Indian women 'delighted' to perform Hajj without a male guardian

More than 4,300 Indian women will travel without a male guardian, known as a mahram, after reforms were introduced last year

An Indian Muslim woman waits to get vaccinated ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage beginning on June 26. EPA
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When Zubeda Mohammed lost her husband to the pandemic, she thought that with him, her cherished desire to perform Hajj had also died.

Muslim women were not allowed to undertake the holy pilgrimage without a male companion until last year.

But now she will be among the thousands of Muslim women from India who will embark on the journey to Makkah.

Ms Mohammed, 56, from Malappuram district in coastal Kerala, is among the 4,300 Indian women devotees who will be performing Hajj in June without a male companion, known as a mahram.

“I am sad that he is not there on this pilgrimage. We wanted to go together. But I still want to go and fulfil that wish of a lifetime,” Ms Mohammed told The National.

Saudi Arabia announced last year that women over 45 will no longer be required to travel to the country to perform pilgrimage with a male guardian – a blood relative with whom marriage is not permissible.

India has more than 200 million Muslims and every year tens of thousands of them travel to Makkah.

This year, more than 175,000 pilgrims from the south Asian nation will perform Hajj.

An Indian woman in Chennai waits to get vaccinated against flu and pneumococcal meningitis ahead of the Hajj pilgrimage. EPA

Ms Mohammed, a mother of four, says she is thankful for the rule change now that Mohammed, who died aged 62, is no longer with her.

“He was working in Saudi Arabia for 10 years and had performed Hajj twice. After he came back a few years later, he had promised to take me too. But his untimely death changed everything,” she said.

Ms Mohammed will be joined by two of her female relatives on the pilgrimage, she added.

Sakina Mohammed Kutty, a 52-year-old also from Malappuram, said she is delighted with the reforms.

With four other women from her family who are over 45 taking advantage of the rule change, Sakina says thousands of women like herself are benefiting from this new opportunity.

“I have been waiting for this opportunity for years. It is a big deal for us that Saudi Arabia has relaxed the rule on women travelling alone,” Ms Kutty told The National.

The mother of four grown-up children said that men have traditionally had the freedom to travel to Saudi Arabia as they are often the primary earners, while women have been left behind as it is not always possible to find a male family member to accompany them.

“But times are changing, and now, this is our turn to perform Hajj and have that spiritual experience,” she said.

“When we are away, there is no one to cook and clean for. But we have told our menfolk to adjust for a few days.”

Updated: May 16, 2023, 11:06 AM