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10 August 2013

Haj waiting list makes Umra more attractive to Muslims

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By Barkha Mathur

Increased affluence among the Muslim community is being reflected in activities once considered difficult. "Haj is the most sacred act undertaken by a Muslim. But now, money is making it possible to undertake these journeys, in the form of Umra, as and when desired," says GS Khwaja, senior superintendent in Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

A large number of people now perform the Umra, which is considered a shorter Haj, during the holy month of Ramzan. "It is believed that Prophet Mohammad leads the devout during such a trip to Mecca, when undertaken in this month," says advocate Ehsan Qureshi. He has been travelling to Jeddah during Ramzan since the last five years and spends the last ten days of the holy month there.

Muslims are advised to perform Haj once in a lifetime by the Koran. "Long waiting lists and difficulties encountered during that pilgrimage are all compelling Muslims to do Umra, which can be done by visiting Mecca on a tourist visa anytime," says Khwaja. "Those who apply now would probably make it after two to three years. Those who have done it once will not get another opportunity for five years," informs Khwaja, attributing this to the rise in number of those doing Umra.

"Increased level of education is creating more awareness towards religion among Muslims," feels Yusuf Khan Iqra, a travel agent who does bookings for Umra. "Though an Umra can be done anytime, the number of persons who undertake it during Ramzan has increased manifold in this region too," he says.

Umra can be done at half the cost of Haj, but during Ramzan it can cost anywhere between Rs1.5 to Rs2 lakhs. "Some 30% of our clients are those who are going for the second or third time," says Khan, attributing this increase to growing incomes. "But, this year, the Saudi Consulate has cut down the number of visas to be issued by 20% all over the world, so we could send only 90 persons as compared to 150 last year."

It is a trend that has caught on. "People who go during Ramzan return and describe that experience to their relatives. So, next year more people want to go," feels Tajdaar Khan, who has made this trip twice.

However, this is not finding favour with everybody. "It has become something to be flaunted. Now, even during Ramzan, there are nearly 40 to 50 lakh people in Mecca. This is the time to do charity. That would also serve the cause of Islam," says Tahseem Junaid, who performed the Umra two months back.

"Visiting Mecca and Kaba is a process to purify the heart and bring us face to face with God. People like to soak in this experience repeatedly," feels Javedbhai Kanchwala, who is yet to make these pilgrimages. "If given an opportunity, I too would like to do this more than once," he says.

Having the last word on the issue is professional golfer Moin Malak, whose father Amiruddin Malak is the head of the Mahadi Bagh community. "Worship is a personal matter, so number of times that a person performs Umra too is a personal decision. During Ramzan, the sabab of visiting Mecca is seventy times more, so it is a popular period for doing so," he informs.

"People spend lakhs on holidays to some very undesirable destinations. Undertaking this pilgrimage repeatedly is a much better way to spend money," he adds.

(Courtesy: The Times of India)

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