Haj Pilgrimage and Haj Committee of India

Eid-al-Adha is celebrated by Muslims worldwide, to mark the conclusion of Haj, one of the five pillars of Islam. This festival is celebrated to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to offer his promised son as sacrifice according to God’s command. In the end, God intervened and asked for a lamb as sacrifice. To mark this event, Muslims worldwide offer sheep as sacrifice.

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.

The Haj Pilgrimage

This Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia is one of the largest pilgrimages in the world. The Haj 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. It’s worth note that due the Islamic calendar being eleven days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the Haj 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 Haj 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 Haj. 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.

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 Haj 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 Haj pilgrims. Since 1973, pilgrims applying through the Haj Committee of India are offered a concessionary fare on Air India. As of 2013, an estimated 100,000 Indian Muslim make use of the subsidy. In 2013-14, government provided Rs. 691 crores as Haj subsidy; while it was Rs. 836 crore in the previous year. We make a note here that 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. Also we note that apart from Muslims, no other religious community in India gets any subsidy for a religious pilgrimage. The Haj subsidy is also against the teachings of Islam and this statement was reverberated by Minority Ministry in 2010.

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