My father had been intending to go for Hajj for most of his adult life. Over the years, I have seen plans come together then unwind for a myriad of reasons. One time he even had the visa, tickets, and reservations in place only to be denied time off from his job. Other years the plans were there but the finances were hard to come by. So when he was finally able to get all aspects of his life aligned to go for Hajj, he was overjoyed. After asking around to friends and family, the Dar el Salam Hajj agency was highly recommended to him. My father wanted to make sure that he traveled with this agency because they have a very good reputation and provide the best services.
In todayâ€™s computer age, we turn to the internet to help us find information. When my father searched for Dar el Salam online, the first featured link that appeared was to a Dar al-Islam website. He clicked on this website and proceeded to communicate with Omar at the Dar al-Islam agency. My father was not aware that the person and company he was speaking with was not the Dar el Salam that he was trying to contact. My father even wrote out his first money order to Dar el Salam, which was cashed by Omar at Dar al-Islam. We didnâ€™t suspect anything until we saw the flight itinerary. There were 4 flights and 3 plane changes required with one of them being at Beirut, Lebanon. At that time the US president and congress were contemplating declaring war on Syria due to chemical weapons attacks. The US department of State issued an advisory that US citizens not travel to Lebanon for any reason. When he asked Omar to change the flight so that it didnâ€™t go through Beirut, he refused. It was at this time that I decided to do some research into his company. I went to hajjratings.com and saw that Omar with Dar al-Islam had very negative reviews and bad experiences with his groups. My father was devastated to hear that he wasnâ€™t travelling with the real Dar el Salam agency and had gotten trapped in with Dar al-Islam.
Because my father had already given his money to the Dar al-Islam agency for an upgraded package, he decided that he had no choice but to try and complete his Hajj with them. He did not hear back from Dar al-Islam even after repeated calls and emails to get an estimated time of arrival of passports and visas. It wasnâ€™t until one week before the departure date that he got an email from Omar telling him that the passport was ready and that he wanted to meet at the Masjid at 4pm. We went to the Masjid but he did not show up. We even went to his business residence and he did not respond to us when we knocked on his door. Because he was not responding to our phone calls and had my parentsâ€™ passports and wasnâ€™t giving them to us, we called the police to see if they could get the documents from him. Initially he did not even open the door to the police, but when the policeman got a little louder, he opened the door and told him that the passport wasnâ€™t ready and he would give it to my father one day before their flight leaves. He did eventually get the passports and asked my father to pick them up the next day. Throughout this entire process there was a complete lack of communication and he acted very rude towards my parents.
My father showed the passports and visas to a friend who works in the Hajj industry. He was told that the Hajj visas that he received were missing some important stickers, including the muallim assignment. Because of this, my parents would have to spend more time at the Jeddah airport to have a muallim assigned to them. This is exactly what happened when they arrived in Jeddah. Even though there was not that much rush at the airport, it took them more than 16 hours to leave the airport. They had to go to the mutawif office to drop off their passports and get transportation to the hotel. As soon as the person at the mutawif office saw the name of the group, he became very angry and started yelling at Omar. He was saying that he is a liar and deceives people of America and is doing a disservice to his community. My father was really tired and just wanted to get to a hotel room that he was hoping was booked for him. Omar did provide the hotel, Madawy Ajiad, but it was a very sub-par hotel. There were 4 beds per room and very small bathrooms without air conditioning. The hotel was located far from the Haram on top of a mountainous hill, which made it very difficult to walk up or down. The hotel was a 20 to 30 minute walk from Haram and private transportation was not provided from the hotel to the Haram.
The promises that were made by Dar al-Islam regarding package features were not delivered. All throughout the trip, the buses that Omar said he would provide were the free government buses. In order to get onto these buses, the group had to walk to reach the bus stops and switch many times in between before reaching their destination. This caused delays and undue hardship. On the night the group left for Mina, they were told by Omar that they needed to walk from their hotel to the bus stop. They subsequently changed many busses and it took them all night to get to their â€œVIPâ€ tents. The advertised â€œVIP Servicesâ€ for the Mina and Arafa camps were also not provided. Other than a carpet which was already in the camp, no mattresses or sleeping bags, and no restaurant meals or refreshments were provided. During the stay there, the only food provided was pre-packaged charity food given by the Saudi government. That was the only food that was provided and it was only given once during the day. There were no beds or mattresses in the tent. There was even no cold water, drinks, or refreshments. The group had to get together and pitch in to purchase cold water. Omar was not even concerned that there were elderly and children in the group. The promised three daily meals were not provided at Makkah, Mina or Arafa. It was a struggle every day just for basic necessities. No spiritual guidance was provided at any point during the trip. Despite all of this difficulty, in the end, the Hajj was completed and may Allah accept it.
After this experience, I was taken aback that something like this could be happening here in America. We always hear about people defrauding Hajjis, but I never thought that it would happen to my family. I encourage anyone who is going for Hajj or thinking about going for Hajj to check the hajjratings.com website to read reviews about the agency you are traveling with. Keep in mind that there are many agencies that have similar names. My parents were trapped and endured a difficult Hajj experience because of the company names being so alike. Please beware, and donâ€™t be the next victim of this fraud.