Kolkata: Maqsooda Begum, Fatema Bibi and Halema Khatoon did not know each other even till a few weeks ago, but ‘divine intervention’ will have them play each other’s guardians for over two months later this year thousands of kilometres from home.
The trio of women, along with 45 other women from Bengal, will be among the first to undertake the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca and other holy sites in Saudi Arabia without a mahram (male guardian).
The women will be flying to Saudia Arabia in clusters of at least four in June to perform the pilgrimage, considered one of the five pillars of Islam.
This became possible after the Saudi government reformed its Haj requirements that made it mandatory for a woman to be accompanied by a male chaperone for the pilgrimage. The Indian government is implementing the new guidelines from the batch undertaking the pilgrimage in 2018.
Seventy year old Lali Begum’s dream of undertaking the pilgrimage will finally come true. “It has been a long-cherished dream to visit Mecca and Madina,” she said.
“The Almighty has given me the opportunity to do so this year,” added the Topsia resident who is travelling in a cluster of four women, one of them her daughter Saheena Begum. “As soon as we came to know that women, from this year, will be allowed to undertake the pilgrimage without a male guardian, we immediately applied,” said Saheena, 46.
Nearly half of the 1,70,000 pilgrims who had undertaken the Haj pilgrimage from India in 2017 were women. Muslims who are physically and financially able undertake the Haj pilgrimage at least once in their lives to Mecca and the nearby holy sites in Saudi Arabia. It is one of the five pillars, or duties, of Islam along with professing faith in one God, prayer, charitable giving and fasting during the holy month of Ramzan.
Razia Bibi, whose husband passed away years ago, has waited almost 15 years for this moment. “I am a widow and I don’t have a son either. It is a dream of every woman to perform this duty but I could not because of the mahram rule of the Saudi government. But my prayers have been answered and I will be going with other women this year,” said the South 24-Parganas resident.
The website of the royal embassy of Saudi Arabia mentions clearly that in order to apply for a Haj visa, women who are under 45 years of age must travel with a mahram and possess papers that provide proof of relationship. Women who are over 45 years of age may travel without a mahram, with an organised group of women. They must, however, submit a notarized no-objection letter from the husband, son or brother authorizing the travel.
Later this month, the West Bengal Haj Committee is organising an interaction of the 48 women who will be undertaking the pilgrimage without a male guardian.