ABU DHABI // The authority for Islamic affairs has told travel agents to ensure Emiratis and expatriates pay the same to perform Haj this year.
Almost 5,000 pilgrims from the UAE will join millions of Muslims around the world in Saudi Arabia next month.
Travel agencies offering Haj packages have charged as much as Dh70,000 a person for expats, but the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments, or Awqaf, wants that cut to Dh35,000 for basic packages.
The price includes visas, transport, food, vaccinations and lodgings throughout the trip, which takes up to two weeks.
Haj is one of the five pillars of Islam that all able-bodied Muslims must perform at least once in their lives. Dr Mohammed Al Kaabi, Awqaf chairman, said that every UAE pilgrim would pay the same to travel agents, also known as Haj missions.
“Some missions used to be unjust to expatriates by charging them higher rates. Why is that?” asked Dr Al Kaabi.
“On top of their limited salaries, the missions took advantage of their situation. Some did not have the financial capability so they would go into debt.”
The 142 Haj missions are organising trips for 4,631 Emiratis and 351 expats this year.
Dr Al Kaabi said travel agents would be monitored to ensure they did not overcharge or breach rules.
Firas Ismail, office manager at the Sharjah Haj mission Al Shuhba, said expats were sometimes charged more because of visa requirements.
“Sometimes rates for expats reached Dh10,000 and Dh15,000 more for visa procedures and so on,” Mr Ismail said. “But for three years we have not taken any expat pilgrims with us.”
Syrian housewife Maisa Omar performed Haj with her husband last year and in 2014. She found it cheaper to register for the trip through an agency in Lebanon.
“When I asked last year the rates for residents were between Dh50,000 and Dh90,000, but for nationals it was much less because they don’t have to pay for the visa,” said Ms Omar, 38.
High prices also forced financial analyst Fysal Karakoottathil, from India, to perform Haj through an agency in his home country, where it cost Dh60,000 for him and his wife.
“The minimum was Dh45,000 and that was too expensive, so I found an agency in India,” said Mr Karakoottathil, 39. “They were going via Sharjah so I joined them.”
Travel companies said prices could vary depending on the package pilgrims chose, with a variety of luxury options available.
“A VIP package could reach Dh115,000 a person,” said Ibrahim Ahmad an administrator at travel firm Al Suwaidi and Sons, which has arranged for 70 Emirati and 15 expats to perform the Haj on September 9 to14.
Mr Ahmad said pilgrims often asked for additions such as a room with a view of the kaaba and better transport.
“They ask that it is comfortable and air-conditioned,” said Mr Ahmad.
Awqaf will send 150 staff on its official Haj trip this year, including doctors, preachers and inspectors to oversee all activities in Mecca and Medina.
Source: uae news