Of Mora and morals

EJAZ HAIDER

This is interesting! A Saudi Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud has written a letter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan accusing the Ministry of Religious Affairs, known by the most unbecoming acronym Mora, of making money off the pious Pakistanis who go to perform Hajj.

The worthy prince has charged the ministry with rejecting his lower bid for pilgrims’ residences and renting them for more than double the price offered by the prince. (Aside: I had no idea Saudi princes made money off Hajj also. Fascinating, as Mr Spock would say!)

The SC wrote to Mora (exclamation redacted!) on Oct 19 to explain what the heck was going on. The Mora said it needed time so the SC granted them until Oct 30. By then, as happens now, the news of the letter and the SC being seized of this matter had slipped out – or was leaked. So, on Nov 2, the SC issued notices to Mora to submit a reply within 15 days and also directed the Foreign Office to contact the Saudi government over this issue and return to court with facts. The case is now listed with the SC as HRC 50606 of 2010.

The Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Hamid Saeed Kazmi, told the Natonal Assembly on Wednesday that his ministry had not informed him of any letter – he was presumably referring to the letter from the Saudi prince to the SC. But what about the SC’s notice to his ministry? He said he hadn’t received it. It would be good if the SC insisted that all ministers and department heads carried BlackBerrys so the court could bbm them for efficient communication.

Meanwhile, we know that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has set up a 3-member committee to inquire into allegations of misappropriation by Mora. Minister Kazmi is of course on record as having admitted that pilgrims were made to stay far from the holy sites which created problems for them. He also conceded that this was not the first time Mora’s Hajj arrangements had been criticised and, Allah be praised, informed the House that neither would this be the last time. At least we know that Mora shall stay true to its reputation, lest the innocent among us be misled by the appellation “religious affairs”.
I think this was Kazmi Sahib’s way of middle-fingering those who put undue premium on efficiency and financial cleanliness. He was being grilled; he also knew that earlier, the Senate and Parliamentary Committee on Religious Affairs had voiced reservations over the costly residences. He decided to put things in a perspective. We have done this before and we shall do it again, save your breath, thank you!

The DG- Hajj, Rao Shakeel, we are informed, has been recalled over corruption charges and suspended by the federal government on the advice of the committee. How long he will stay suspended or, if found guilty how he will be charged, is anybody’s guess. But the point is, if all these charges are right, could he be running a standalone operation? Your guess is as good as mine.

I tried the numbers of both the minister and his secretary (0519214856 and 051 9201909) to find out more about this issue but these lines were not covered. Later, I got the cell of Secretary Mora Agha Sarwar Raza Qazilbash (03225177778) and tried him several times but the phone was off. Calls to the Saudi embassy’s line also failed to get me connected to their press section.

One will now have to wait and see what reply Mora gives to the SC or what information and facts can the FO come up with. The Mora secretary, according to published reports, has termed fake the letter purportedly written by the prince. That is possible and we will have to wait for more facts to determine the veracity of the letter. But the secretary has also reportedly said that the Saudi prince cannot place such a complaint. That observation is inaccurate. Anyone can write to a court and in this case the SC has take suo motu notice of a complaint, which it can do on any basis if it is convinced that the matter needs the court’s attention and time.

But most of all, this issue, pertain as it does to the religious affairs ministry, presents an interesting example of how we operate. While at one level we wear our pieties on our sleeves, we are not averse to using even a religious ritual like Hajj to make money. Kazmi Sahib is right at least on one count: this is not the first time; neither would it be the last.
Equally, it is instructive to deconstruct the minister’s statement. Could it be that the incline in our collective fondness for the ritual has resulted in a decline in our collective sense of morality (I use the term loosely)?

This question needs to be explored. Social scientists can get concrete data on various aspects of our collective life over the last 30 years to study trends. Of course, that in and of itself may not prove this proposition; it may end up rejecting the direction of causality or even any correlation between the rise of the ritual and overt piety and the decline of morals. But it would be a useful exercise, nonetheless.

On the other hand, we may actually determine some causal linkage or at least a correlation. If that happens, then at the minimum we would need to rethink our approach to religion and its overt place in our collective life. It would prove that religiosity may not be directly proportional to a person’s integrity, morality, work ethics and his/her usefulness as a citizen.

Worth doing this, I tell you!

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times

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