Devastated British Muslims face lacking out on the Hajj pilgrimage after ready two years for Saudi Arabia to loosen restrictions on journey following the pandemic.
One girl described the method as “torture” after her desires of finishing one of many 5 pillars of Islam was snatched away from her attributable to new entry necessities introduced in attributable to Covid.
The annual pilgrimage to Mecca is a thought-about an obligation which each and every Muslim should make of their lifetime however more and more costly packages imply that most individuals save for years with a purpose to make the journey.
Nonetheless, many had their hopes of visiting this yr dashed after Saudi Arabia launched new guidelines which require potential travellers to e book via a authorities web site – a course of described by some as a lottery – simply weeks earlier than they have been aspiring to fly out.
1,000,000 Muslims might be allowed to finish the Hajj, which takes place in July, and all should be triple-vaccinated and aged beneath 65. That’s lower than half the two.5 million who attended in 2019.
British Muslims have spoken to The Unbiased about their experiences of trying to e book Hajj this yr.
‘The toughest factor just isn’t understanding’
Suhail Sherwani, a GP from South London, stated he and his household booked Hajj in spring this yr with a journey agent. Nonetheless, after Saudi made bulletins that adjustments would happen, his reserving was cancelled and refunded.
Hajj journey brokers often prepare flights, accomodation and visas in addition to organise guides and gatherings to assist pilgrims put together for the non secular endeavour.
Nonetheless, these journey brokers have now been scrapped as Saudi introduced that reserving can solely be made via their very own portal known as Motawif, dubbed a web-based Hajj ‘lottery’ system.
After registering on the portal, they have been advised they’d be told inside per week concerning the standing of their software. If profitable, they might select a package deal and make a fee, after which Motawif would ship them an e-visa.
Packages are available in silver, gold and platinum ranging from roughly £5,000 and going as much as £9,000 per individual.
Dr Sherwani utilized via Motawif’s portal and obtained a message that his software was profitable, and was prompted to make the complete fee.
However after paying up, he obtained a message to say his reserving has failed regardless of the cash leaving his account.
“I’m travelling with 11 individuals in my group,” Dr Sherwani advised The Unbiased. “That’s round £90,000 floating round, and it’s not ATOL protected as a result of Motawif has not signed up for it.”
Because of this if the journey firm “goes bust” his group will lose all of their cash.
He’s now in the dead of night not sure whether or not he has fallen sufferer to technical points, if he’ll obtain a refund and if he could have one other alternative to enter the lottery?
The GP has been refreshing his emails all day in await the newest replace. “The toughest factor just isn’t understanding and the dearth of communication,” he stated.
“Had all of it been communicated months in the past, you then set your expectation from then. Now it’s actually robust. You get excited, you get glad.”
His case just isn’t distinctive as tons of have expressed confusion at having “paid however failed,” with Telegram teams arrange by communities to reply questions, provide ethical help and share updates.
‘Nobody needs to spend this a lot for 2 weeks within the desert’
A chartered engineer from the Midlands reported the identical expertise after paying £26,000 on the portal for his household of 4.
“The web site stated a refund might be returned, however no purpose why it failed,” the 50-year-old, who needs to stay nameless, stated. “There was no data for when will probably be refunded.
“Everyone seems to be in the identical disarray. I’m in full limbo in the mean time.”
The engineer stated two days after making the fee, Motawif emailed him saying he could be given an replace on his scenario inside 72 hours. This might imply something from a refund to a second probability at coming into the draw.
Nonetheless, if profitable, he must fly out on 28 June, leaving him only a few days to rearrange PCR checks and care for his affairs at house earlier than leaving.
The daddy-of-two can also be involved the package deal he initially booked will now not be accessible, and should choose a costlier deal.
A unique package deal may imply paying an additional £6,000 which “others have desperately accepted,” he stated, including: “Nobody needs to spend that a lot cash for 2 weeks within the desert.
“There’s at all times a comment on Motawif pages saying ‘Thanks for selecting Motawif’. However I didn’t select them. I didn’t select this.”
‘There’s nobody to assist’
Meriem Haneef, a graphic designer from Slough, stated she felt compelled to share personal information and private data to strangers on social media as a result of “there was nobody else to assist”.
After experiencing the identical ‘reserving failed’ downside, the 43-year-old stated she has heard nothing particular concerning her fee and software, other than a message on Fb messanger from Motawif who stated they’d look into it after numerous probing.
“They by no means picked up on a telephone quantity which they listed on the FAQs,” Ms Haneef stated. “Why are they solely utilizing social media platforms to reply? It’s a whole catastrophe.”
‘System has teething points’
Fahad Abrar, a enterprise proprietor from Excessive Wycombe, was extra sympathetic in direction of the brand new system.
“Working in IT myself, I perceive messaging issues. The entire system has teething points.”
However the 42-year-old added that the dearth of readability affected him emotionally as he admitted feeling “very depressed and anxious” whereas ready to listen to from Motawif.
“You come to some extent the place you nearly begin to query your personal relationship with God, questioning for those who’re unfit for Hajj.”
Although the shake-up has been tumultous for hopeful pilgrims, the sudden change within the course of has been equally troublesome for Hajj journey brokers.
Rehan Rauf, who works for Labbaik Hajj Umrah in south London, stated:“We’re simply refunding the cash again to our shoppers, now we have some data concerning the portal- so if somebody will get in contact, we simply give them that data.”
When requested how the change has impacted the enterprise, he responded: “That basically doesn’t matter. It’s written. This isn’t a enterprise, we’re doing this for the sake of God.”
However the journey agent is optimistic that UK tour operators might be reinstated subsequent yr because of the degree of confusion and disorganisation clients have confronted: “Our shoppers have advised us the worth has elevated and altered after reserving. So if the shopper just isn’t glad, they’ll absolutely ask the ministry to deliver it again to the company.
“How will they carry out the Hajj is there is no such thing as a one to information them?”
With the primary pilgrims from world wide already arriving in Mecca and simply days left till the holy month begins, many have reluctantly accepted that they won’t make this yr.
“It’s disappointing in fact,” Maria Ashiq, 27, from Bradford stated. “First they have been saying that they haven’t but reviewed individuals with the pending standing on our functions, giving us false hope.
“However this false hope has lasted 13 days. There isn’t a change, it’s nonetheless pending.”
Motawif has been contacted for remark.