TH: Don’t fall for cheap haj packages

PETALING JAYA: Greed and ignorance are the main reasons haj pilgrims continue to be conned and end up being stranded in Saudi Arabia without being able to perform their haj, said Tabung Haji chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Hussain.

He said that Tabung Haji can only take further action and file a police report once those who have been scammed or conned make a report to them.

It was reported that scammers tend to prey on those ignorant of the right channels or looking for cheaper trips and promises of being able to get a haj visa when they reach Saudi.

Abdul Rashid said that aspiring haj pilgrims must understand that an umrah visa or tourist visa cannot be converted into a haj visa, even if the individual is already in Saudi during the haj season.

“There are many scams which dupe people to do umrah with promises of unrealistic prices, bringing them towards the end of the umrah season. They promise them that their umrah visas can be automatically converted to haj visas. It must be known that no umrah visa can be converted to haj visa.

“From Dzulhijjah 1, the haj season begins and those without haj visas are considered illegal when caught.

“Under the Tabung Haji Act 1995, we must report to the police these scams and cons against pilgrims but only if those wronged file a report with us,” said Abdul Rashid.

He said Tabung Haji can only keep reminding aspiring pilgrims not to be duped by those promising low prices as the quota from Saudi to Malaysia is only through the Tabung Haji.

“Every year, we are sending 31,500 slots allocated to us. So many more are on the waiting list. We can only keep reminding them to go through the proper channels through Tabung Haji or those agents authorised by us,” said Abdul Rashid.

Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Dr Mohd Na’im Mokhtar said that understandably many try to go for the haj as the relationship between Muslims and the Holy Land is a strong emotional bond.

“There are currently about four million people that have registered with Tabung Haji to go for haj. However, the annual quota set for Malaysia by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is 31,600,” he said.

He said that Malaysian pilgrims have developed a strong reputation in the Holy Land as among those with discipline and good behaviour.

“This reputation and image which have been built tirelessly over the years may be affected by the act of unscrupulous parties who offer haj packages using invalid visas,” said Mohd Na’im.

“Tabung Haji and agencies within the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) like the Department of Awqaf, Zakat and Hajj as well as the Tourism Ministry will continue to raise and intensify awareness on this matter and carry out awareness campaigns to ensure Muslims are not cheated of their hard-earned money.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Umrah and Haj Travel Agents president Datuk Seri Razali Mohd Sham said that Tabung Haji should not be too quick to “put out the news” that there are Malaysian haj pilgrims stranded in Saudi.

“Doing so would give a negative image of Malaysia. Tabung Haji should also utilise all the quota given to them so that more can go.

“Pilgrims from other countries except for Malaysia and Brunei have the freedom to get their haj visas. In Malaysia, we can only go through Tabung Haji or agencies authorised under Tabung Haji,” said Razali.

He also said that Tabung Haji should properly investigate “hearsay” claims that there are “many stranded pilgrims”.

On May 14, a company manager, Afiz Ayub, told the media that the number of Malaysians stranded in Saudi ran into thousands, exceeding the 300 reported.

He claimed many more people have fallen prey to agencies offering cheap haj packages priced between RM45,000 and RM60,000 per individual.

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