By Farman Nawaz
Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have the highest number of Hajjis but Pakistan is the country where most of the Hajj scam cases are registered every year. The possible reason is the lack of check and balance system from the government side as well as the uncontrolled growth of private Hajj Tour Operators.
There are five pillars of Islam and practicing Muslims are obliged to observe these fundaments and without any hindrance the four fundamentals, that is Kalma, five times prayer, keeping fasts for a month and paying Zakat once in a year, are accomplished. Any personal weakness might cause any delay in the fulfillment of these four fundamentals but as far as the fifth pillar Hajj is concerned it has become a kind of commercial activity and that is the reason that every year Pakistanis have to face troubles in performing this fundamental religious practice.
In India only few individual cases filed against the travel agents or Hajj Tour operators can be found. Indian government is providing hundred percent subsidies on air fare from India to Saudi Arabia to the Indian Muslims. This subsidy has been provided since British Raj. However not only the Hindu organizations have raised questions on such religious privilege in a secular country but Muslim religious and political leaders are also against this subsidy. The Indian Supreme Court has recommended to finish this subsidy till 2022. Muslim leaders are against this subsidy on religious grounds because the Holy Quran says that any one performing Hajj should be economically self-sufficient to meet the requirements of the Hajj. The Court ruled that this subsidy is not only unconstitutional but inconsistent with the teachings of Quran. The Court cited Quran verse 97 in Surah 3, Al-e-Imran.
Here in Pakistan Hajj tour operators are in competition regarding Hajj expenditures and the facilities they provide during Hajj Tour. This provides options to the people to choose between the Hajj Packages as well as the facilities provided. Normally the Hajj package starts from rupees four lacs to twenty four lacs and so far there is no check and control system on the package value neither from Pakistani government nor from Saudi Arabian. Besides this there is no check and balance to monitor how many Hajj Tour Operators are working in any region. Therefore people are exposed to be looted in the name of Hajj. Recently there are reports of frauds where bogus Hajj Tour operators deprived the people of their money.
The way there is law for the sanctity of Ramazan, a similar legislation can be made for the sanctity of Hajj that Hajj tour will not be made a commercial activity. The value of Hajj package of the government is round about one lac and fifty thousand and always it is not guaranteed that how many people will be given the opportunity to perform the Hajj. This makes the people to contact private Hajj Tour operators and it opens the way for frauds and profiteering. There must be laws to prevent profiteering in the name of religion.
Common people cannot differentiate between registered and unregistered tour operators. Even there is no official website for the verification of Hajj tour operators. Every year hundreds of people are deprived of millions of rupees but so far government is unable to find a solution of this corruption. This aspect of Hajj is making this holy worship a kind of money-making activity and dishonest operators and officials even by charging few extra dollars per pilgrim can unfairly earn millions of rupees and so corruption is introduced in religious practices of Hajj and Umrah.
Poor Pakistanis are always looted in the name of religion; either it is politics or so called American funded Afghan war. Now the commercialization of Hajj tour will open a way to a systematic and might lead to legal exploitation of the Pakistanis. On government side there seems no systematic motive to prevent the looting of people by private tour operators. Media must play its role to waken the people not be deceived by the unscrupulous tour operators.