NEW DELHI: More than 4,300 Indian women have registered to perform this year’s Hajj on their own, in what authorities say will be the country’s largest female contingent to embark on the pilgrimage without a male guardian.
With over 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Under the 2023 Hajj quota, about 175,000 of them will travel to Saudi Arabia in June for the spiritual journey that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
In a first, among the pilgrims will be women who applied individually and will reach the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah on their own, following last year’s decision by Saudi Arabia to lift a rule that required women to be accompanied by a mahram, or male guardian. Those who had no such companion could previously travel only in large groups of other women.
India tweaked its Hajj policy accordingly in February, and the Ministry of Minority Affairs announced its list of pilgrims on Monday, saying that this year 4,314 pilgrims were selected in the Ladies Without Mahram category, marking the country’s “largest ever contingent of women proceeding on Hajj alone without a male member.”
A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News that the fact that so many Indian women are going on Hajj without a mahram was an indicator of social development.
“It’s a good sign,” he said. “This is an empowerment of women, especially the empowerment of Indian Muslim women.”
Shaista Ambar, a resident of Lucknow, is one of the women who applied to travel alone.
“I lost my husband and a son in the COVID pandemic, but I did not lose my hope to go for Hajj and I applied all alone,” she told Arab News.
“Women have been asking the Haj committee to change the rules for (so) long. Qur’an gives women equal rights to education and freedom (as men).”
To make the new pilgrimage policy even more fair, Indian authorities have also abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims, which earlier had 500 reserve spots set aside for top government officials. They also made special arrangements to provide forex facilities to pilgrims, allowing them to carry sums that are based on their actual requirements.
“In front of Allah everyone is equal,” Abdullakutty, said. “There is a complete transparency in the selection ... The whole idea is to make pilgrimage as smooth as possible for Indian Muslims.”