Hajj booking system changes leave Muslims disappointed

This April, Saudi Arabia announced that it would once again be permitting Muslims from abroad to enter, meaning Hajj was back on for those who had deferred. Pandemic-led travel curbs meant Saudi Arabia was only allowing Muslims already inside the country to make the pilgrimage till recently.

By June 6, just a month before Hajj is to commence (July 7), Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj cut out the middleman.

Travel agents from Europe, North America and Australia – who had previously been instrumental in creating packages to suit travellers’ needs – were no longer permitted to facilitate the pilgrimage.

Instead, authorities launched Mowatif an online booking system for pilgrims applying from Western countries.

Applicants would then be entered into a draw and informed whether they were among the chosen few able to make the journey to the Muslim holy land.

Some pilgrims who had successively made bookings through Mowatif arrived at the departure airport and were told there was no flight.

Others who made it to Saudi Arabia found they had no hotel rooms or were given rooms with strangers rather than family members.

A petition calling for a return to traditional ways of booking the pilgrimage reached its target within days of launching.

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