Arabic teacher Afeezu Rahman, 80, will be stepping into an airplane for the first time on October 18, while heading for Haj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina in Saudi Arabia.
"I waited for so many decades to collect sufficient savings to go on the Haj and perform my Islamic duty before my final summons," said Rahman, who is among the 4,696 pilgrims from Maharashtra's 10,600 Hajis, who were exempted from the 'qurra' (draw of lots) this year.
According to the new provisions enlisted by the Haj Committee of India, applicants above the age of 70 years and those whose applications were rejected thrice earlier gained a direct entry into the final list of Hajis this year. "We reserved seats for applications from the above two categories to ensure a fair opportunity to all. Maharashtra had a relatively high margin of seats in the open category," said Dr Shakir Hussain, chief executive officer, Haj Committee of India (HCI). "In Kerala, out of the 7,000 seats allotted, only 987 were available in the general category, and in Kashmir, the number was even lower- 486 out of 6,000 seats," he added.
Restaurateur Shahabuddin Khan, 38, and his wife, Shahida, 37, dubbed the exemption from the 'qurra' as "Allah's gift". "Since 2008, we never got selected in the lottery system. All my family members, including distant relatives managed to make the once-in-a-lifetime trip earlier, leaving us disappointed," said Shahabuddin, who will finally fulfil his dream this year.
To ensure a safe trip, the HCI is organising training camps for all the pilgrims where former Hajis take classes on airport formalities, rituals to perform during the trip and basic safety measures.
"There is a huge crowd around the Kaaba during the five holy days of Dhu al-Hijjah, which begins on November 3 this year," said Abdul Samad, camp trainer.
The HCI has provided an insurance policy of 500 Saudi riyals against loss of baggage. "We are also going to provide a sim card to the Hajis with local (Saudi Arabia) emergency numbers," said Dr Hussain.