Institutional Framework around Haj Pilgrimage in India

Haj is one of the five tenets of Islam. It’s every Muslim’s desire to perform Haj at least once in his life time. Performing Haj is obligatory to every sane, financially able and adult Muslim.

Five Pillars of Islam

The five pillars of Islam are as follows:

  • Shahadh: Accepting Prophet Muhammad as God’s messenger.
  • Salat: Salat consists of five daily prayers: Fajr, zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha’a. Fajr is performed before the light of dawn, zuhr is performed when the sun starts to decline from its zenith, Asr is performed in the afternoon, Maghrib is the sunset prayer, and Isha’a is the evening prayer. Each prayer consists of a certain amount of rakaʿāt. A prayer either consists of two, three, or four rakaʿāt. All of these prayers are recited while facing the Ka’bah in Mecca. Muslims must wash themselves before prayer, this washing is called Wudu. The prayer is accompanied by a series of set positions including; bowing with hands on knees, standing, prostrating and sitting in a special position (not on the heels, nor on the buttocks, with the toes pointing away from Mecca), usually with one foot tucked under the body.
  • Sawm : Three types of fasting (Sawm) are recognized by the Qur’an: Ritual fasting, fasting as compensation for repentance (both from sura Al-Baqara), and ascetic fasting (from Al-Ahzab). Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory, but is forbidden for several groups for whom it would be very dangerous and excessively problematic.
  • Zakat : Zakat or alms-giving is the practice of charitable giving by Muslims based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all who are able to do so. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality.
  • Hajj : The route the pilgrims take during the Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is a pilgrimage that occurs during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah to the holy city of Mecca. Every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

Rites of Haj Pilgrimage

This Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. The Hajj is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah. The pilgrimage occurs from the 8th to 12th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar. Here we should note that due the Islamic calendar being eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the Hajj changes from year to year. There are some rites performed during Haj. Here are short notes about them:

  • Tawaf : The pilgrims perform their first Tawaf, which involves all of the pilgrims visiting the Kabah and walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kaaba.
  • Arafat : The second day rite is of Arafat. The pilgrims proceed to Mina where they spend the night in prayer.
  • Muzdalifah : This is the third day rite in which after the sunset, the pilgrims leave Arafat for Muzdalifah, an area between Arafat and Mina. Pilgrims spend the night sleeping on the ground with open sky, and in the morning they gather pebbles for the next day’s ritual of the stoning of the Devil (Shaitan) after returning to Mina.
  • Ramy al-Jamarat : At Mina the pilgrims perform Ramy al-Jamarat, throwing stones to signify their defiance of the Devil. This symbolizes the trials experienced by Abraham while he was going to sacrifice his son as demanded by God. The Devil challenged him three times, and three times Abraham refused. Each pillar marks the location of one of these refusals.
  • Eid al-Adha : After the Stoning of the Devil, the pilgrims perform animal sacrifices, to symbolize God having mercy on Abraham and replacing his son Ishmael with a ram, which Abraham then sacrificed. Traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animal themselves, or oversaw the slaughtering. However now, the pilgrims buy a sacrifice voucher in Makkah before the greater Hajj begins, which allows an animal to be slaughtered in their name on the 10th, without the pilgrim being physically present.
  • Tawaf Al-Ifaadah : The pilgrims re-visit the Masjid al-Haram mosque in Mecca for another tawaf, to walk around the Kaaba. This is called Tawaf al-Ifadah, which symbolizes being in a hurry to respond to God and show love for Him, an obligatory part of the Hajj. The night of the 10th is spent back at Mina
  • Tawaf al-Wida: Finally, before leaving Mecca, pilgrims perform a farewell tawaf called the Tawaf al-Wida.

What is difference between Haj and Umrah?

It is not necessary that Mecca can be visited by Muslims at the time of Haj only. Umrah is a pilgrimage to Mecca performed by Muslims that can be undertaken at any time of the year. So, Umrah is called a ‘minor pilgrimage’ or ‘lesser pilgrimage’, the Hajj being the ‘major’ pilgrimage and which is compulsory for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. The Umrah is not compulsory but highly recommended.

Haj Committee of India

Haj Committee of India is a statutory body constituted under the Haj Committee Act 2002. It is empowered to make arrangements for the Indian Pilgrims only in India under the present norms.

  • On reaching Jeddah / Madinah airport the responsibility to look after the Pilgrims and to redress their grievances is that of the Indian Consulate stationed at Jeddah. However, Haj Committee of India is committed to monitor the facilities made available to the Pilgrims and hence any shortcomings should be brought to the attention of its concerned Officers.

Thus, we see that the Haj Committee of India’s role is only advisory in nature as far as the arrangements in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are concerned. Ministry of Civil Aviation is the nodal agency and is fully responsible for any shortcomings in the air transportation of Pilgrims and their belongings to and from Saudi Arabia.

The precursor to the present Haj Committee was Haj Committee, Bombay which is working since British Era. The current chairperson of the Haj Committee of India is Mohsina Kidwai.

The functions are as follows:

  • Organizing the All India Annual Conference for Haj for deliberation upon arragements.
  • Making announcement of Haj via newspapers and inviting applications from sane, physically fit and financial able Muslims.
  • The applications are first received by State Haj Committees and then they are forwarded to Haj Committee of India after the last date for submission of applications is over.
  • Please note that Haj Quota is not fixed by the Haj Committee. The Haj Quota is fixed by the Government. The State-wise quota of Haj Seats is distributed among the States and Union Territories on the basis of Muslim Population of these States/Union Territories. In case the State Haj Committees receive applications in excess of the quota, then the seats are confirmed to the intending Pilgrims through draw of lots, which is called qurrah.
  • Haj Applications received through the State Haj Committees are scrutinized by the Haj Committee of India. The data is computerised and sent to Consulate General of India, Jeddah. It is utilized for the purposes of making allotment of accommodation at Makkah and Madina, flight allotment and for the monitoring the movement of the pilgrims.

VIP Haj Quota

There is a VIP Haj quota also. Recently, the Supreme Court of India slashed the VIP quota for Haj pilgrimage from 5050 seats to 300. The remaining 4750 seats will be added to the general category. As per the ruling of the court under the reduced quota, the President of India can recommend 100 pilgrims, the vicepresident75, the prime minister 75 and the Minister for External Affairs 50 pilgrims, while, the 200 seats would be reserved for the Haj Committee of India (HCI). For Haj 2012, 11000 seats have been reserved under government quota. After cutting the seats under discretionary quota and the HCI, the rest of the seats would go to the Haj committees of various states and Union territories.

Haj Subsidy

The Haj subsidy is an airfare subsidy given to Indian Muslim Hajj pilgrims. Since 1973, pilgrims applying through the Haj Committee of India are offered a concessionary fare on Air India. As of 2011, an estimated 100,000 Indian Muslim make use of the subsidy.

  • In May 2012, the Supreme Court of India ordered the government to end the practice by 2022. Haj subsidy is being provided from year 1991, and in the period 2005-2010 and a total of 6,40,792 Muslims in India have availed Haj subsidy on a total cost of 2,891.77 crore from the national exchequer.
  • It was also clarified that apart from Muslims no other religious community in India gets any subsidy for a religious pilgrimage.
  • In August 2010, the Minority Affairs Ministry formally opposed providing subsidy for Haj pilgrimage, saying the scheme, was contrary to the teachings of Islam.
  • The Government of India has proposed that starting from 2011, the amount of government subsidy per person will be decreased, and by 2017 will be ended completely.

Haj 2012

Around 1.7 lakh Indian Muslims would perform Haj in 2012. The Consulate General of India has been making efforts to improve the services provided to Indian pilgrims. In all, 479 buildings have been hired to accommodate 125,000 pilgrims coming through the Haj Committee of India. About 45,000 pilgrims will arrive through private tour operators.