British MP, Yasmin Qureshi, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah, is urging the Saudi government to compensate the troubled Hajj pilgrims this year. The sacred pilgrimage to Mecca is considered one of the pillars of Islam and is expected to be undertaken by every physically and financially able Muslim at least once in their lives. Typically, these pilgrimages encompass around 25,000 individuals from the UK, but the Saudi authorities reduced this number considerably to about 3,600 under the revised regulations of 2022.
However, the aftermath of the implementation of these new rules witnessed a surge in the number of complaints from people who reported not receiving services they paid for. Among the complainants is a group of 245 pilgrims who contacted the BBC, asserting their dissatisfaction and the negative impact these experiences had on their spiritual journeys.
Recounting their experiences, one pilgrim described their journey as chaotic, disorganised and lacking in proper planning. Another pilgrim shared their disappointment over the reduced time allocated for visiting Medina, a historically and spiritually significant destination for the believers. This reduction, from three days to less than 24 hours, significantly impacted their opportunity to immerse in the profound spiritual experiences that Medina offers.
The Saudi contractor Al-Rajhi, who provided the packages for the pilgrims, and Nusuq, the Saudi online portal for Hajj bookings, did not respond to BBC’s requests for comments. Similarly, no response was received from the Saudi government’s Pilgrim Experience Program, which aims to facilitate the pilgrimage experience for the largest number of Muslims.
MP Qureshi voiced her concerns over the complaints, including issues with hotel accommodations, travel distances, flight delays, and airport pick-ups. Stressing that the pilgrimage is costly and not merely a holiday, she empathised with those whose Hajj experiences were adversely affected due to these issues.
Qureshi suggested that the Saudi authorities should reconsider their association with Al-Rajhi, ensure that the portal has compensation mechanisms for such issues, and prevent companies from exploiting the pilgrims. She further advocated for those affected to receive compensation for their troubles.
Shabana Qassim, a pilgrim from Bradford, found the booking process difficult due to the lack of a middleman. She was further surprised by the absence of guides and coaches upon their arrival in Saudi Arabia, making venue transfers and completion of sacred rituals challenging. Similarly, Naveed Hussain, a Bradford businessman embarking on his first Hajj, echoed Qassim’s sentiments and advocated for future Hajj travellers not to face the same hardships.
While the Council of British Hajjis urges pilgrims to report their grievances to the Saudi tour operator who should then investigate and offer compensation, many complainants seek more than just financial recompense. Qassim confirmed this stance and hopes for a more efficient system. She also expressed the collective sentiment of having their valuable time taken away from them, particularly because most pilgrims would not have the opportunity to perform Hajj again.