An otherwise innocent-looking but quite alarming headline in a paper on August 10, 2009 said, "Every Pakistani bears a debt of Rs. 24,412". That made me think whether it was proper for a person in debt to perform Hajj? As I understand, Hajj is a Farz, that is a duty (albeit only once in life) of (a) all Sahib-e-Nisab Muslims, that is the ones who can afford it (b) and are in reasonable state of health to withstand its rigors of travel and Saee etc, (c) and are not under debt or (d) neither have any liabilities towards the family that would remain unmet if he/she spent the money on Hajj (e) nor they have any old or sick parents to take care of who need their presence with them. I know there was no concept of national or collective debt during the early days of Islam and the condition of debt for a Sahib-e-Nisab applied to the individuals only. However, with the change of time and systems of governance all over the world, the people are now divided into countries and nations. The existence of a country and that of a nation is determined by its geographical boundaries and populace. At present, the dealings between any two or more countries are taken to be dealings between the peoples of these countries. Would it, therefore, be not proper that we repay our debt before we undertake Hajj? This year 159,647 Pakistani Hajis would spend about Rs 40 billion on Hajj, a huge amount by any reckoning. -COL (Retd) RIAZ JAFRI, Rawalpindi, via e-mail, August 10.