New Delhi: In a landmark development, Muslim women may soon be allowed to embark on Haj pilgrimage without men accompanying them, known as Mehram. New Haj policy for 2018-2022 has not only proposed to abolish the Haj Subsidy but has also stated that women above 45 should be allowed to go on pilgrimage without a male partner.
The committee headed by former IAS officer and Parliamentary Affairs Secretary Afzal Amanullah was set up on the basis of a Supreme Court judgment, dated April 16, 2013, which examined Government of India’s Haj policy 2013-17. The Supreme Court had asked the Centre to frame the next five-year policy.
Interestingly, while Saudi government allowed women to travel alone for Haj, India didn’t. “We have not understood religion and we go by what majority Muslim community holds in this country… we have denied women their right to do Haj,” Amanullah told News18.
“Article 10 of the bilateral agreement that we have signed with the Saudi government shows that women below 45 will be accompanied by male Mehram. This age cap was put by the Saudi government and it was clear that women above 45 can travel without Mehram. This has not been implemented till date because we have not understood religion and we go by what majority Muslim community holds in this country,” Amanullah explained.
He further pointed out that India being a secular country is neutral to religion and thus the committee report gives an option to a woman to either be a part of the policy to travel alone or adhere to one’s belief.
“I have clearly stated that only those women whose school of thought allows them to go on Haj alone should be permitted to do so in groups of four or more… But in a secular country, state will be neutral to religion,” he said.
Amanullah said prohibiting women to travel alone without a male company was only a way to listen to the majority of the Muslim opinion in the country. “Amongst Indians, 70% are followers of one particular sect who say that a woman can never perform Haj without a Mehram.
Now the Haj Committee of India, which is to represent all Muslims of India and to allow all Muslims as per Allah’s willing to go for Haj, is precluding some segment of Muslims who are eligible to go for Haj alone but she is not allowed as she has no Mehram,” he said.
Explaining the Committee’s recommendation, Amanullah said the popular conception of women not being allowed alone is derived from two popular incidents from the life of Prophet Mohammad.
“The first was when a person came up to Prophet Muhammad and asked him that he had to go for a war and his wife desired to go for Haj. The prophet replied that he must go with his wife. Now people have extrapolated this incident to give credence to their belief. The second thing is that long ago there used to be some routes where pirates used to loot the caravans. During such loots, women were captured, raped and kept as slaves. Hence it was said that women during Haj should not travel alone,” Amanullah said.
Regarding the age restriction, Amanullah said it was rule of the Saudi government and that the committee had no role to play in it. “The age restriction of 45 years has been set because we spoke to the Saudi government and it is their policy to not allow single women below 45 to travel without Mehram. Now we have got it in written from them that they will be issuing Visas to single women travelling in group. We have to respect the country’s laws,” said Amanullah.