Pinewood Star clubs in the UK, according to the 25-year-old.
He was formally introduced to boxing at the age of 8 by his uncle and had his first bout at 12, becoming a three-time finalist at the national junior championships in the UK, before turning into a professional fighter.
In 2017, he signed up with Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions as a professional boxer. Sheeraz debuted in September of the same year and defeated Duane Green in technical knockout in the second round on the undercard of the Billy Joe Saunders–Willie Monroe Jr. fight at the Copper Box Arena in London. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches, Sheeraz has been undefeated and boasts a 20-0 record.
He said it was a great first experience competing before the “vibrant crowd” in Riyadh, adding that it was valuable to face that level of competitiveness and to be among the elite where even a 1 percent difference can be crucial.
“The people around the world can really see that Riyadh and the whole Riyadh Season is really portraying the pinnacle of sports and showing that this is the best level it can get to,” the 25-year-old said. “So, it’s always an honor to be a part of that and to be part of something where the competition is so high, but the reward is so much higher.”
Asked about his next fight, Sheeraz said he intended to compete again during the Riyadh Season in September. “Hopefully, we are looking at September but nothing has been confirmed yet. Hopefully, it’ll be another Riyadh Season event,” he added.
The annual Riyadh Season festival is part of the Saudi Seasons initiative to promote tourism and national heritage of the Kingdom, according to Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA). The festival is attended by millions of people each year to enjoy exciting activities and events.
In honor of his exceptional performance in Saudi Arabia, Sheeraz said, Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Shaikh, chairman of the GEA, had signed him as an “Ambassador of Riyadh Season,” alongside two other boxers Terence Crawford and Jared Anderson.
“I am an ambassador for Riyadh Season now and it is an absolute honor,” he told Arab News. “I can’t thank the people involved, His Excellency [Turki bin Abdul Mohsen Al-Shaikh] enough for choosing me and for allowing me to be someone who represents not just them, but who represents them on such a big, big worldwide level.”
Sheeraz garnered global fame in 2022, when he was recognized by the prestigious Boxing Writers’ Club as the ‘Young Boxer of the Year’. A number of former world champions have been the recipient of the award presented at the Savoy Hotel on London’s Embankment.
In March 2022, he defeated Jez Smith for the WBC International Silver Middleweight Title at the OVO Arena, Wembley. Previously, he defended the WBO European Champion title in super welterweight category on four occasions.
About boxing in Pakistan, Sheeraz said Pakistan had many great fighters, but the problem was that they did not have a platform and financial backing to advance their careers.
“Hopefully, [I will] bring these young superstars to Riyadh, bring them to Riyadh to perform,” he said, adding that he had a plan to build gyms in the country of his origin to help natural talent come through without any worries.
“Definitely, I would love to come back there,” he said, when asked whether he would like to compete in Pakistan. “I would [also] love to do tours, go to universities, give speeches, get in touch with the youth over there to steer them in the right direction and show them there are opportunities out there that they wouldn’t even dream of.”


Pakistan naval ship Babur visits Jeddah, conducts joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate

Updated 19 June 2024
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Pakistan naval ship Babur visits Jeddah, conducts joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate

  • Pakistan, Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and regularly engage in joint air, ground and sea exercises
  • Apart from defense and security ties, Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Babur has visited the Jeddah port and conducted a joint exercise with Saudi Arabia’s Al-Riyadh frigate to strengthen mutual cooperation between the two countries, the Pakistani military said on Wednesday.
Upon arrival at the Jeddah port, the Pakistani naval ship was received by Pakistani diplomats and officials of the Royal Saudi Navy, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing.
On the occasion, the commanding officer of PNS Babur met with Deputy Western Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Yahya Mohammad Majrashi, of the Royal Saudi Navy.
“During the meeting, issues of mutual interest, including maritime cooperation between the two countries, were discussed,” the ISPR said in a statement.

In this handout combination of photographs, taken and released by Director General Public Relations Pakistan Navy on June 19, 2024, Pakistan navy officials brief Royal Saudi Naval Forces personnel onboard PNS Babur in Jeddah. (Pakistan Navy)

“At the end of the visit, PNS Babur participated in a naval exercise with Royal Saudi Naval Forces ship, HMS Al-Riyadh.”
The ISPR said the passage exercise, named PASSEX, was aimed at promoting mutual cooperation and strong friendly relations between the two countries.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong defense ties and bilateral security cooperation. The two nations regularly engage in joint air, ground, and sea military exercises, while several cadets from the Kingdom, along with counterparts from other Middle Eastern nations, annually visit Pakistan to undergo specialized military training.
Apart from defense and security ties, Pakistan enjoys strong economic and trade relations with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates, serving as the top source of remittances for the cash-strapped South Asian country.

In this handout combination of photographs, taken and released by Director General Public Relations Pakistan Navy on June 19, 2024, Pakistan naval ship Babur conducts passage exercise with Royal Saudi Naval Forces in Jeddah. (Pakistan Navy)