About this sample
About this sample
Words: 1116 |
6 min read
Published: Jan 29, 2019
Words: 1116|Pages: 2|6 min read
Every year approximately two million Muslims travel to the Grand Mosque of Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, to visit the most holy place on earth, the Kaaba. The pilgrimage to Mecca is known as the Hajj. It is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam, the simple and solemn rules of Islam. Any Muslim who is physically and financially able to, is expected to participate in the Hajj at least once in their lives.
The Five Pillars of Islam, revealed by Muhammad, prophet of God and founder of the Islamic faith, detail explicitly to Muslims what they must do to live a life of religious righteousness. The first Pillar is a confession of faith, all a person must do to become a Muslim is proclaim the Shahada regularly, confess that “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet.” A true Muslim must also participate in Salat, the second Pillar, and pray facing the Kaaba in Mecca five times a day. The third Pillar, Zakat, is an annual almsgiving intended to purify wealth by giving 2.5% of a person's total ‘assets’ every year to be distributed to the poor. The fourth Pillar, and second annual activity, is the fasting in Ramadan, the ninth month of Islam’s lunar calendar. The Hajj is the fifth Pillar of Islam, which took place this year between September ninth and fourteenth. It Is a once in a lifetime trip for many Muslims, a pilgrimage to honor religious duty and tradition, although it is also described as an obligation, a necessary act of faith.
During the Hajj, pilgrims in Mecca participate in many different religious activities. Pilgrims are required to wear simple, white clothes to promote equality between them and participate in ceremonies at the Grand Mosque surrounding the Kaaba, one of these ceremonies includes walking seven times around the Kaaba and running seven times between two hills. Many Muslims also visit Muhammad's burial site in Medina. On the eighth day of the Hajj pilgrims are expected to gather at Mt. Arafat, outside of Mecca, for the pinnacle of the Hajj: begging for divine forgiveness from Allah. On the ninth day Muslims travel to Mina to throw rocks at three pillars that represent the devil as a symbol of resisting temptation. After this, to complete Hajj, is three days of celebration in the Festival of Sacrifice, that Muslims all over the world participate in. These are only some of the many rituals of Hajj.
But in this pilgrimage there are many risks, people often worry of stampedes. In this new age of technology, although travel has never been easier, many pilgrims are victim to ‘Hajj scams. Cheap flights can be purchased in minutes online and through phone apps and hotels have become a mere option in a long list of alternative lodgings available through helpful new websites. However, with so many people looking for great deals, and 1.4 million Muslims traveling into Saudi Arabia from foreign countries for Hajj, there is ample opportunity for internet scammers and fake tourism agencies to take advantage of travelers. Many Muslims purchase travel packages for the Hajj that prove to be highly exaggerated in quality or, in some cases, partially or entirely counterfeit.
These scams have left Muslims stranded in the airport in Jeddah with falsified paperwork and travel itineraries. However, many families and groups travel to Mecca only to find that their accommodations are non-existent or cramped and far from what they paid for. These are known as ‘boiler room’ operations, where small, hostel like spaces are rented to large groups and turn out to be basements that are nothing like the promises made for the price. Many also find that their accommodations are much farther from the Grand Mosque than promised or without the transportation they paid for.
In an article written for The Guardian, Mike Brignall highlights several groups’ experience with the many ‘Hajj scams’ reported this year, in attempt to bring awareness to people hoping to make the pilgrimage next year. Tariq Khan (a false name given to protect the identity of his family) and his family reported their ‘unscrupulous’ travel agent after spending nearly twenty thousand in U.S. Dollars for their trip on a travel package that turned out to be a scam. The family arrived at their accommodations in Mecca to find they had been booked by their travel agent for their family of four to share a single room with multiple strangers. The Khan family later found that twenty five other groups had also been victims of ‘Hajj scams’ through the same travel agent.
Another victim, Ahmed Ali Minhas, also spoke to Brignall about his experience with travel scams. Minhas, his wife and son, told Brignall they spent nearly sixteen thousand in U.S. Dollars to go to Mecca with a group of sixty others under the same travel plan. Minhas described the conditions as ‘squalor’. He told Brignall “There were live wires coming out from the air conditioning, there was no facility to sit and eat dinner. It was not fit for a human to stay in that hotel. There were about 60 people in our group, and everyone started complaining.” He also told Brignall that the travel agent hired “old, poor quality buses to transport them to other sights”.
In another attempt to save money by the travel agent, the pilgrims were told to leave their accommodations in the middle of the night and asked to wait on the streets in their bus. Minhas complained that during this wait they had nowhere to do their prayers. He also told The Guardian that their travels home “included a 17-hour stopover in Beirut, for which we had been promised hotel rooms”, he says that when they arrived in Beirut the found that their promised hotel rooms did not exist. Minhas went on to further explain that he and his group of sixty were stranded in the airport in Beirut, where the accepted currency was U.S. Dollars and that no one had any and there was no was no currency exchange available to them.
For followers of Islam, the Hajj is an obligatory religious duty. Unfortunately, some have noted the eight and a half billion dollars spent by Muslims participating in the Hajj in Saudi Arabia alone, and sought out opportunities to profit on this religious exercise of human equality. In lieu of the many complaints and cases against fake travel agencies and tour operators committing ‘Hajj scams’ the British police have issued a national awareness campaign to warn and protect British Muslims looking to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and fulfill religious and spiritual obligation.
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