NEW DELHI: Indian authorities responsible for organizing Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia are seeking to abolish the VIP quota for Hajj pilgrims.
With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population.
Every year, at least 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.
While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there are 500 reserve spots annually set aside for top government officials — a practice that is now under review by the Haj Committee of India.
Discussions are still underway.
“We have just taken a decision to abolish the VIP quota, but that decision has not been implemented ... There is no consensus on this issue so far,” S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the committee, told Arab News.
Both Begum and the committee’s chairman, A. P. Abdullakutty, said that ending the preferential treatment for VIP pilgrims would be in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s general approach not to accord special privileges due to higher social status.
“This VIP culture is not good with lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of people waiting for Hajj pilgrimage. This is bad. PM Modi is in favor of ending the VIP culture,” Abdullakutty said, adding that more clarity on the issue was expected soon.
“After extensive discussion with all stakeholders our new policy is prepared ... in a few days’ time a new policy of Hajj would be announced.”
Although the quota of 500 appears to be little compared with the country’s annual Hajj quota, for Muslims the very idea of privileged treatment during Hajj was bizarre.
“When you go for Hajj, everyone is the same there. Everyone is equal there. There is uniformity there. People wear the same clothes, go through the same process of pilgrimage,” Asad Rizvi, an intellectual based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, told Arab News.
“There is no concept of VIP in front of Allah.”
For some, even a few hundred spots would contribute to making the pilgrimage more accessible to all.
“Many people aspire to go for Hajj, but the limited number of spots come in their way,” Zaid Khan, a resident of Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, said.
“I am sure more people will get the opportunity to visit Saudi Arabia and perform Hajj.”
Asad Shah, an 81-year-old resident of Delhi, was surprised that there even was such a quota.
“If the government abolishes it, I should welcome it,” he said, but hoped that more would be done to help facilitate Muslim pilgrimage.
“Until a few years ago there was a government program where they used to facilitate the Hajj for poor Muslims, chosen through a lottery system. If the government thinks about the welfare of Muslims, then it should restore it.”