Haj and India
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
The Hajj: a backgrounder
Over 2 million Muslims will take part in this week’s Hajj pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, as one of the world’s largest religious gatherings returns to full capacity following years of coronavirus restrictions.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to undertake it at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do so.
For the pilgrims, it is a profound spiritual experience that wipes away sins, brings them closer to God, and highlights Muslim unity. For the Saudi royal family, which captured Mecca in the 1920s, organizing the pilgrimage is a major source of pride and legitimacy.
Authorities have invested billions of dollars in modern infrastructure, but the Hajj has occasionally been marred by tragedy, as in 2015, when over 2,400 pilgrims died in a stampede. Here’s a look at the pilgrimage, which begins on Monday, and its meaning.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF THE HAJJ PILGRIMAGE IN ISLAM?
The pilgrimage draws Muslims from around the world to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, where they walk in the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad and retrace the journey of Ibrahim and Ismail, or Abraham and Ishmael as they are known in the Christian and Jewish traditions.
As related in the Quran, Ibrahim is called upon to sacrifice his son Ismail as a test of faith, but God stays his hand at the last moment. Ibrahim and Ismail later are said to have built the Kaaba together. In the Christian and Jewish traditions, Abraham nearly sacrifices his other son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah, which is associated with a major holy site in Jerusalem.
The Kaaba was a center for polytheistic worship among pagan Arabs until the arrival of Islam in the 7th century when the Prophet Muhammad consecrated the site and inaugurated the Hajj. Muslims do not worship the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure covered in a black, gold-embroidered cloth, but view it as their most sacred place and a powerful symbol of unity and monotheism.
No matter where they are in the world, Muslims face the Kaaba during their daily prayers. The Hajj has been held every year since the time of the prophet, even through wars, plagues, and other turmoil.
In the Middle Ages, Muslim rulers organized massive caravans with armed escorts that would depart from Cairo, Damascus, and other cities. It was an arduous journey through deserts where Bedouin tribes carried out raids and demanded tribute. A notorious Bedouin raid in 1757 wiped out an entire Hajj caravan, killing thousands of pilgrims.In 2020, amid worldwide coronavirus lockdowns, Saudi Arabia limited the pilgrimage to a few thousand citizens and local residents. This is the first year it returns to full capacity.
HOW DO MUSLIMS PREPARE FOR THE HAJJ?
Some pilgrims spend their whole lives saving up for the journey or wait years before getting a permit, which Saudi authorities distribute to countries based on a quota system.
Travel agents offer packages catering to all income levels, and charities assist needy pilgrims. Pilgrims begin by entering a state of spiritual purity known as “ihram.” Women forgo make-up and perfume and cover their hair, while men change into seamless terrycloth robes.
The garments cannot contain any stitching, a rule intended to promote unity among the rich and poor. Pilgrims are forbidden from cutting their hair, trimming their nails, or engaging in sexual intercourse while in the state of Ihram.
They are not supposed to argue or fight, but the heat, crowds, and difficulty of the journey inevitably test people’s patience. Many Muslims visit Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad is buried and where he built the first mosque, before heading to Mecca.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE HAJJ?
The Hajj begins with Muslims circling the Kaaba in Mecca counter-clockwise seven times while reciting prayers. Then they walk between two hills in a reenactment of Hagar’s search for water for her son, Ismail, a story that occurs in different forms in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions. All of this takes place inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque — the world’s largest — which encompasses the Kaaba and the two hills. ‘
The next day, pilgrims head to Mount Arafat, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. Here, they stand in prayer throughout the day asking God for forgiveness of their sins in what many view as the spiritual high point of the pilgrimage.
Around sunset, pilgrims walk or take buses to an area called Muzdalifa, 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) west of Arafat. They pick up pebbles to use the next day in a symbolic stoning of the devil in the valley of Mina, where Muslims believe Ibrahim was tempted to ignore God’s command to sacrifice his son.
The pilgrims stay for several nights in Mina in one of the largest tent camps in the world. The pilgrimage ends with a final circling of the Kaaba and further casting of stones at Mina. Men often shave their heads and women clip a lock of hair, signaling renewal.
Many will assume the title of “hajj” or “hajja” — a great honor, particularly in more traditional communities. Some paint murals on their homes with images of airplanes, ships, and the Kaaba to commemorate the journey.
The final days of Hajj coincide with Eid al-Adha, or the festival of sacrifice, a joyous occasion celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate Ibrahim’s test of faith. During the three-day Eid, Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.
Age limit reduced to 2 years
The Times of India, Jan 17 2016
Haj ticket grant age limit cut to 2 years
The Central Haj Committee has now reduced the age for child category for Haj from five to two years and hence, kids aged two and above will be required to buy half ticket for the pilgrimage.
Besides, children aged less than two years will have to pay 10% of the total amount spent for the journey to Haj and back.
The Bareilly Haj Sewa Samiti has written to UP and Central Haj Committees on Saturday protesting the new guidelines, alleging this was an attempt to stop women from going.
“Purchasing tickets for kids will now become an expensive affair for most Muslim families, since no woman will be ready to go on Haj leaving her kids back in India. As a result, women will now avoid going on the pilgrimage...“ alleged Atta-ur-Rehman, SP MLA from Baheri.
Annual Haj quota
January 2017: An increase
Saudi Arabia has increased India’s annual Haj quota by 34,500 in January 2017.
Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Minister Dr. Mohammad Saleh bin Taher Benten inked an agreement in this regard in Jeddah on Wednesday, increasing India’s Haj quota from 1,36,020 to 1,70,520.
Big jump, says Minister
According to a statement issued by Minister of State for Minority Affairs (Independent Charge) Naqvi, it is the “biggest increase” in quota for Haj pilgrims after 1988. The increase will be effective from the current year.
In 2011, the Saudi authorities slashed quotas for foreign pilgrims from each country by 20 per cent considering the devotees’ safety as they undertook expansion of the Grand Mosque there.
In 2016, 1,35,903 devotees from India performed Haj.
Expressing pleasure at signing of the agreement, Mr. Naqvi tweeted, “It’s a matter of pleasure that Saudi Arabia has increased India’s Haj quota by about 34,000.”
The government started issuing Haj applications from January 2. The last date for submission of applications is January 24.
Saudi Arabia has increased India’s Haj quota by 5000, taking it to 1,75,025, the highest since Independence.
Union minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who signed the bilateral annual Haj (2018) agreement with the Saudi authorities a few days ago, credited the increase in Haj quota, for the consecutive second year, to PM Modi’s popularity with the Saudi regime, especially the Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdul Aziz al Saud.
“Last year, Saudi Arabia had increased India’s Haj quota by 35,000 and this year they have increased it by 5,000. PM Modi’s popularity with the Saudi authorities has helped us get this increase which will help us allow more pilgrims to proceed for Haj this year,” said Naqvi.
In 2017, India’s Haj quota was I,70,025 out of which 1,25,000 went through the Haj Committee of India while 45,000 chose private tour operators (PTOs). Now with the 5,000 increase in the quota, even the PTOs are expecting increase in their share of the quota and feel elated.
“It is welcome news. The demand is three times more than the seats available to PTOs,” said Yusuf Kherada of Al Khalid Tours and Travels, a leading PTO.
For the Haj 2018, the Haj Committee has received around 3,55,000 applications. This year there is no reservation for those who have applied for the fourth time.
Naqvi said for the first time, around 1,300 women from India will go to Haj without mahram (male companion) this year as they will be exempted from lottery system. Saudi Arabia has also approved India’s decision to revive the option of sending pilgrims through sea route too.
2018: actual numbers
How many people went for Haj from India, as in 2018
Feb 2019: number of applications- 1,75,000
50% of applicants are women in 2019: Minister
Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi on Saturday said that India is likely to overtake Pakistan in terms of the number of pilgrims sent for Haj pilgrimage this year.
Mr. Naqvi was in Mumbai to inaugurate a two-day training camp of Khadim Ul Hujjaj that saw members from across the country gather at the Haj House near the Chhatrapati Shiva-ji Maharaj Terminus.
“From our country, Muslims participate in Haj in huge numbers. There are two Islamic countries – Indonesia, from where around 2 lakh people participate and then there is Pakistan from where 1,84,000 people participate. As of today, India already has over 1,75,000 participants and we are aiming to supersede Pakistan this year,” Mr. Naqvi said while addressing the Khadims.
According to Mr. Naqvi, of the total number of applications received by the Haj Committee of India, around 50% were from women. He also said that there was a gradual rise in the number of women willing to participate in the pilgrimage without a mehram (male companion).
According to Mr. Naqvi, digitising the application process and reduction in the GST on Haj yielded significant results. “We made the process online this time. As a result, approximately 40% applications were received through the online medium. The GST was reduced from 18% to 5% on Haj. We will also ensure a significant drop in the airfare on nine of the 21 embarkation points in the country,” he said.
The Minister added that the number of women participating without male companions has also shot up. “Last year, we had around 1,300 women undertaking Haj without male companions. This year, that number has gone up to 2,340.”
He said the government was tightening its leash on private tour operators who will now have to disclose every detail on a portal. “The PTOs will have to disclose details regarding those they are ferrying, rental costs and total expenditure. We have even blacklisted some tour operators,” he said.
The law / court judgments
A religious practice and not a vacation\ 2023, HC
The Delhi High Court has observed that Haj pilgrimage falls within the ambit of a religious practice, which is protected by the Constitution of India, while staying the suspension of registration certificates and quota of several private Haj Group Organisers.
A single-judge bench of Justice Chandra Dhari Singh in its June 7 order said, “Haj Pilgrimage and the ceremonies involved therein fall within the ambit of a religious practice, which is protected by the Constitution of India. Religious freedoms are one of the most cherished rights guaranteed and enshrined under the Constitution in line with the vision of the founding fathers of the Modern Indian Republic. The religious freedom of the person is guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 25”.
The order was passed in a batch of pleas moved by over 13 Haj Group Organisers (HGOs) who had challenged the suspension of the Registration Certificate and Quota of the HGOs as published on May 25 in the “Consolidated List of Allocation of Haj quota for Haj-2023” by the Centre. They had also challenged a Show Cause Notice subsequently issued against some of the petitioner/HGOs on May 26 by the Centre. The HC was hearing interim applications moved by the HGOs in their main writ petitions.
It had been alleged by the Centre that the registration of the petitioner HGOs has been suspended due to their “wilful misrepresentation and misreporting of facts” to the Ministry of Minority Affairs, based on which they were registered as HGOs in the first place. It was submitted that the Ministry shall have the right to suspend/cancel the registration in case of non-compliance of any of the terms and conditions.
The court said that at this stage, it is primarily concerned with the “pilgrims who intend to travel on Haj Pilgrimage and have paid in advance to the petitioners for the same”. “Travelling to Haj is not merely a holiday but is a medium of practicing their religion and faith which is a fundamental right. This Court being the protector of the right of the pilgrims shall take the necessary steps in this regard. Accordingly, to ensure that the pilgrims are not obstructed from completing their journey and undertake Haj, the comments in the consolidated list of allocation of Haj Quota for HAJ-2023 issued on 25th May, 2023 by the respondent which reads as “Registration Certificate & Quota Kept in abeyance till finalization of proceedings in complaint related matter” is stayed,” Justice Singh said.
The court further directed the Centre to ensure that the pilgrims who have been affected by the defaults on the part of the petitioner HGOs, do not suffer and are able to undertake the Haj Pilgrimage without any obstruction. “The respondents may proceed with the investigation in pursuance of the show cause notice issued to the petitioner,” the HC said, while listing the main pleas on August 3.
The HC said that evidently the Registration and allocation of Haj Quota to private tour operators is subject to certain terms and conditions for registration as HGOs. The registration of HGOs not found to be complying with the HGO Policy is liable to be cancelled, the court said.
Perusing through the terms and conditions the HC said that the same makes it clear that registration of the HGOs is an “absolute right rather than a privileged right” that is bestowed upon the concerned HGO based on the fulfilment of certain conditions as laid out under the HGO Policy.
The HC after considering the arguments was of the “prima facie opinion” that although restrictions and conditions to the issuance of the Registration Certificate as well as to the Quota allotted to the petitioners/HGOs may be imposed, the same “should not be held against the pilgrims who, in good faith, registered with the petitioners/HGOs to undertake the pilgrimage”. “This Court is of the view that such an action would defeat the purpose of the current Haj Policy and is in derogation of Article 25 of the Constitution of India,” Justice Singh said.
The court also noted that the Haj Committee of India has been mandated to make arrangements for 1,40,000 pilgrims for Haj 2023 as per their guidelines based on the quota allocated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The court said that Haj pilgrimage is a five-day religious pilgrimage to Mecca and nearby Holy places in Saudi Arabia and as per “the Holy Quran, all Muslims who are physically and financially sound must perform the Haj pilgrimage at least once in their lives”.
The HC further noted that the Haj pilgrimage is undertaken by thousands of pilgrims from India annually and every year a bilateral treaty is executed between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As per this, a quota of some pilgrims is allotted to India and the pilgrimage can be undertaken either through the Haj Committee of India or the HGOs. HGOs usually act as tour operators for pilgrims, and provide a complete package right from the start of the journey from various places in India to Saudi Arabia, covering their accommodation in Saudi Arabia, arranging and making available food, transportation in Saudi Arabia, providing foreign exchange in the form of Saudi Riyals and their return to India. The majority of Haj pilgrims are taken care of by the Haj Committee, and only a limited number of pilgrims can undertake the Haj pilgrimage through HGOs as per the quota of the respective HGO, the court noted.
The Centre filed an appeal against this order of the single bench pertaining to one of the HGOs before a division bench of the HC which on June 12 issued notice and listed the matter in July. The Centre thereafter moved the SC against the division bench order and on June 19 a vacation bench of the SC, did not deem it necessary to entertain the same observing that the matter before the HC was listed in July and “all the issues raised herein can be effectively raised before the High Court”.
Subsidy from the government
2018: government stops the subsidy
Haj subsidy ends, funds to go into minority education
In keeping with SC orders and its own political plank, the Modi government will no longer provide subsidy to Haj pilgrims and has pledged that funds saved will be used for the education of minorities, particularly girls.
“There will be no subsidy for Haj from this year,” minority affairs minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, adding the move is part of an effort to “empower minorities without appeasement”. The decision is a political signal too, as BJP has argued that the subsidy, essentially for air travel, is a demonstrative sop for Muslims and a diversion of funds that might be better utilised.
Significantly, the decision did not evoke a protest from Congress, which maintained it has no objections to the end of the subsidy as long as the funds were utilised for minority welfare.
‘Haj savings’ to go into edu: Govt
BJP functionaries, however, emphasised that Congress had shown no urgency to act on the matter when it was in office after the Supreme Court ruled in May 2012 that the subsidy be eliminated in 10 years. While subsidies have been dismantled, a record number of 1.75 lakh Muslims will go on the Haj pilgrimage this year, Naqvi said and claimed that this will be the highest number since Independence.
The government will invest what it saves for minority education. It had spent over Rs 250 crore last year on subsidising the travel to Saudi Arabia, he said. Restrictions on pilgrims having to take flights from their place of stay or nearest airports have been relaxed and this will lead to cheaper air travel, Naqvi said. It will also allow Haj travellers to take advantage of bulk bookings while the government will continue to spend on medical expenses.
The decision to end the subsidy for Haj pilgrims follows a 2012 Supreme Court order to do away with the subsidy, long sought by BJP. Following the order, the subsidy was gradually rolled back and has now ended.
Naqvi said that allowing the choice of embarkation port gives pilgrims the option of cheaper travel.
The Saudi Arabian government has agreed to allow Indians to go on Haj by the sea route and officials of the two countries will work out the modalities, the minister said.
Women for Haj
Government panel: women above 45 be allowed on Haj without men
The Committee recommended: Ladies above 45 years of age, who wish to go for Haj but who do not have a male Mehram and their school of thought permits should be allowed to travel in groups of four or more.
Women above 45 years, unaccompanied by a male, may be able to go for Haj in groups of four if the Ministry of Minority Affairs accepts the recommendation of a committee formed to look at the Haj policy. In a report submitted to the ministry on Saturday, the committee has also endorsed the plan to phase out Haj subsidies, as per a 2012 directive of the Supreme Court.
Under the current Haj policy, women who do not have a male escort are not allowed to go on the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Called ‘Mehram’, an unmarriageable kin, the male escort is an essential feature of the policy, and a separate quota — of 200 now, which the committee recommends raising to 500 — is kept for women whose “only Mehram” gets selected for Haj a particular year but the woman has failed to complete the formalities on time.
The committee has recommended: “The conditions of male Mehram accompanying ladies should be insisted only for ladies below 45 years of age. Ladies above 45 years of age, who wish to go for Haj but who do not have a male Mehram and their school of thought permits should be allowed to travel in groups of four or more.”
Led by retired IAS officer Afzal Amanullah, the committee has, among its members, Justice S S Parkar, retired judge of Bombay High Court; retired IRS officer and former Haj Committee chairman Qaiser Shamim; and Kamal Faruqui, chartered accountant and a Muslim scholar.
The recommendation comes close on the heels of the Supreme Court order holding triple talaq illegal, and if accepted can be another step towards gender parity among Muslims. India’s Haj quota is 1,70,025 at present.
The committee made detailed recommendations about the quality and location of accommodation for pilgrims, the volunteers (khadim ul Hujjaj) who guide groups of pilgrims, facilities available to pilgrims on the ground, and on flight. It also dealt at length on the eligibility of private tour operators and monitoring of their quality of service.
The committee said Haj quota should be distributed in a 70:30 ratio among the Haj committee and private tour operators. It also recommended that the Haj committee should be exempted from income tax, GST, local taxes, etc, as should the air charter service that transports pilgrims.
On reduction of Haj subsidy, the committee observed that the existing phase-out plan should be adhered to and the number of embarkation points reduced from 21 to nine.
Looking at ways to phase out subsidy and reducing costs for individual pilgrims, the central government is looking at starting a sea journey to Jeddah. On this, the committee observed, “…we suggest that a global expression of interest from vessel owners having newer vessels of 4000+ capacity, who are willing to dedicate their ships for carrying pilgrims during the three-month Haj season each year from Mumbai to Jeddah, may be called by MoMA.”
2017, Dec: Muslim women can go for Haj without male guardian
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government had removed a discriminatory practice under which Muslim women were allowed to travel for Haj only in the company of a ‘mahram’ or male guardian.
Wondering how such “injustice” was being rendered to Muslim women for decades, Modi said, “Our ministry of minority affairs issued corrective measures and we ameliorated this restriction by phasing out a tradition that had been in practice for the past 70 years.”
“Muslim women can perform Haj without ‘mahram’ and I am happy to note that this time about 1,300 Muslim women have applied to perform Haj without mahram,” the PM said in his monthly radio address ‘Mann Ki Baat’.
The PM pointed out that such a restriction on Muslim women was not prevalent in many Islamic countries.
PM: No lottery system for single woman
86% unaccompanied women from Kerala/ 2019
86% Indian women who’ll go on Haj without male companion from Kerala
Freshly released government data show that 86% of Muslim women who will travel from India to Saudi Arabia for the Haj pilgrimage without a male companion ( mehram)this year are from Kerala.
Of 2,340 Muslim women going to Saudi, 2,011 are from the southern state.
More women than men have applied for Haj from Kerala. In all, there are more than 11,000 pilgrims from the state — 6,959 women (with or without mehram) and 4,513 men.
Last year, a change in government rules allowed women above 45 years of age to travel in groups of four for Haj without being accompanied by a male companion, and Muslim women from Kerala seem to have taken advantage of this.
Last year saw a similar trend, when 1,124 out of 1,340 women who undertook the pilgrimage without a male companion came from Kerala. A Kerala Haj Committee official attributed the high number of women travelling alone to various factors, among them literacy and gender parity. The decision to enable women to travel without a male companion forms part of the Haj policy for 2018-22.
The data for this category throws up an interesting trend. While the number of women from Kerala is 2,011, much larger states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal have very few women travelling without a man — 99 and 39, respectively.
There are 37 applicants from Tamil Nadu, 31 from Maharashtra, 27 from Madhya Pradesh, 26 from Rajasthan and 23 from Karnataka. Delhi has 12 applicants, while Bihar has nine, Assam eight, Jharkhand five and Chhattisgarh four. The oldest woman embarking on Haj this year is 87 years old. There are two more octogenarians, aged 80 and 82 years.
Highest number of Indians at Haj this yr
This year’s pilgrimage is likely to see the highest number of Indians, with Saudi Arabia issuing a formal order to enhance India’s Haj quota from 1.75 lakh to 2 lakh. In a meeting in February, the kingdom had agreed to hike the country’s Haj quota.