At a time when even the Prime Minister is emphasising that Muslims need to be given greater access to modern education to remove their social backwardness, several Muslim intellectuals, religious scholars and leaders are suggesting that the Government scrap the Haj subsidy and spend the money instead on schools, healthcare and other basic infrastructure for the welfare of the community. Some even describe the subsidy as “vote-bank politics” and say it’s unIslamic to undertake any obligation during Haj.
Demanding an end to the subsidy, Maulana Mehmood Madani, Rajya Sabha member and general secretary of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind, says “It is against the Shariat to be under any kind of obligation while undertaking Haj. According to the Quran, only those Muslims who can afford the expenses should perform Haj. It’s recommended only for adult, financially able and sane Muslims.”
Others like S Q R Ilyas, convenor of the Babri Masjid Committee and a senior member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), call the Haj subsidy “a sop to gain political mileage.”
Over Rs 180 crore has been offered as Haj subsidy for this year’s pilgrimage which, according to Haj Committee CEO Mohammad Owais, will be undertaken by around one lakh people. The committee has been asked by the Ministry of External Affairs to collect Rs 12,000 from each person towards airfare.
Owais has his own take on the subsidy issue. “There is no doubt that it is unIslamic and one should not be under any obligation while undertaking Haj. But we want travel to be made an open competition. We should be allowed to place bulk orders with the airline which quotes the lowest price for a ticket. As of now, we are bound by the Government to travel by Air India.” In fact the Central Haj committee convened a meeting today of all state committees to discuss this issue.
Ilyas, who also edits the Urdu weekly Afkar-e-Mili, says “there should be a separate institution for the regulation of Haj with no interference from the Government. Let Muslims decide themselves how to generate money to undertake Haj.” Pointing to the Sachar Committee findings, Ilyas says Muslims have emerged as a new backward class that needs uplift.
Of the 55 Islamic countries, not one, barring India, extends Haj subsidy because “Haj is not a state prerogative.” Though Pakistan had this subsidy till 1997, the Lahore High Court passed an order to discontinue it. There are independent institutions like Tabunghaji in Malaysia which regulate Haj in the country without offering any subsidy. They generate money for the pilgrimage after investing the deposits of intending Hajis.
Even religious scholars are calling for diversion of the subsidy amount towards basic infrastructure like education and healthcare. Mufti Nazeer-ud-Din, who runs Darul Aloom Rehimiya, Kashmir’s biggest seminary, echoes Ilyas: “We should be allowed have a separate institution to regulate Haj with very little influence from the Government. The Centre should channelise the subsidy amount for the welfare of Muslims. Allow us to control the annual pilgrimage ourselves.” Mehmood Madani goes a step further, calling for an institution like the SGPC for the pilgrimage “where there should be an electoral mechanism in place and representation from the Government. Overseeing of accounts should be the Centre’s only domain.” He also demanded global tenders for Haj flights “to make the pilgrimage cheaper” rather than being “monopolised by Air India.”