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10 May 2012

Muslims welcome Haj ruling

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By Imran Ahmed Siddiqui


New Delhi: Muslim leaders and clerics today (May 8, 2012) welcomed the Supreme Court order for progressive elimination of the Haj subsidy, and demanded the Haj committee be allowed to float international tenders for chartered flights to carry the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.


They pointed out that Air India’s Haj fares are higher than other airlines’ fares on the same routes, because under Saudi rules, the carrier’s planes have to return empty after dropping the pilgrims and again fly to Saudi empty to bring them back.


But private airlines are expected to offer lower fares during the bidding if a tender is floated, said Zafaryab Jilani, an All India Muslim Personal Law Board member.


Mufti Maulana Abdul Qasim Nomani termed the subsidy un-Islamic, saying Islam does not permit Muslims to take money from anybody for Haj — a point the court itself made.
“The government started giving the subsidy for obvious reasons, as nobody from the community had asked for it,” he said.


Jilani said the law board had been demanding the abolition of the Haj subsidy for several years. He added that Air India’s Haj high fares means the bulk of the subsidy goes to it instead of the pilgrim.


“The subsidy is mainly aimed at bailing out the sick Air India. We have been demanding abolition of the subsidy and the floating of a global tender for chartered flights,” he said.
“Since 1.25 lakh pilgrims go to Mecca to perform Haj through the Haj committee, a global tender will bring competition from several airlines and this would automatically lead to a fall in fare.”


Minority affairs minister Salman Khurshid welcomed the order and said the government had been working in the same direction. “The issue of Haj subsidy has been already under consideration for over the last four years and discussions had taken place for rollback of Haj subsidy.”


He said the government was also working to ensure there was no burden on the pilgrims and the financial arrangements with the airlines were “more viable”.


“I hope it will even out and balance out. This is my impression,” he said.


Around 1.7 lakh Indians will go on Haj this year in September-October. Of them, 1.25 lakh will go through the Haj committee and the rest with the help of private tour operators.


Zafarul Islam Khan, working president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, said the government had started the practice of giving Haj subsidy in 1973.


“The subsidy stops the pilgrims from flying private airlines, some of which offer more attractive packages, including hotel rooms and transport within Saudi Arabia at the same or lower price.”
He suggested the government also look for an alternative mechanism modelled on the Malaysian concept of Tabung Haji, which allows Hajis to make the pilgrimage by investing their own money in an “Islamic, Shariat-compliant” way.


They put whatever amount they can afford into a kitty and can withdraw it whenever they want to go on Haj.


Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) expressed happiness at the apex court order.


“The subsidy money should be invested in the education of minority girls and for their overall development,” he said.


(Courtesy: The Telegraph, Kolkata)

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