How Saudi Arabia protects the rights of every Hajj pilgrim
As each Hajj season progresses, there is a significant improvement in the services provided to pilgrims from the moment they arrive to their farewell as they begin their journey back home.
Nowadays, Hajj has become easier, faster and more advanced. Pilgrims complete the official process through government-approved online portals, and move on to their accommodation and transport in the same way.
As a Saudi citizen, I have witnessed the development of services to the extent that the Kingdom gives a lesson to the world every year in how to manage crowds, and avert crises and emergencies.
And of course, Saudi Arabia is eager to implement the distinctly youth-oriented ideas that came out of the Hajj Hackathon, which was held this month in Jeddah with the theme of improving and easing services to the pilgrims.
Nevertheless, it has become clear over the past few decades that many pilgrims lack the information necessary to make the best of their experience and enable them to understand their rights and duties. As a result, these rights may be overlooked, or infringed in favor of others’ rights.
In most cases, the contractual relationship between the pilgrim and the institution licensed to provide him with Hajj services is the pilgrim’s main concern. There have been many complaints against Hajj companies, and there is often a vast difference between the agreed services and the reality. In some cases, people discover that the pilgrimage services they’ve bought don’t even exist.
The Domestic Pilgrims Service Law clearly explains the duties of licensed institutions to serve pilgrims. The law requires such companies to observe and apply the ethics of the profession with honesty and sincerity in providing services to pilgrims, to refrain from accepting more bookings than their capacity to fulfill, and to be committed to the comfort, security and safety of pilgrims during their stay in the Kingdom.
In addition, the service document issued by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah guarantees the rights of domestic and external pilgrims, and supervises the performance of companies that offer Hajj services. Among the rights stipulated in the document is the pilgrim’s right to submit a formal complaint in the event of breach of any of the provisions of the binding agreement. The ministry may also follow up on the complaint, which is considered by a multi-ministerial committee. Complaints may be registered up until Muharram 15, the Islamic month after Hajj.
One of the ministry’s most important tasks is to evaluate the performance of organizations that offer Hajj services. If they fail to meet the required standards they may be fined, suspended or permanently lose their license to operate. These are strict measures to prevent complacency or neglect, and ensure excellent services.
The role of the ministry also extends to representing domestic pilgrims in the competent courts when there is a complaint against a Hajj company or institution, ensuring that the pilgrim receives compensation or indemnity for accommodation, transport and other basics, and providing essentials for the pilgrim until he completes his Hajj.
The Hajj season in the Kingdom is not only a matter of a few days that ends with statistics and a media show; it is an industry in which the whole country participates throughout the year, striving to provide the perfect service.
Dear pilgrims and guests of the Kingdom, you are probably now in Mina spending unforgettable nights in this beautiful area. You should know that, this year and every year, you are in the eyes of the Kingdom. Eid Mubarak!
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif