Haj Subsidy: religious and constitutional aspects

By Syed Zafar Mahmood

Unlike the other four basic pillars of Islam, Haj is not obligatory for every Muslim. In fact, it is simply not possible for each Muslim in the world to undertake a pilgrimage to Makkah. If 2.5 million Muslims perform Haj each year, still more than one billion Muslims of the world would need at least four centuries to perform Haj, whereas the generation changes in much less than a century. Thus, as per Godly scheme, only a small percentage of Muslims can perform Haj in their lifetime. This seems to be a strong worldly justification for why God did not proclaim Haj as obligatory for every Muslim.

Let’s find out for whom Haj is obligatory. As per Qur’an (3:97), a person has to be individually equipped to become liable for Haj. Exegesis analyses converge around the view that this capability needs to be both financial and physical. The person so obliged should have the necessary provisions - emanating from his lawful earnings - to fulfill all the justifiable requirements of self and dependents during his absence on pilgrimage. After this, an amount (or property of similar value) should still remain that suffices to meet the Haj expenses. The intending pilgrim should have even paid off his debts without seeking help from others. Secondly, the person should be physically capable of bearing the vagaries of Haj journey. Also, the travel route should be safe enough, i.e., not likely to bring any risk to the pilgrim’s life and property. When all these conditions are fulfilled, a Muslim may consider him/herself under obligation to perform Haj and that too only once in a lifetime.

It is generally understood that the Government of India has been extending part financial help toward the travel expenses of those who undertake their Haj journey through the Central Haj Committee. This means that a good deal of individual expenses are covered through the state exchequer. The state coffers consist of different types of tax monies paid by the citizenry. Our country has overwhelming majority of non-Muslims and they are also financially better off. A big chunk of the state revenues is collected from them. Some of the heads under which the Government collects taxes are not permissible in Shariat. Thus, true believers must ponder as to what extent God would be happy with a Haj performed with the financial support of Government funds. Also, among the pilgrims handled by the central Haj committee there are a good number of those who are so well off that their acceptance of state monetary help is not justified even on pure mundane consideration.

It needs to be borne in mind that Haj is a sacred religious duty having no place for instincts like tourism or recreation. It is a delicate worship and must be performed with the required spirit. The first message Haj coveys is of self-sacrifice, that is, submitting one’s existence to the Creator’s pleasure. The fundamental methodology of pleasing God is to raise the level of one’s spirit above the materialistic requirements of the body. Thus, a pilgrim should become an epitome of qahhari, ghaffari, quddusi and jabroot,  i.e., power of self-control, magnanimity to forgive, purity of thought and envisioning divine glory all around. Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi says in his book “Nuqoosh-e Iqbal” that proactive disapproval and protest against perpetration of injustice and untruth is a divine attribute. Such a person remains ready to utilize personal capabilities to implement God’s will. Haj also teaches forbearance and cultivation of mutual bonhomie. Accordingly, a pilgrim’s vision of God’s purpose in creating humanity is expected to undergo an internal kaleidoscopic change during his/her entire post-Haj life.

Most of us know the story of Ali Hajweri. On Mount Arafat, a question flashed in somebody’s mind as to whose Haj among his compatriots was most liked by God. He heard a whisper in his ears: ‘Ali Hajweri’.  On return, he travelled to Hajwer in Afghanistan and profusely greeted Ali, a cobbler living at the outskirts: God liked your Haj most of all. With tearful eyes Ali lamented: I could not go for Haj despite my willingness and best intention. I had planned the pilgrimage carefully saving each pie out of cobbling people’s footwear for a lifetime. But on the eve of my departure, I discovered that the neighbour’s children were hungry for two days and had to be fed roasted flesh of dead animal. Hence, I gifted to the neighbour all my savings for Haj and then prostrated before Allah seeking forgiveness for my indiscretion in appreciating the true import of His message. Ali’s sacrificial love for humanity had Divine recognition equivalent to the performance of a faithful Haj. This story gives us an insight into the true concept of Haj and its real benefits.

Let’s contemplate as to how much divine pleasure would be invoked through a Haj performed using  fellow countrymen's tax money. Why at all the community let a situation be created where the highest homeland court had to express disapproval of Haj subsidy? Does it not give a feeling of self-inflicted insult?

The Haj subsidy needs to be analyzed from another standpoint. Acting well within the constitutional spirit, the Government makes necessary arrangements for the followers of different religions: like on the occasions of Kumbh Mela, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, dispatching jathas to Nankana Saheb, having dedicated Haj Terminals at Indian airports, running Haj offices in Makkah and Madinah, etc. Besides, the Government bears substantial portion of the airfare in respect of those who undertake the pilgrimage through the Haj Committee of India; this is generally known as Haj subsidy.

As consciencious Muslims, we must examine the scriptural permission or otherwise of such financial help provided by the Government, in the light of verse 97 of  chapter Aal ‘Imran which enshrines the Godly scheme of Haj. That is surely an internal issue of the Ummah. We should obtain written substantiated clarifications from reliable Islamic ulama, commentators, jurists, scholars, and Muftis. On the basis of such comprehensive documentation, supported by authentic references, Haj subsidy becomes a subject matter of Ijma - consensus through widespread informed discussion - that is the third prescribed source of Islamic law, after Qur’an and Hadis.

Meanwhile, it would be useful to dig deep into the components of what has come to be known as Haj subsidy. If only the national air-carriers of India and Saudi Arabia are allowed to participate in the Haj travel - and that is the reason of the high fares - then why shouldn’t we obtain the competitive fare quotes from many other international air travel companies? Based on that, our diplomats in Saudi Arabia - in consultation with their counterparts from other countries in Riyadh and Jeddah - can jointly make a representation to the Saudi Government. The Kingdom should be asked to re-orient its Haj travel policy and allow every country to bring its Hajis through any international airline of it’s choice. Before that the Ministries of External Affairs and Civil Aviation and the Central Haj Committee can join hands and organize an international convention for this purpose. Consequently the Haj-air-fare sector could possibly become the buyers’ market rather than the sellers’ as it obtains today. The air fare could considerably go down as a result of the competitive commercial rivalry among the various air companies and then the necessity of subsidy might become superfluous.

Another important aspect of Haj subsidy must also attract our attention. We, the Muslims of India, are surely living a better life in our country as compared with our co-religionists in many other countries. Yet, in some areas of life, we suffer constitutional violations. Our constitution prevents religion-based discrimination or favouritism by the State. Still we were excluded from the definition of scheduled castes under the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order of 1950. As a result, we were externed from the reserved seats of the Parliament, assemblies and the bureaucracy. It is difficult to fathom the resulting grave and multiplied sufferance of the community and how this has undermined our well-being and prosperity. That is the reason that the Sachar Committee reported that, compared to the followers of other faiths, Indian Muslims are lagging much behind in the educational, economic, and social fields. So, why don’t we get the issue resolved once and for all through our Parliament, assemblies, and the governmental machinery: Make the definition of the scheduled castes religion-neutral and withdraw the Haj subsidy. That way, the pilgrimage of more than a hundred thousand of Muslims can invoke greater divine pleasure. At the same time, the six decade-old State discrimination against millions of Muslims can come to an end.

Let’s pray in the words of Allama Iqbal:

Bhatkey huwey aahoo ko phir soo-e Haram ley chal,

Is shahr  ke  khoogar  ko  phir  wus’at-e sahra  dey.

O  Lord!   Guide  the  straying  gazelle*  back  toward  the  Holy Precincts**,

Replace it’s mundane urban myopia by spiritual generosity of the vast desert.

* The Muslim community    ** The True Message

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 June 2012 on page no. 8

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