The criticism of certain recommendations of the review committee on the new Haj policy -- including that of women performing Haj without 'mehram' -- is not valid, a vocal member of the committee has said.
Kamal Farooqi, a member of the committee, said the criticism is not valid as in some schools of Islamic jurisprudence, women can travel without a mehram -- her husband or a male relative like her father, brother and paternal and maternal uncles.
"In the Hanafi sect, women are not allowed to travel without a mehram for Haj and otherwise. But in some other schools, and in Shias, it is allowed. A woman can perform Haj alone if there is no mehram," Farooqi told IANS.
"But when we are forming a Haj policy, we are forming it for Muslims of all schools of jurisprudence, not just for Hanafis," he said, stressing that he himself is a Hanafi Muslim. "And above all, this condition is not binding on anyone. Nobody is forcing women to travel alone if they don't want to."
He explained that as per Saudi Arabian rules, a woman below 45 years of age cannot travel with a 'namehram' -- the opposite of mehram.
"It is totally opposite of the Hanafis' stand. They allow women to travel alone, but not with a namehram. So the Saudi government, in my view, should have no problem in allowing women above 45 years to perform Haj in a group of four," Farooqi said.
He said the committee travelled across the country as well as to Saudi Arabia and consulted a large number of stakeholders and scholars of different schools of thought before finalising their recommendations.
Shia scholar Maulana Kalbe Jawad Naqvi has welcomed the recommendation.
"As per our maslak (sect) a woman can perform Haj alone. So the recommendation, if accepted, will allow Shia women to perform Haj all by themselves if they want," Naqvi told IANS.
He said that for those who do not want to travel without a mehram, the rule is not binding.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs (MoMA) had formed a committee consisting of prominent Muslims under the chairmanship of retired IAS officer Afzal Amanullah in February to review the Haj policy and suggest measures to improve the overall experience of the pilgrimage. The committee recently submitted its report to the Ministry.
One of the recommendations said that women above 45 years of age should be allowed to perform Haj without a mehram in a group of four. This has not gone down well with the majority of Islamic clerics of the Hanafi school who see the recommendation as going against the Sharia.
"We cannot understand the purpose of this recommendation because as per Islamic Shariat a woman cannot travel alone without a mehram," Maulana Niaz Farooqui of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) told IANS.
He added that apart from the Shariat prohibition, the safety and security of women during the travel and stay in a foreign country are also an issue.
"The government can make a policy but those who follow Shariat will not go without mehram," he said.
The Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid, Maulana Ahmed Bukhari, too condemned the recommendation and said that an important diktat of Shariat was being ignored to garner some popularity.
"Women are not allowed to travel alone and there is no ambiguity in this. Now those who have this recommendation should come clear on whether this diktat of Shariat is no longer valid for an important religious obligation like Haj," Bukhari said.
He said the Saudi Arabian government will have to decide whether it accepts this proposal.
The other recommendations include abolishing the reserved category of applicants -- 70-plus of age and the fourth timers -- and the continuation of khadimul hajjaj (a person responsible for looking after a group of 200 pilgrims) should be reviewed.
The Ministry has not yet finalised what recommendations it is going to accept.
(Asim Khan can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)