The Hajj 2022 Lottery Debacle now turns into a Disaster
A week ago we previously outlined the challenges faced by Muslims from Western Countries with the Hajj 2022 lottery implementation and processes. The situation has deteriorated, further shattering the dreams for many.
To summarise and put it bluntly:
- People were selected or approved and couldn’t pay
- People were selected or approved and then didn’t have any packages to choose from
- People paid but couldn’t get a booking confirmation
- People got charged multiple times but haven’t been able to get a refund
- People paid, were confirmed and issued a Hajj visa but went to the airport and got turned away as flights were not booked for them
- Hujjaj got a flight confirmations and made it to Saudi Arabia but their bags were left behind
- Hujjaj made it to Saudi Arabia but didn’t have hotel bookings on arrival
- Hujjaj made it to the hotel but were then not given what they paid for and either no-longer had half-board but breakfast only, or no longer had twin share but had to share a room and were separated from their spouses and loved ones. Allegations that pilgrims were sharing rooms with non-mahram men have been made on social media.
- Hujjaj have had no spiritual guidance or assistance whatsoever and have been left to their own to work out how to perform their religious obligations including Umrah.
Issues with the Hajj Booking Process
Whilst the whole draw process left had its fair share of issues, challenges and questionable principles, it was hoped the actual booking process would be a lot smoother. This was not to be with many pilgrims encountering the following issues:
- Bookings were not secured as they were unable to make payment, the only way at the time to pay was via credit card using Visa or Mastercard. There were no opportunities to pay via other methods initially. Some people tried over 50 times to may payments without success. Many rang their own banks thinking there was a problem on their end, but time and time again it was confirmed, that the Motawif’s payment system had issues.
- There were many instances where people were actually able to make their payment in full and their money was taken, however to add to their stress and worries they received a message that their booking had failed and that they would receive a refund. This led to a trending #paidbutfailed campaign on social media where users voiced their frustration, horror and resentment at the ineptness of the system compounded by all the issues that had previously been reported.
- People also reported that they ended up paying multiple times or being charged multiple times but have been unable to get a refund.
- Whilst the issuance of the Hajj visa was somewhat a lot smoother for people that were able to make it to this stage, given earlier issues encountered in the process where people had to list substitute names for their middle names as an application couldn’t be submitted without one, now face the issue of this middle name appearing on their visa. Further most people have their grand fathers name listed within their name on the Hajj visa and there at times wasn’t a choice to be able to select Jeddah as the port of arrival on the visa application.
Issues with choice of packages, availability and inflated prices
- Many people once approved for the draw and proceeded to book stated that their original package of choice was no longer available. As a result that they were often forced into having to pay exorbitant amounts for packages, almost double what that they originally selected just to secure their spots.
- Many people also reported that they were not able to secure a twin share room as originally had been selected but rather were forced to opt for triple share or quad share.
- For countries such as Canada and Australia where packages didn’t include flights, the last minute confirmations, delays in the booking process or booking failed messages meant that their flight prices continued to increase daily to be more than double what they would have normally paid under Hajj operators. In addition, the flight options became limited due to the peak season that many were unable to secure any flights to match the dates of their packages or get flights at all.
- Lastly, many approved applicants have encountered issues where they have never been able to select a package to choose from as it states that the quota for their country has been exceeded. This further delegitimizes the apparent electronic draw and lottery process as how can there be a situation where someone has been approved but then there is no package available for them to choose from?
Issues with booking and flight confirmations including missing flights
As mentioned above the #paidbutfailed impact has left an unknown number of people who have had their money taken, the date for their trip either already passed or coming up in a matter of hours or days and left stranded without booking confirmation and being issued a Hajj Visa.
- There have also been many instances where people have had both payment and booking confirmations including being issued a Hajj visa, but then have not had any flight confirmations and have been turned away from the airport and not been able to board flights they were meant to be on and had paid for.
- Indeed Motawif has begun telling people to not head to the airport unless they receive confirmation from them about their flight. This is despite pilgrims having paid for their package, being accepted and received their Hajj Visa!
Issues with insensitive PR posts
Perhaps the greatest disaster even given all of the issues that have been documented, is the abhorrent lack of acknowledgment and silence with what has taken place. Continued posts showing the welcoming of pilgrims upon arrival with roses, sweets and coffee which most would see as a publicity stunt have left a bitter resentment at the complacency and lack of care towards the pilgrims situation from Western countries.
What has been quite puzzling are the posts and statements that the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has been releasing without acknowledging any of the concerns pilgrims continue to raise and challenges they face.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah released a press statement claiming the following:
“This new endeavour falls within the strategic framework of the MOHU to develop a digitalized Hajj registration experience, streamline application procedures, and offer reduced, competitive prices to pilgrims from those countries”.
There were reports that early on Saturday, 25th June, the system was working smoothly for certain people, where they finally got approved and were able to book their packages and get their Hajj visas in under an hours. However this was only for a select group of people and those that were still stuck in the system were largely left in the same position. This further then questions the whole lottery draw process and how some people who had been approved for a couple of weeks weren’t able to secure their place for Hajj 2022 whilst others were able to secure their place a week or so later in a matter of minutes after being approved.
(Update) Then on June 30th, the Ministry released the following press release and has announced that an urgent package of solutions.
Even the Haramain Sharifain has finally put out a blog post through their official channels titled “the failed launch of Motawif” in response the tidal wave of social media commentary and major news outlets who have begun reporting further on the dire situation that exists.
Issues with lack of spiritual guidance as promised
One of the main issues that was raised with the new process in my previous article was the ability of the spiritual transformation of pilgrims to be maintained as it had been under Hajj operators. Motawif had claimed that it would conduct webinars for those approved and selected to teach them the Manasik of Hajj and give guidance on how to prepare for the journey. Other than a very basic guidance on Ihram via pictures that has come out in the past week, too late for those that have already made their journey to Saudi Arabia and basic list of items on what to pack, there has been no guidance whatsoever given to pilgrims to date. This doesn’t engender any confidence with what guidance if any would be given to pilgrims on arrival or during the Hajj itself.
Issues on arrival including no hotel bookings, wrong packages and placed into rooms with Non-Mahrams.
This should not come as surprise when the travel agency being used is connected with BJP supporters and are not Muslim.
To add insult to injury those that have managed to make to the blessed journey and lands have had to contend with a myriad of issues upon arrival:
- There have been reports that hotel bookings were not made and that pilgrims had to wait hours for hotel staff that were previously unaware to expect them to accommodate.
- There have been reports that some pilgrims have had no bookings at all and been without accommodation for 24 hours after arrival (granted that these issues occurred with Hajj operators as well, but the scale is unprecedented)
- Pilgrims who paid for platinum package or twin share have had to share rooms with other people with cheaper packages in triple share or quad share arrangements.
- There have been reported circumstances where spouses have not only been separated from one another, but sisters have been allocated to share rooms with non-mahram men whilst their husband are in another room.
With Hajj getting closer by not only the day but by the hour there is very likely anything that is going to change substantially between now and then. I hope that we are wrong and that a miracle happens, but judging by the press statements and the social media posts there doesn’t seem to be any commitment to outwardly publicly deal with issue. I understand that this is generally not the way of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, but given its goals, strategic vision of 2030 it needs to reconsider this current stance.
What we would all like is an acknowledgment and explanation of what has occurred, it’s the very least that those who have had their dreams shattered deserve, Even if for example the company that was originally tasked with providing the service left their contract mid-way through implementation and left the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in a difficult position, an explanation of this would at least give people perspective and help regain lost trust and respect!
As I have previously shared on a way forward for Hajj, from next year onwards I strongly recommend that this proposal is adopted. There are merits to the new system once it has been tried and tested, there are resources to cope and support pilgrims and the perfect time to do that is when the Hajj quotas increase in line with the 2030 vision. For now we must involve Hajj operators as we used to, but use the benefits of the digitilisation where we can in creating efficiencies, transparency and competitive price and choice.
Given what has occurred and the current state of affairs it looks likely that there will be a return to the use of Hajj operators moving forward. I would encourage that all Western Countries develop a Hajj mission with the backing of their own governments or in partnership with other Western governments. This would be a test of political relationships in those respective countries and it is unlikely some governments would be willing to get involved, but it’s worth a try.
Know for all those that have lost hope or been devastated in not being able to attend Hajj this year, that we must remind ourselves as Muslims that everything is good for a believer and that we plan and Allah Plans and Allah is the Best of Planners! You will still receive the reward for your intention and I ask Allah to invite you all to perform Hajj next year if you do miss out or have missed out. We must have continued patience and faith in the tests that befall us, the reward of an accepted Hajj is nothing other than Jannah and the reward is commensurate with the hardships encountered! Despite all of this we must still try and improve the experiences for future pilgrims going on Hajj the journey of a lifetime by learning from the challenges and errors that may have been made.
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Source: Muslim Matters