Makkah, during the month of Dhul-Hijja, sees the largest annual congregation of people at any given place and time in the world. Towards it some three million converge from four corners of the earth in order to fulfill their religious duty of Hajj. Dressed in their white ritual garments, the pilgrims stand shoulder to shoulder equal before God, regardless of race, gender, wealth or rank. The physical journey had obviously changed over the centuries: the camel has now been replaced by motorized transport and the pilgrim caravans by chartered flights. The spiritual journey however remains in essence – unchanged. The pilgrimage in the early nineteenth century comprised Hajj caravans patronized by Ottoman and Mughal rulers whose journeys were long with the danger of robbery; also the cost of going on Hajj was prohibitive to many Muslims.
After the decline of Mughal Empire in India Sikandar Begum and Sultan Jahan Begum, women rulers of Bhopal offered Hajj in 1863 A.D and 1903 A.D respectively. While the former travelled with her mother Queen Qudsia Begum in three charted ships with 1500 persons, the latter embarked with 300 persons. Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan, the Nawab of Rampur, performed Hajj in 1872 A.D. In the middle of the 16th century A.D. Sufi Shahul Hameed Waliullah reached Jeddah by boats along with his disciples to offer Hajj. This act was followed by many scholars in the 18th century A.D. The notable were Shah Waliullah, Mir Ghulam Ali Azaz Bilgrami and Hajji Shariat Allah. Usually they stayed at Makkah years together during which every year they offered Hajj besides enriching Islamic knowledge that was spread in India on their return. The Indian pilgrims on their own in a big group for the first time proceeded for Hajj in 1821 A.D. under the leadership of Syed Ahmed, a freedom fighter and Islamic reformist.
By that time, performing Hajj was discouraged on account of the difficulties involved in the journey. To remove such misconception he himself came forward to lead the Muslims and gave a call for Hajj. Responding to his attempt Muslims gathered at Barelvi. From here, with 400 pilgrims he proceeded towards Calcutta by boats in the river Ganges via Allahabad, Banaras and Azimabad, the present day Patna. Thereafter the main Journey continued form Calcutta. After performing Hajj , the group returned to India in the month of April 1824 A.D. Later on, the group journey induced Indian Muslims to go for Hajj in groups without fear.
But in the era of imperialism, pilgrims increasingly travelled under European regulations from homelands under non-Muslim rule in order to begin their pilgrimage. Britain, which ruled the largest number of Muslims in the world by the early twentieth century, was the most important non-Muslim power involved with the hajj. Colonial bureaucracy related to the pilgrimage began in the 1860s and evolved in complexity until decolonization in the 1950s. When India came under the rule of British, they provided protection to the Indian pilgrims in their journey by enforcing the provisions of two Acts namely Protection of Pilgrims Act of 1887and Protection of Muhammadean Pilgrims Act of 1896.
Alexander Ogilvie entered this milieu in 1838 as the first British consul and East India Company agent to Jeddah, a port on the Red Sea near to Mecca. Britain’s concern was to promote trade between the Hejaz and India, and protect British maritime interests in the Red Sea that had increased after the occupation of Aden in 1837. The Hajj was of only fleeting interest. For example, the presence of Indian destitute pilgrims in Jeddah in 1853 prompted the Consul to ask how to deal with people who were now British subjects. The response from India was unequivocal.
The British appointed Thomas Cook and his son as their official travel agents of the Hajj. In this capacity, the agents coordinated rail transportation, shipping, passports, medical provisions and ticketing procedures for the pilgrims. But their service was availed only by the affluent Muslim class. In 1909, the British in its imperial gazette laid down that it has a special obligation to protect the Indian pilgrims visiting Makkah and Karbala. In the third decade of the 20th century, the British initiated the organized Hajj administration which began with the setting up of the Hajj Committee, Bombay in 1927 A.D. Mr. D. Healy, the Commissioner of Police was the President of it. The members of the Committee were the prominent Muslim public representatives. The total number of members including the President was ten. The formal meeting of it was conducted on 14th April 1927 A.D. Some recommendations were made by the government to realize that the establishment of a full-fledged Hajj administration was the only way to remove the grievances of the pilgrims. Therefore the British government passed the Act No.XX of 1932 which also came to be called as the Port Hajj Committee Act of 1932. In the light of it, the Port Hajj Committee of Calcutta, the Port Hajj Committee of Bombay and the Port Hajj Committee of Karachi were installed at Calcutta, Bombay and Karachi respectively.
These committees were instructed with Hajj administration in the respective sites. The Indian Islamic press published the approximate expenses including the fare to be incurred by the pilgrims, in their respective publications so as to prevent the pilgrims from facing problems due to shortage of money. During the second world war despite the difficulties, the Indian pilgrims continued their holy journey, but in thin numbers. Lord Linlinthgow, the Viceroy of India in war time, discouraged the Muslims from doing Hajj stating the reasons of security and shortage of ships. Ignoring the view of the Viceroy, the Muslims mounted pressure on the government to permit them to go for Hajj. On the other hand to pull more number of pilgrims, the Saudi Government advanced money to Mutawwif to go over to India to canvas for pilgrims. 4
After 1947 A.D., the Government of India as part of its fulfillment of the welfare of the people decided to implement effective Hajj administration in India. Therefore, it passed an Act in 1959 A.D. which came to be called as The Hajj Committee Act, 1959, No.51 of 1959. It constituted a committee known as the Hajj Committee of India. Throughout the 1960s, about 14,500 Indian Hajjis travelled by sea and another 1,000 by Air-India chartered flights, the chattering of flights was done by the Hajj committee through the company “trade wings.” Both air and sea embarkations were carried out only from Bombay. The round trip ship fare was 1,000 rupees for “first” class and 500 rupees for “deck” class. The number of pilgrims coming by sea became decreasing gradually and by 1994 it had fallen to 4,700. Finally in 1995, the sea voyage was completely stopped and all Indian pilgrims began arriving by air. By 2006, the number of Indian pilgrims was 157,000, second only to the number from Indonesia.
To conclude, it may be said that by the late 1930s the experience of Hajj had undergone a remarkable series of changes. Knowledge of the Hajj and the pilgrimage experience was more widespread and deeper due to books and vernacular newspaper articles, even though a large proportions of Muslims remained illiterate.
The Holy Places had passed from Ottoman to Hashemite then Wahhabi control, the last having the most impact on the way hajjis conducted themselves while in the Hijaz. Yet , some aspects remained recognizable to those from the 1870s. The issue of ‘pauper pilgrims’ for the British, and for Ibn Saud, remained as seemingly intractable as ever, one that continued to occupy British officials in the Persian Gulf emirates into the late 1950s. Britain became involved in the hajj in the 1860s in an attempt to halt the spread of cholera, and began an interaction with this religious ritual that lasted for nearly a hundred years. Despite the deeper knowledge the British gained of the hajj, one persistent feature of this aspect of the relationship between imperialism and Islam was Britain’s consistent and largely ineffective attempts to control the hajj.
—The author is a PhD Research Scholar at the University of Indore. He can be reached at: Wanisuhail51@gmail.com