French Muslims' Hajj Dream Turns into Nightmare

After years of chasing the hajj dream, hundreds of French Muslim pilgrims have been swindled out of thousands of euros by bogus European travel agencies, which turned the breathtaking dream into a nightmare.

French Muslims' Hajj Dream Turns into Nightmare

It turned out that it wasn't a real hajj package at all — it was just a sham," Monjiah, a 67-year-old woman from Paris, told on Saturday, December 15.

She is among 1,500 pilgrims who have bought hajj visas from a bogus Swiss travel agency through local agents.

"They deceived me, stole my money and dreams," said Monjiah, fighting back tears.

Monjiah had paid 6,000 euros for two visas for herself and her husband.

"They won't go unpunished," she vowed, adding that sooner or later the swindlers would be brought to justice.

One of the five pillars of Islam, hajj starts this year on Monday, December 17, with some two million white-clad pilgrims moving into the arid valley of Mina in a ritual known as "Yawm at-Tarwiya."

Hajj will climax on Tuesday when the pilgrims climb Mount `Arafat, asking for God's forgiveness.

Every able-bodied adult Muslim — who can financially afford the trip — must perform hajj, at least once in their lifetime.

Growing Demand

Many French Muslims resort to travel agencies in other European countries to get hajj visas as the annual quota set by Saudi Arabia cannot meet the growing demand.

Only 25,000 hajj visas have been issued by the Saudi embassy in Paris for France's sizable six million Muslims this year, according to travel agents.

"It is an every-year occurrence that French Muslims seek visas from travel agencies across Europe," said one travel agent, who requested anonymity.

"This is not risk-free whatsoever."

Lat year, he added, 600 French Muslim pilgrims were tricked by a bogus travel agency in Germany.

"They found out after it was too late that the hajj visas were fake," he said.

White List

Abdel-Qadir Al-Tarhoni, the owner of a travel agency, said pilgrims should think twice before handing their passports and hard-won savings to strangers.

"There are well-known travel agencies licensed by authorities, which are entitled to the (charge-free) hajj visas issued by the Saudi embassy," he told IOL.

Since French Muslim pilgrims, the elderly in particular, are impatient to visit the holy lands, they are vulnerable to such bogus agencies, added Al-Tarhoni.

"They think that those people are good-intentioned," he said.

The private S.S Hajj organization has published a "White List" of respectable travel agencies to spare the pilgrims the heartbreaking experience.

A booklet was also issued by the organization urging French Muslims to avoid suspicious agencies.

The deception could take different means though the end is always the pilgrims' cash.

The compelling complaint among pilgrims every year is that some travel agencies do not honor their pre-journey commitments including proper accommodation, meals or even ticket flights.

Last hajj, 5,000 pilgrims were left behind in Saudi Arabia after failing to find the supposedly booked seats on flights back home.

In 2005, up to 3,000 French pilgrims were left stranded, Saudi authorities to operate special charters for them.

Last year saw a staggering 10,000 complaints and lawsuits against travel agencies from pilgrims.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Aralık 2007, 18:29