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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 15 November 2018

Exploiting vulnerable Hajj pilgrims is contemptible

Those lacking a conscience should be exposed for taking advantage of worshippers

Muslim worshippers perform prayers around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah. Karim Sahib / AFP 
Muslim worshippers perform prayers around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Makkah. Karim Sahib / AFP 

It is a spiritually affirming, life-changing trip which all Muslims are obliged to make at least once in a lifetime.

In less than three weeks, about two million Muslims will descend on Makkah in Saudi Arabia from all corners of the world to come together in a deeply symbolic display of unity and worship. Many will return to their home countries altered forever.

The Hajj is visually inspiring as millions collectively circumnavigate the Kaaba and spiritually uplifting for those who take part.

Yet some despicable con artists see the holiest of rituals in Islam as an opportunity to exploit those who spend their entire savings on the trip of a lifetime.

Online scammers promising all-inclusive Hajj packages which fail to materialise or offering non-existent fast-track services are taking advantage of the vulnerable and devout.

It is particularly contemptible that they are preying on those who, in good faith, trust them to deliver the opportunity to participate in the ultimate act of worship, only to find themselves the victims of fraud. At this time of year, such criminal activity is particularly prevalent.

The issue arises every year because the responsibility for booking packages is delegated to offices in each country to deal with the mammoth task of processing the huge volume of visitors. Those offices should be properly vetted and social media outlets monitored to ensure those trying to take advantage of pilgrims are exposed.

However, some pretend to have these credentials and instead prey on the vulnerable.

Anyone wishing to perform Hajj, too, has a responsibility to vet agencies booking their trips and are advised to stick to service providers which come with a recommendation from someone they know.

The Hajj is physically and mentally strenuous and a great test of strength and endurance for those taking part.

It should not be made even more arduous or the spiritual experience dampened by those lacking a conscience.