11/09/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Muslim leaders: "Government not sending believers to Mecca to save money"

by Prakash Dubey

Religious leaders have accused the government of stinginess and ineptitude, because it has compelled around 38,000 believers not to participate in the pilgrimage, one of the fundamental precepts of Islam.

Gorakhpur (AsiaNews) – Indian Muslim leaders are "infuriated" with the government because in order "to save money", it did not ask Saudi Arabia for permits for the Haj – the pilgrimage to Mecca – for about 40,000 people.

Hafiz Nausad Azami, religious leader and member of the Central Haj Committee, told AsiaNews: "For the first time, as many as 38,000 pilgrims from India will not be able to perform Haj which is one of the five fundamental duties of Muslims this year, due to bureaucratic problems."

Azami slammed the "inept Indian government" that "did not ask the Saudi government for entry permits for all 148,000 applicants for the Haj pilgrimage, as requested, but only for 110,000. It's obvious if the Indian government had asked for more, the Saudi government would not have refused: it's a question of negligence."

More than negligence, one Muslim social activist accused the government of "parsimony". Feroj Alam, who collaborates with the Commission, said Delhi wanted to "avoid spending money on us Muslims. The government covers 20% of the costs of each pilgrim, so it found this way to save money".

However, the activist added: "Many of those who must remain in India are old and it is uncertain whether they will be able to travel to Mecca next year. So it imperative for the government to make diplomatic efforts to obtain more permits to allow them to travel."

According to Muslim law, the Haj should be undertaken in the month of dhū l-hijja, the final month in the Islamic lunar calendar. In the remaining months, the ritual is called "umra", a minor pilgrimage that is not obligatory, different from the Haj in that it is shorter and has a simpler liturgy. This year, the lunar year starts on 22 November.

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