The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah this year, has authorized and accredited the handling of Hajj Applications of applicants from the Americas, Europe, and Australia exclusively to an external company called Motawif.
According to the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in its official statement, the online platform was meant “to meet the aspirations of honorable pilgrims from these countries and ensure quick and easy procedures”.
However, since the launch of the platform over two weeks ago, several applicants shared their grievances regarding the platform on social networking websites.
Inside the Haramain reached out to several applicants who shared their experience using the Motawif Platform
‘Lack Of Clarity In The Draw Process’ Mr. Hussain Ahmed from the UK, one of the applicants who applied for Hajj through The Motawif Platform said: “Initially we were told the draw will be held, then we were informed that applications are being reviewed first. Although draw has been concluded, applications are still pending.”
Mrs. Ayesha Ejaz from the US similarly said : ‘No clear announcement was made regarding the draw nor the platform has any feature to inform us if we are selected or not, rather users found them confused with the whole ‘approved, pending and amendment’ updates. Motawif informed us via Twitter that if it is showed Approved then you are selected it shows pending it means you are yet to be reviewed. This announcement spread further confusion if an actual draw ever took place or not’
‘Paid But Failed’ Many Applicants after being ‘selected’ or ‘approved’ in the draw were left further stressed after receiving an automated message from Motawif “Your Booking has Failed” despite paying in full.
Mr. Patel, an affected applicant, began an online trend #paidbutfailed on social media which soon began trending with several applicants sharing the same issue of their booking not being confirmed despite paying for their packages in full.
Motawif at first shared with the users that this was a technical issue and users will be assigned packages for which they had paid however the Platform began changing its statements and told several applicants that “Packages are not available”, “Hotels are not Available”, “Flights are not available”.
Applicants who have paid thousands of dollars remain in the limbo regarding their fate.
‘Returned From The Airport’ The misery of Applicants continued when those who were successful in securing their packages were left stranded with no communication from Motawif regarding their Ticket Information for travel. Several Hujjaj took it upon themselves to contact the airline to obtain confirmation of their flight details while others who reached the airport (as per their package information), were turned away.
Naheeda Kauser from the UK described her experience on Twitter and said: “We were turned away at Manchester airport today we had our booking confirmed on the portal but no flights were booked, no email to tell us that this itinerary booking is not confirmed.” Others described including The Council of British Hajjis that “28 Hujjaj had their names on the manifest but the flights were not paid for”. This inconvenience occurred despite Hujjaj completing their payment obligations. Many Hujjaj continue to remain stressed and unaware of their flight details as they await formal communication from Motawif.
‘Placed Into Rooms With Non-Mahrams’ The confusion and stress of the Hujjaj continued to mount as those who overcame the initial obstacles found themselves into unusual problems after they arrived in the Kingdom. Hujjaj mostly described their welcome as smooth and welcoming as Motawif officials and Hajj Ministry officials received them upon their arrival in the Kingdom.
However, upon their arrival at their hotels, some Hujjaj were placed into rooms randomly with non-mahrams in triple or quad-sharing rooms despite Hujjaj having booked double-sharing rooms with their mahrams.
A pilgrim who arrived from the UK and wished to remain anonymous shared her ordeal upon arrival at the Hotel: “It was complete chaos, the Hotel staff didn’t know what to do nor did we, It was like Motawif randomly allotted rooms to people without determining their package types and traveling companions. People who paid premium were put into rooms meant for lower packages. No one from Motawif was present to guide us or the hotel staff, we were left on our own. “
The Pilgrim further said: “We are now scared of what the service will be like when we move towards Mina, Arafat in the coming days.”
‘Stress, Chaos And Disappointment’ Amid all the chaos and confusion the Platform has caused, applicants shared their opinion regarding the launch of the platform at such short notice.
Mr. Mohammad Hussain, an applicant on the Motawif Platform whose application remains in limbo, said: “Blinding trusting a company with no evidence of being capable of running such a vast and critical process is not acceptable”, also appealing the Hajj Ministry to intervene he further said: “The ministry gave the go ahead for the portal so close to Hajj season. They have all the power. They made this happen. They can change it. If they do the Hujjaj will remember and praise them for their wisdom and empathy”. Another applicant from the UK, Lhipon Miah shared similar sentiments and said: “They’ve ruined hajj 2022 for aspiring pilgrims in Europe, the US, and more. They need to be held accountable and we need the ministry to be altered to this issue immediately.”
Miss Zeynah, also an applicant on the Motawif Platform from the US said: “the whole saga has been an entire disappointment, It only added more stress to something that should be special spiritual wise”.
‘Silence From Motawif’ Despite reaching out to Motawif several times over the past week, Inside the Haramain is yet to receive a response from the company over the growing number of allegations and complaints from applicants. Motawif has also not released any official statement regarding the issues and complaints however in several responses to complaints privately the company blamed the Hajj Ministry for the lack of packages and other issues.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has also made no official statement on the growing number of complaints but in a response to a question last week, a well-informed source at the Ministry regarding the drawing process told Inside the Haramain: “The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah is not actively involved in the Motawif Platform process at the moment” and regarding complaints, the source said: “The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah takes the comfort of its guests very seriously and any complaints regarding the process should be directed to the Ministry.”
Hajj: How a new Saudi-run travel agency failed western 'guests of God'
Up to one million vaccinated Muslims under the age of 65 are arriving in Mecca from across the globe ahead of a much-anticipated, first large-scale Hajj since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Hajj is one of the five “pillars”, or religious duties, of Islam, and all physically and economically able Muslims are required to perform it once in their lifetime.
However, just a week or so before the annual pilgrimage is due to commence on 7 July, a new Ministry of Hajj-accredited online travel agency is failing intending pilgrims among more than 30 million Muslims in Europe, the Americas and Australia.
While many are still uncertain about whether or not they will be able to travel in 2022, some who have paid in full already seem likely to miss out completely.
The Saudi Ministry of Hajj announced a last-minute decision on 6 June that all potential pilgrims from the West must apply through a new platform, Motawif. It takes its name from the hereditary guilds that have enjoyed the exclusive right to serve pilgrims in Mecca for centuries.
Overnight, the portal became the only place to buy accredited Hajj packages across 57 western countries, subjecting Muslims there to an e-draw for the very first time, necessitated by ongoing Covid-related restrictions on pilgrim numbers.
Hajj lotteries are commonplace in Muslim-majority states where national quotas of just 1,000 pilgrims per million people are in operation. While many wait years to perform their pilgrimage, western Muslims have never been subject to such draws. For decades, they were not restricted to the same quotas as the Islamic world and have performed Hajj more or less on demand.
Reduced Hajj numbers Hajj is one of the largest annual gatherings of humankind. During the 2010s between 1.9 to 3.2 million visiting pilgrims generated more than $8bn in yearly revenue for Saudi Arabia. However, Covid-related measures during 2020 and 2021 meant that pilgrim numbers were radically reduced by the Saudi government to just 1,000 and 60,000 vaccinated visitors, respectively.
The number of spaces allotted to western countries has steadily decreased since April
On 9 April, the limit for 2022 was raised to one million, a 55 percent reduction on normal national quotas but still a first step towards restoring Hajj to its pre-pandemic scale. The journeys of most of the 850,000 expected international pilgrims are still being coordinated through established channels such as government missions and private companies in Muslim-majority countries.
Pilgrims already living in Saudi Arabia were also directed to register for an e-draw. When the 150,000 spots reserved for domestic pilgrims were not filled immediately, the Ministry of Hajj reduced prices for its packages.
Moreover, the number of spaces allotted to western countries has steadily decreased since April. No transparent explanation was given but it is broadly in line with the 1,000 pilgrims per million people rule.
For example, on 13 June, the British Consulate General in Jeddah informed a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj & Umrah that the UK's allocated number of 12,000 pilgrims would be reduced to only around 3,000.
Though pent-up demand from pilgrims was at least expected to be high, the lower figure likely reflects the lack of capacity to deliver entirely new systems on short notice, whether online or on the ground.
Modernising religious tourism Since the 1990s, religious tourism has been viewed by Saudi Arabia as a key means of diversifying its non-oil-based economy. In 2016, the kingdom’s plan for future modernisation, Vision 2030, set ambitious targets to more than double pre-pandemic Hajj pilgrim numbers to six million and grow the much shorter, year-round Umrah pilgrimage to 30 million by 2030.
A radically simplified online system for buying and selling Hajj packages direct from Saudi Arabia is a part of this strategy. In a government increasingly centralising power, there is an eagerness for greater control and rapid modernisation of the traditionally independent and lucrative but slower-moving Motawif companies.
Saudi Arabia Hajj: British Muslims in uproar over travel chaos
The annual pilgrimage is due to start in 10 days but many UK travellers say they have had no confirmation of visas, flights or hotel bookings despite making full payment to a new portal unveiled by Saudi Arabia to handle this year's travel.
By Sadiya Chowdhury, News reporter
Tuesday 28 June 2022
Hundreds of British Muslims say they could lose thousands of pounds paid to a Saudi Arabian company responsible for this year's Hajj travel.
Farrukh and his family of five paid more than £36,000 through the new portal 'Motawif' which was introduced three weeks ago.
"When my money went I thought my job was done," said Farrukh.
"It said 'thank you very much, we've collected all your money but your package has failed.' And it stopped there."
Ten days later, Farrukh says he is still waiting for updates. The flight he paid for was on Tuesday.
"I rang the airline and they told me I'm not on any flight. I wasn't expecting to be because I'm not even at the visa stage yet in the process."
Saudi Arabia unveiled the Motawif portal earlier this month, where travellers from selected countries, including the UK, had to book through a lottery system in order to travel for hajj - the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
The new portal cut out UK-based tour operators who typically organised the trip for around 25,000 British Muslims each year.
Many travellers who had previous bookings for this year's hajj had to arrange refunds before they could book through the portal.
Groups of travellers have created Whatsapp groups to share experiences. Many say they have paid with debit cards after being given only 48 hours to complete arrangements, but that despite money leaving their banks their bookings are still showing as "Failed."
Motawif have told Farrukh: "We have been working diligently with the airline to get additional capacity and are in the process of arranging your flight."Kindly note we are trying our best to accommodate you on another flight or provide an alternative.
"We recommend you keep yourself ready for your hajj journey and await further information from us."
There are concerns that pilgrims seeking refunds will lose out on exchange rate and booking fees. Some say flights have changed with less than 24 hours notice, hotel choices downgraded without notice, and in some cases people have been turned away from the airport.
"People are running around calling their banks, reading small print, and really, this is through no fault of ours," said Farrukh.
"We've paid, we've been through the process, we've done everything that was asked of us. I've even had my PCR done - in case somebody pulls a flight out of a hat tomorrow, I'm ready to go."
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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