x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

UAE Haj agencies warned against 'surrogate' pilgrimages

Haj agencies are being warned against offering surrogate services.

Some Haj agencies offer to send an employee to perform the rituals in return for sums of about Dh2,500.
Some Haj agencies offer to send an employee to perform the rituals in return for sums of about Dh2,500.

DUBAI // Profit-making Haj agencies that offer "surrogate" pilgrimages face fines of Dh50,000.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (Awqaf) has caught about 20 of the 148 registered profit-making Haj agencies offering the trips this year, despite a 2006 law prohibiting them from doing so.

In Islam, people can perform Haj on behalf of relatives who are either sick or dead. Some Haj agencies offer to send an employee to perform the rituals in return for sums of about Dh2,500.

However, religious officials warn the practice leaves people open to exploitation.

"We cannot be sure that these agencies actually send someone to carry out the Haj rituals," said Obeid Al Za'abi, the deputy director of the UAE's official Haj.

"The law only licenses Haj agencies to carry out Haj and Umrah trips - it does not give them the mandate to carry out surrogate Haj," said Mr Al Za'abi.

Despite the law, a number of agencies offered such services this year, leading the authority to repeat its warnings of hefty penalties for doing so.

"We started noticing that some agencies were advertising for the service so we issued warnings," said Mr Al Za'abi. "We are not sure why the trend developed this year, maybe some agency tried it in the previous years and found it to be beneficial, so others decided to follow suit."

About 20 warnings were issued, most of which appear to have been heeded.

"So far we have not needed to take any major action as the warnings seem to have paid off and the agencies are following the instructions."

Charitable organisations do not come under Awaqaf's mandate and may still offer surrogate Haj services without being fined.

Sumaya Khamis plans to pay a charitable organisation to undertake a surrogate Haj for her grandmother who died 10 years ago.

"We do not always have the time to personally carry out surrogate Haj for our deceased so it is good that we can pay someone to do it on their behalf," said the Emirati.

However, she added that it was important to pick someone you could trust to carry out the task. "I always go for renowned charity organisations," she said.

wissa@thenational.ae