Adnan Lokhandwala (31) and his wife Fatema (28) are among the 1.6 lakh pilgrims who will embark next week on the Haj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
There is a widespread impression that the bulk of Haj pilgrims are retired senior citizens, performing their Islamic duty before their final summons. Far from it. Young, wealthy and upwardly mobile, Adnan and Fateha are part of a growing number of young people who prefer it to backpacking across Europe.
“It is better to go on Haj when one is in one’s twenties and has fewer responsibilities,” said Fatema. “I know of couples who’ve gone on Haj directly after their marriage, instead of on a honeymoon.
“Around 85 per cent of pilgrims are in the age group of 25 to 55 years,” said G. S. Ansari, chairman of the Maharashtra State Haj Committee. “I’ve been observing this trend of younger people heading for Haj for the past 10 years.”
“Youngsters from other countries have always been going on Haj, but it was not common in India earlier,” said S. Sheikh, a lawyer and social activist in Pune.
“Being young has advantages,” said Sheikh Salim, 27, a Pune teacher, who is also leaving for Haj soon. “When one is old and weak, it is difficult to walk long distances and deal with crowds.”