The government’s move to stage out subsidies for the annual Haj pilgrimage is a decision in the right direction. It is a fact that the Haj is a journey Muslims are enjoined to make at least once in their lifetimes to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, which is considered sacred in Islam. Our country spends billions of rupees every year in air-fare subsidies for Indian Muslims to fly on Air India to Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The original argument for the subsidy was that Muslims, who constitute about 15 per cent of the Indian population and among the poorest members of society, needed assistance because many could not afford the journey otherwise. One agrees that the subsidy should not be done away with as it has helped impoverished Muslims fulfil an important religious obligation and wish of a lifetime but on the other hand government’s argument is also true that the money spent for Haj subsidy would be channelised for the welfare of minority students is a farce. It is a part of the Modi government’s efforts to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement.
All Muslims from the nation wholeheartedly welcome this move. Haj is obligatory, only once in a lifetime and only for those Muslims who are both physically capable of undertaking the journey and have the adequate financial capacity but it is not obligatory for others. Haj is the fifth pillar of Islam. Even in the past, all the Muslim MPs had asked the government that the money diverted for the Haj subsidy must be used in funding the education of Muslim girls. They want girls from their community to be no longer confined to the madrasas, but to receive a modern education. The apex court’s order has been obeyed about four years ahead of the date prescribed by it. A sum of Rs 700 crore, which was given to Indian Muslim pilgrim going to Mecca, will now be used to empower girls from minorities in matters of education, providing job opportunities. As far as upliftment of girls is concerned both majorities and minorities should be treated alike in any matter, including empowerment.
The court has also rightly mentioned the Quran saying that the Haj pilgrimage was mandatory only for those who could afford the expenses for travelling, food and accommodation. Even the tenets of Islam state that the merits of Haj are earned when it is performed with one’s own earnings.
Muslims do not need government’s money to do pilgrimage. Actually it was not a subsidiary for Muslim pilgrims instead it was subsidiary for Air India which was the lone airline authorised to carry pilgrims. Subsidy in such events does not encourage the purpose of Haj the holiest visit known in Islam. In the beginning it seemed like helping middle class old citizens to complete their dreams. Later this subsidy slowly reduced the real value and holiness of Haj as lot of influential people used Haj subsidy as a tourist subsidy.
Performing of Haj is not an obligation for those believers who could not afford the expenses involved in the process. On the whole, it is a sensible move, which seems to aim at replacing tokenism with more meaningful investment in the welfare of minorities and at putting the distance required between a secular government and religious practices.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)