Haj rule change in India leads to sharp rise in female applicants

Haj rule change in India leads to sharp rise in female applicants

Muslim pilgrims at the Kaaba at the Masjid al-Haram Mosque, Islam's holiest site, in Mecca, in September 2015. The pilgrimage is one of Islam's five pillars – it has to be performed at least once in one's life if he or she can afford it.

A record 1,244 Indian women have applied to go for Haj next year after the NDA government allowed for the first time Muslim women to undertake the annual pilgrimage to Mecca without the company of a male relative.

Till now, Muslim women had to be accompanied by a mehram, usually a husband or a relative to whom marriage is unlawful, for the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

Officials in the minority affairs ministry said of the 1,244 applications from single women, 1,016 applications have been accepted so far.

The recommendation to allow women-only groups to apply for Haj was made by the Afzal Amanullah panel constituted to review the earlier Haj policy. The panel’s recommendation was accepted by the Narendra Modi government in October.

“There are many schools of thought on this (women going alone) but the religion per se doesn’t prohibit it. So I decided to make the recommendation,” Amanullah said.

Since demand often outstrips the quota of pilgrims India is allowed to send, applications are picked through a lucky draw. But in the category of women without male companions, there is no quota limit as the Centre wants to give priority to such applicants.

Kerala tops the list with 288 women, said Mohammed Hassain, who vets records at the Kerala Haj Committee.

Scholars say there is no restriction in Islam that explicitly bars single women from embarking on Haj. Saudi Arabia admits women-only groups if the pilgrims are over 45 years of age.

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