Source: Telegraph Calcutta
NEW DELHI, INDIA, March 3, 2001: Muslim scholars in India were surprised over Saudi foreign minister Saud Al-Faisal's statements that his country's ulema will explain to their Indian counterparts that the Indian government's US$32 million Haj subsidy goes against the spirit of Islam. The Haj is among the five mandatory religious obligations. Every Muslim is expected to visit Mecca and Medina and bear the cost, including that of airfare, boarding and lodging, from "their own means." Muslim leaders said the Indian government started to subsidize airfare after it discontinued operating ships to ferry Hajis, as the pilgrims are known, to Saudi Arabia. The government of India not only supports major Hindu pilgrimages, but actively organizes them -- most notably the Kumbha Mela.