Engineering is his profession but community activism is Faizur Rahman’s passion. Urdu-speaking native of Chennai, he writes on religio-political issues in mainstream newspapers of India. Faizur Rahman is an executive committee member of Harmony India, an organisation to promote secularism and communal harmony which is headed by Mr. N. Ram, the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. He is also the founding secretary of Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought in Islam.
He talked to TwoCircles.net on ways Muslims in India can improve their economic conditions only if we check some wasteful and unnecessary expenditures.
TCN: Recently in a workshop attended by Muslim community leaders, you created quite a ruckus by saying that Muslims should not go for umra every year. Why are you against umra?
FR: Please allow me to clarify. First of all, I am not against Umra. I only pointed out that Umra not being an obligatory ritual in Islam one need not perform it every year. Instead that money may be used for the socio-economic development of our community at a time when it desperately needs it. As per TheNational Commission for Enterprises in Unorganised Sector (NCEUS) report 84% of the Muslim population of India lives on a daily income of less than Rs. 20. In other words, about 126 million of our brothers and sisters don’t even earn twenty rupees a day! Therefore, is it not the duty of wealthy Muslims to remedy this situation?
It must be remembered that in Islam Huqooqul ibaad (humanitarianism) has been given precedence over Huqooqullah. Unfortunately, most Muslims overlook this aspect of Islam. Ask any Muslim his reasons for performing Umra and the reply will invariably be; ‘for sawaab.’ But how many of us know that more ‘sawaab’ can be gathered right here in India by helping a needy person at half the price of an Umra? Let it be known that Allah does not expect a Muslim to perform a “Nafil ibaadah” at the expense of the 126 million people wallowing in the muck of extreme poverty.
TCN: How much money, according to you, can we save by not going for umra?
FR: It is estimated that about 150,000 Muslims travel to Makkah for Umra every year. And the average cost of the entire trip is around Rs. 140,000/- Therefore, the annual amount spent by Indian Muslims on Umra alone works out to a whopping Rs. 2100 crores! In comparison, the amount allocated in the last budget by the Government of India to the Ministry of Minority Affairs was Rs. 1000 crores. In the recent budget this allocation has been increased to 1740 crores, and as the Muslim community is not the only minority in India it may get about 1400 crores that is, 80% of 1740 crores. In other words, we are spending about 700 crores more than the amount our country can afford to spend on us and that too on a non-obligatory ritual. And we have not taken into account multiple Hajjs. Even if 50% of this money is diverted for community causes it would make a tremendous difference.
As of now, the only beneficiaries of this expenditure are the tour operators, the airline companies and the oil-rich Saudi economy. It is beyond comprehension that such huge sums could be spent every year at a time when the socio-economic conditions of the Muslims in India are in a pathetically hopeless state as brought out by the Sachar Committee Report.
TCN: But what about the argument that people can do whatever they want with their hard earned money?
FR: Of course they can. But the question is; will people go on a foreign holiday or Umra when God forbid their own father, mother or son is severely sick? If the answer is no, then let them know that 95% of our community is terribly sick as per the Sachar Report and hence this is not the time to enjoy our life neglecting the community. I am sure we all have heard of the hadith in which our beloved Prophet equated our ummah to the human body and said that even if one small section of the ummah is in pain the entire Muslim community must feel it.
But there is a school of thought according to which one can do anything with his or her money after paying the Zakat. This is the standard argument of those who perform Umra regularly. But it is totally flawed. Zakat has nothing to do with Umra because one has to pay it anyway. Therefore, how can the payment of an obligatory charity (or tax) justify any extravagant expenditure which the Quran has condemned? In any case, given the pathetic condition of our community 2.5percent Zakat is grossly insufficient. We need to pay at least 10 percent on charity until the socio-economic situation of the 126 million Muslims who are living on less than Rs.20 a day improves. In this context, one must keep in mind the exemplary sacrifice of the Sahaba during the Tabuk expedition when Hazrath Umar donated 50 % of his wealth and thought that he was the highest contributor only to realise that Hazrath Abu Bakr had given his entire wealth!
TCN: You have also found another source of wasteful expenditure by theCommunity, please tell us about it.
FR: Yes. Muslims spend a lot of money on marriages every year. In fact, a lot more than what we spend on the annual Umra. Just look at the mind boggling statistics given below.
Minimum guests from the Bride’s side- 300
Minimum guests from the Groom’s side- 300
Cost of the Nikah feast for 600 guests @ Rs. 200 per guest = 1.2 lakhs
Cost of the Valima feast for 600 guests at the same rate = 1.2 lakhs
Avg. Money spent of jewelry by the Bride’s side, = 1 lakh
Avg. Money spent of jewelry by the Grooms side, = 1 lakh
Cost of renting the function hall for Nikah = 0.75 lakh
Cost of renting the function hall for Valima = 0.75 lakh
Misc. expenditure on decoration etc = 0.50 lakh
Total average expenditure of one wedding = 6.4 lakh rupees
In a total Muslims population of 150 millions assuming that at least 150,000 (0.001 percent of 150 million) middle class weddings take place in a year in India,
The total money spent by the Muslim community per year on weddings is: 150,000 weddings multiplied by 6.4 lakh rupees which equals Rs. 9600 crores!! Add to this the 2100 crore rupees spent on Umras and another 400 crores for holidaying. In other words Muslims in India spend a minimum of Rs. 12100 crores per year on extravagant weddings, non-obligatory pilgrimages and unnecessary travel.
Let us now see how much it costs to educate a child.
At an average annual fees of Rs. 10,000, the cost of educating a child from LKG to 12th standard is 14 years x 10,000 = Rs. 140,000
For 4 years of technical education @ Rs. 100,000 per year = Rs. 400,000
Total cost= Rs. 540, 000
Dividing 12,100 crores by 540,000 we get 222,407
This means, more than 222 thousand poor Muslim children can be educated for 18 years on the money spent in just one year by the rich Muslims on avoidable expenditure!!!!
TCN:But what about the employment that marriage expenses create for the Community?
FR: If you look at the above statistics once again you will find that the major expenses are spent on hiring the hall, food and jewelry which benefit only the richer sections of the society such as marriage hall owners, caterers and jewelers. The only poor people who may benefit from a Muslim marriage are the waiters who are hired to serve the guest, the cooks and the scavengers. And all these categories of workers hardly get 200 rupees a day for their slogging. And in most marriages only the rich relatives are invited particularly if the function takes place in a 5-star hotel. So it may be safely said that a Muslim marriage enriches the rich and feeds the well-fed. The poor are nowhere in the picture.
TCN: So what is your appeal to the Muslims?
FR: I request the Muslims to concentrate on Huqooqul ibaad for the moment as the condition of our community is very bad. Allah is not in need of our Umras or multiple Hajjs. But our Ummah is in desperate need of humanitarian help. Any contribution towards this would be worth several hundred times the sawaab of an Umra or a second Hajj. In this context, I would like to invite the attention of my wealthy brethren to the following hadith in Bukhari in which the Prophet said; ”One who strives for the widows and the poor is like the one who strives in the way of Allah. I shall regard him as one who stands up for prayer without rest and as one who fasts without break.”
May Allah guide us all.