Wide Angle

British Muslims worried about the rising cost of hajj

A report by the University of Leeds reveals that the prices of hajj trips have increased by 25% in the last five years for British pilgrims. As a response, the British government called for «better industry compliance and self-regulation».

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The rising cost of hajj for British Muslims is alarming, according to a new report on the industry of pilgrimage. Conducted by the University of Leeds and the Council of British Hajjis, the report is presented as the first independent survey on the subject.

Entitled «Mapping the UK’s Hajj Sector: Moving Towards Communication and Consensus», the report is published online and examines the transformation of this ritual that has become an industry over the last three decades. It noted that the number of British Muslims traveling on pilgrimage increased from 573 in 1969 to about 25,000 in the recent years.

«The rising costs are a genuine concern for Muslims on lower incomes but demand for Hajj is strong among all age-groups», Seán McLoughlin, Professor of the Anthropology of Islam in the School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science at Leeds, said.

An increase of 25% in the last five years

According to the document, British Muslims pay an average of £ 4,000 for hajj (around € 4,300, or 46,000 dirhams), a price that has increased by 25% in the last five years.

«Costs are exacerbated by the current weakness of the pound and a new tax regime in Saudi Arabia, as well as simple supply and demand for flights as more than two million Muslims worldwide travel during a single week in the year», the University explained, blaming that on the fact that «Hajj also currently coincides with the main northern hemisphere summer holiday period».

Demand for accommodation is also increasing due to the demolition of older and cheaper hotels in Mecca for the benefit of five-star hotels.

The report recalls that Saudi Arabia forced Muslims from Western countries to buy packages from private agencies more than a decade ago, while the UK government has long called for better industry compliance and better regulation. In the wake of this demand, a viable national professional association, Licensed Hajj Organisers, was created to help UK pilgrims with the organization of this pilgrimage.

«A national body with access to key policy influencers in the UK and bringing together all the different stakeholders would be beneficial, with the most obvious mechanism for this being the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hajj and Umrah. This has an important role in keeping open a critical and practically-focused public conversation on Muslim pilgrimage in the UK», Professor McLoughlin added.

«Changes that took place in the 2000s acknowledged that British Muslims were exposed to fraudulent operators», Professor McLoughlin argued.

He explained that «more still needs to be done to clarify for pilgrims that while any travel agent can legally sell a Hajj package in the UK, only 117 Saudi-licensed organizers have access to the visas necessary to ensure that pilgrims are not disappointed at this important moment in their lives».

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