British Muslims Get Stuck in Saudi Hajj Reservation System

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Hundreds of British Muslims who booked trips to Saudi Arabia to carry out the hajj pilgrimage described their anger and frustration at being stranded in the UK despite paying thousands of pounds for flights and hotels through a flawed system backed by the Saudi government.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s hajj and umrah ministry announced that pilgrims from Europe, the US and Australia would no longer be able to book hajj packages through travel agencies and would have to apply through a lottery system called Motawif. .

But the new system overshadowed an important religious pilgrimage for many British Muslims, who missed their flights despite having paid for them.

After three years of waiting to perform the hajj, which he initially booked in 2020 before being postponed due to the Covid pandemic, Leicester’s Muneeb Sidyot has successfully booked this year through Motawif. He was soon informed by email that his “payment was successful but booking failed”. Days later, another email notified him that his “reservation will be honored” and that his flights have been booked.

Skeptical of Motawif’s assurances, Sidyot contacted his airline, Saudi Airlines, 48 ​​hours before his flight, only to be told that his and his wife’s names were not on the flight listing and that Motawif may have overbooked. “Why did Motawif take my money if a package was potentially sold out?” he said.

Sidyot’s flight to Jeddah left Heathrow on Sunday without him and he wasn’t sure Motawif would issue a full refund. “We don’t want to lose a single penny because we don’t get any service other than problems and our time being wasted trying to get in touch with agents,” he said.

Despite arranging a leave of absence from work and paying nearly £20,000 for a hajj package for him and his wife, Adam Ali, a Preston healthcare worker, was also notified that his booking had failed.

Motawif claims to have a 24/7 call center available in multiple languages. There he spent hours answering international calls for Motawif in France and Saudi Arabia, and for Holidayme and Umrahme, subsidiaries of Motawif’s Dubai-based technology partner Traveazy.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Ali said. “My first two weeks of leave, when I was supposed to be on hajj, I basically stayed at home doing administrative work, asking questions.”

The stories of Sidyot and Ali are common stories for potential pilgrims left in limbo. Many posted on Twitter using the hashtag #paidbutfailed to get a response from Motawif, who they say was slow to respond. Ali created a Twitter account to get some responsibility for the phantom package he was promised after receiving little to no response.

He and his wife were scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia from Manchester airport on Saturday. When Ali contacted his airline and hotels the day before to confirm his reservations, he found that no reservations had been made.

The situation has been especially difficult for the couple, who have a four-year-old son with learning difficulties. Motawif gave Ali assurances that they would resolve their booking issues within 72 hours. With the last flights for international hajj pilgrims approaching next week, they could be given a flight at any time, which would mean having to drop off their child on short notice.

“Just thinking about it was so painful for both of us,” Ali said. “We wanted to spend the last two weeks with him to give him that love [and] affection, so that he would not be impacted by our absence when we went.”

For Ali and many others like him, the anxious wait continues to see if Motawif will deliver on his promise to reschedule his flights.

Motawif and its subsidiaries were asked to comment.

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