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History Of Pilgrimage By See


After having completed my training abroad when I returned to Pakistan, I joined Pan Islamic Steamship Company as a Cadet and thereafter commanded all the Pilgrim Ships in 1970s. I was fortunate as young person to be posted on a pilgrim ship as cadet which afforded me opportunity of performing my first Hajj in 1963.

The experience was extremely rewarding and paved the way for clean life. As a young cadet I was surprised to see most of the pilgrims weak, fragile old and travelling by sea was a very tough task, however devotion and the will to make the holy land was the only target before them. It was also shocking to see many of the pilgrims dying at sea and being buried at sea with full merchant marine honour.

Having witnessed the devotion of pilgrims which belied Marx that religion is opium of life; on the contrary religion is the only driving force which inspires you to take any adventure, irrespective of age. All pilgrims were dedicated and found preparing themselves for Hajj. The voyage time was useful in training to perform the rituals of Hajj and recitation of the Holy Quran whose sheer beauty of language is reputed to have been a frequent instrument of conversion in its own right. Humans are spiritual creatures, and spirituality matters. Humanity's sense of beauty, and decency our power to love, our creativity and seek blessings of our creator have been ingrained in our genes.

Having seen the hardships of pilgrims, I was inquisitive to trace the history of pilgrimage by land and Sea, so that we make present generation aware of the fact that how our fore fathers took pain in performing Hajj.

Visit to the sacred centre of Islam, the Centre to which every Muslim turns his face in prayer, seems too many of the pilgrims like a visit to heaven. They seek God's mercy, and in the hope of His acceptance, they seek to renew that covenant with Him and to be purged of their sins, casting off their past life as a man casts off an old suit of clothes, knowing that, in the words of the Prophet, he whose pilgrimage is accepted will return hope: free from sin as on the day his mother bore him'. The pilgrims find peace and the sense of purpose which they could find in no other place.

Travelling to Makkah and Madina was always difficult in the past. In the early days Muslims from all over the world travelled by foot, horses, donkeys, camels and by boats across the Red Sea.

During the long journey some dies of sickness, some were caught by desert storms, and some were looted on the way by organised armed bandits. Those who survived the extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst or attacks by Bedouin marauder often succumbed to the plague. Survivors performed the Hajj and it would take years for them to return back home safely.

With the passage of time and advance in technology, new mode of transportation came into being. Travelling by land gradually became easier with roads being constructed and more and more road transport available. At sea, Boats were replaced with steamships which moved faster and carried greater number of passengers.

The opening of Suez Canal in 1869 brought regular steamer traffic from Europe and Africa through the Red Sea to the Port of Jeddah, some 55 miles from Makkah, thus reducing the passage time significantly over the previous route. With steamer traffic, it became commercially viable for shipping lines, throughout the world to operate for Hajj, not withstanding that this trade was relatively short seasonal one and that these ships were generally put to other use during the "Off season". Blue funnel line played a major role.


Before the advent of steamships, sailing vessels owned by Indians catered for this traffic and the Muslim rulers had given adequate support to this business.

During Mogul times and until the 18th century, pilgrims from India had the option of travelling to Makkah either by overland caravan or by sailing ships. The land route via the north-west of India was long, difficult and hazardous and also involved crossing hostile territories. The Indian pilgrims generally preferred to go by sea, primarily through the Red Sea, and occasionally through the Persian Gulf. However, rampant piracy and a strict Portuguese control over the Indian Ocean in the 16th Century made passage through the Red Sea a dangerous trip. Most ships travelling from India to the Red Sea were forced to carry a Portuguese cartaz or pass.

The earliest visit by Indians to Makkah for Hajj is a matter of conjecture but it is very likely that such visits pre-date the Muslim conquests of Sindh in 664-712 AD.

Because of the location of the Jeddah Port as the gateway to Makkah as well as a leading port for Red Sea trade, it attracted merchants and pilgrims alike in large numbers every year. The people of Hejaz were fascinated by India's spices, pearls, precious stones, silk, Sandalwood perfumes and looked forward to the arrival of Indian ships.

In British India, Hajj continued to get attention. In 1885, the British government appointed the famous tourist agency Thomas Cook as the official travel agent for the Hajj Pilgrimage. The British government affirmed that it had special obligations to protect the stream of "Muhammadan pilgrims going to the sacred places at Makkah and Karbala". In 1927, a 10 member Hajj Committee was constituted, headed by the commissioner of police, Bombay, which was replaced by the Port Hajj Committee in 1932.

The largest shipping line operating from Indian ports was the Mogul Line, which was founded in 1888 and managed by the British company Tumer Morrison. The oldest of the Mogul Line ships was SS Alawi (built in 1924), followed by SS Rizwani (built in 1930). These ships were scrapped in 1958 and 1959 respectively. Other early Mogul Line ships were SS Saudi (capacity 999) SS Muhammadi and SS Muzaffari (capacity 1460), SS Islami (capacity 1200) MV Akbar (capacity 1600), SS Noorjehan (capacity 1756) and SS Nicobar (capacity 1170)

In 1927, Mogul Line ships carried nearly 20,000 of the 36,000 pilgrims arriving from India. In the late 1930s, over 70 percent of pilgrim ships from India were Mogul Line vessels.

Mogul Line had the monopoly of the Hajj pilgrim traffic. For about 6-7 months of the year, it carried pilgrims from India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Bangladesh and Burma to Jeddah, while the rest of the year, the ships were deployed for carrying cargo cum passenger service from India to the Red Sea ports including Aden and Djibouti.

But soon the Haji Committee and certain sections of the Muslim community approached the Scindia Steam Navigation Company for berthing its steamers to carry this traffic as some of the Bengali Muslims were dissatisfied with the services of the agents of Mogul Line for trying to induce the Indian Government to close the Calcutta port for pilgrim traffic. The Scindia Steam Navigation Company on the other hand was also tempted to get into this lucrative market. They built two new steamers at the cost of over Rs 50 laks and started services in 1937.

The entry of the Indian line into this traffic received tremendous support and the new steamer EL Medina proved very popular. The Mogul Line soon started a rate war and fierce competition followed between the two companies in which the Scindia Steam Navigation Company incurred heavy losses as they were practically carrying pilgrims free. The Mogul Line too began to carry the Pilgrims free of charge, providing them incentives like an umbrella and a container for carrying holy water. Several representations were made by leaders both outside and inside the Central Legislature to arrest this rate war.

Finally, Sir Muhamed Zafarullah Khan, the then commerce member intervened and bought about a settlement between the two companies by which they agreed to quote not less then Rs 115 as the return passage fare. Despite this agreement Mogul Line continued to charge low fares whenever the Scindia Steam Navigation Company's steamer was on berth. Representations were made again in the Legislature which led to the fixation of uniform, stable and economic rates. But with the outbreak of World War II, pilgrim traffic closed down.

After the war, Scindia Steam Navigation Company was unable to cope with the meager share of hajj traffic and soon withdrew. They strongly felt that the Indian Government had treated them unfairly by allotting a meager share of 25 percent of the traffic and 75 percent to Mogul Line. Thus another attempt by an Indian company to enter overseas trade was thwarted and abandoned. Meanwhile, Mogul Line acquired a new ship Islami in 1936 and two more modern ships Mohammadi in 1947 and Muzaffari in 1948.

After nationalisation in 1962, control of the Mogul Line passed to the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and finally, in 1987, it merged with SCI. The Saudi company Haji Abdullah Alireza & Co Ltd was the agent of the Mogul Line in Jeddah.

However, most shipping companies operating Hajj service throughout the world had second-hand ships and the conditions of majority of the pilgrim ships were pathetic and deplorable. The overcrowding of pilgrims on board the ships was common as some greedy ship owners sought to make the most of the short but profitable season. There were only pilgrims on board, so many that the ship could hardly contain them.

The shipping companies... had literally filled it to the brim without caring for the comfort of the passengers. On the decks, in the cabins, in all passageways, on every staircase, in the dining rooms of the first and second class, in the holds, which had been emptied for the purpose and equipped with temporary ladders, in every available space and corner human beings were painfully herded together with great humility, with only the goal of the voyage before their eyed, they bore all that unnecessary hardship.

Passenger ships "Empire Orwell" and British India "Sardhana" and Bombay based Mughal Lines vessels "Islami" and "Muhammadi" were chartered in 1958 for Pakistan- Jeddah run. The Sirdhana made some pilgrim voyages from both East & West Pakistan Ports to Jeddah. After that the Pan Islamic Steamship Co Ltd in 1960 and later Crescent Shipping in 1975 played a vital role in carrying the pilgrims for Karachi and Chittagong to Jeddah. Their main operation was carrying the pilgrims but they also had some cargo capacity and were used as cargo cum passenger ships during off Hajj season.

In early 1980's the number of sailings started falling due to the competitiveness of air travel, with low cost flights, and sea borne trade started declining. Pakistani pilgrim ships became more and more old and required heavy repairs and maintenance. It was thus commercially not viable to run them any more.

The last ship to perform Hajj service was MV Shams (1994) (under PNSC) before it was scrapped. Thus the sea borne pilgrimage runs effectively ended. All the Shipping companies in Pakistan and India have been liquidated due to supremacy of aviation sector. Some of the Pakistani passenger ships which carried pilgrims to Jeddah were as follows:



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If, we go into time Tunnel, the era from 2003-2007, efforts were made to convert Pakistan Marine Academy to Pakistan Maritime University, so that different faculties of Maritime education may be established locally.


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Monthly Meeting :


May 14, 2015

Executive Committee Meeting of Master Mariner Society of Pakistan will be held at 17.30 Hrs. at Room No 18, Old Ralli Brothers Building, Talpur Road, Karachi.

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