By Neelam Rahim
In April 2022, Saudi Arabia announced that it would reopen to Hajj pilgrims but only allow one million triple-vaccinated pilgrims.
Thousands of Muslims have seen their plans to participate in the hajj disrupted after Saudi Arabia introduced its new rules this week. This meant prospective travellers from Western countries were required to book their Hajj pilgrimage through a government website rather than travel agencies. It also means anyone already booked via their travel agent must cancel those plans and start again.
The kingdom said pilgrims from “Europe, America and Australia including the UK” would need to apply via its Motawif website. They would find out next week whether they had gained a place via an “automated lottery”.
The ministry has not announced when the draw will happen but advised prospective pilgrims to request refunds from tour operators and travel agents for already made bookings.
According to a spokesperson at Labaik Tours, a travel agency based in Virginia, the new rules could put Hajj operators out of business.
“It is a very bad last-minute decision of Saudi Arabia. They have put all travel agencies involved in Hajj service completely out of business and left the people who already booked with them in a major chaotic situation,” they said. “This discriminates against non-Muslim countries that do not have government-supervised Hajj missions. We feel that we have been robbed overnight, lost our business, and came into a huge financial crisis. This decision must be reversed.”
Sedick Steenkamp, the chairperson of SAMTOA, a United association for Muslim travellers of South Africa, says, “We note that the Saudi Arabian government has decided to do the changes regarding hajj in the UK and other Western countries. South Africa still has a private organisation that receives the haj quota. We do not know what the future holds in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but as is now, we are not in that system. We here in South Africa need to ensure that we legalise the issue of hajj administration and that our government gets involved so that there are bilateral agreements with the Saudi government regarding haj quota and administration.”