THE CURTAILED annual pilgrimage of Haj, which began on Wednesday in the holy city of Mecca, left many Indian Muslims, including 52-year-old Wasiya Siddiqui, with regret that they could not be part of the global congregation deemed as one of the five pillars of Islam.
Pilgrims like Wasiya often save and prepare for years before travelling to Mecca. With the government of Saudi Arabia, however, limiting participation to only 10,000 local residents as it seeks to control the spread of Covid-19, Wasiya and many others, who could have been in Mecca now, are either watching pilgrimage rituals on television or offering prayers to make up for the missed opportunity.
“If I don’t survive until next year, I have asked my daughter to perform hajj on my behalf,” she said. She is one among 2.13 lakh applicants, who were selected to make the holy trip this year but will now have to reapply next year.
“It was a dream for me and my husband, before his sudden demise. We asked the Haj committee to consider our application for next year instead of returning our money, but to no avail,” said Wasiya, who was preparing to travel with her 27-year-old son Faizammul Siddiqui.
With millions of people hopeful of undertaking the journey, the Saudi government is tightly regulating the entry for the pilgrimage to avoid crowding. Each country has been allotted a specific quota with India being eligible to send 2.3 lakh pilgrims.
The decision to suspend or limit the hajj is an extremely rare decision. Since it was undertaken in its present form in the sixth century, it has been suspended only 40 times in the last 1,400 years. The last major disruption was in 1814 due to a plague that spread through the Ottoman Empire.
Soon after a confirmation for the pilgrimage, Wasiya had enrolled in a class to learn all prayers, rules, and etiquette to be followed while performing haj. These days, Wasiya recites the verses she learnt for haj every night before going to bed.
For many others like Shaikh Immanuddin (60), whose application was selected after consistently trying for five years, the cancellation was more than a disappointment. According to Immanuddin, he tried everything to get his name selected over the past five years. He is now unsure of how long he would have to wait before his application makes the cut once again.
“The government must carry ahead these applications for next year,” he said. The Haj committee returned Rs 81,000 he had deposited as his first instalment for the trip. Immanuddin, for now, is following a telecast of haj on Facebook.
Some others, like 76-year-old Abdul Rashid Khan, have stepped out to do the best they can for those affected by Covid-19. “The next best thing you can do after hajj is to serve humanity and that is what I have been doing,” said Khan, who has taken it upon himself to provide food to the needy and arrange for financial help for the poor in Aurangabad.
According to Dr Masood Ahmed Khan, CEO of Haj Committee, people have made several representations demanding that applicants selected this year should be allowed to travel next year. Khan said, “We are considering these demands and working out a way to give them preference next year, but the modalities of how it will be done is yet to be decided.”
He, however, also clarified that all those wishing to go next year will have to file fresh applications.
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