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Hajj Advice & Enforcement Project – a two-pronged approach in Tower Hamlets

Hajj Advice & Enforcement Project – a two-pronged approach in Tower Hamlets

Date: 5 th September 2016

Background:
Hajj Pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam, which every adult Muslim must undertake at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it and are physically able. Every year more than two million Muslims converge on Makkah, Saudi Arabia, the holiest place in Islam, to take part in the event. Many Muslims save for years in order to perform this pilgrimage.

Annually, about 25,000 people from the UK take the Hajj pilgrimage and a significant number of people go from Tower Hamlets.

In previous years, a significant number of Hajj pilgrims have been ripped off by a variety of scams, including paying for a five star hotel but getting substandard accommodation, or in extreme cases, some agents have disappeared and taken pilgrims’ money with them.

As a result of such concerns, and a major Hajj fraud case originating from Tower Hamlets (Mr Faruk Ahmed, and his company Qibla Hajj Kafela (2009)), Tower Hamlets Trading Standards have been doing the Hajj Project since 2010.

Furthermore, earlier this year, Al Kabir Travel and Tours Ltd was found guilty of taking 120 pilgrims to Hajj without any ATOL protection insurance and were fined more than £12,000.

Trading Standards Hajj Project launch
Tower Hamlets Trading Standards launched the Hajj advice and enforcement project by partaking in the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK (ABH)’s Hajj Health and Safety Awareness Campaign at the prestigious annual event in the House of Lords on 20th July 2016. ABH is a national charitable organisation based in Birmingham and working for the welfare and well-being of Hajj pilgrims. This campaign is to ensure that British pilgrims, who are travelling to perform Hajj this year, are equipped with life-saving health and safety information and precautionary measures to help and protect them from any hardship or difficulty they may experience.

Chaired by British Parliamentarians Lord Nazir Ahmed and Steve McCabe MP, also in attendance were senior City of London police officials, senior officers from Birmingham Trading Standards department, doctors and other community dignitaries.

Nazir Ali, Senior Trading Standards Officer for Tower Hamlets outlined the twopronged approach in the Borough for the end of July to end of August. Firstly there will be a Friday Prayers Mosque Tour. Secondly, premises known or registered to provide Hajj travel packages would be visited along with a checklist to ensure compliance with package travel regulations.

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Hajj Advice & Enforcement Project – a two pronged approach in Tower Hamlets

Mosque Tours
The mosque tours are in partnership with our Health & Safety colleagues, giving out information on health and infectious disease, as well as advice on how to protect themselves from unscrupulous and rogue travel agents.

It involves a consultation bus being stationed outside selected mosques in the borough during Friday (Jummah) prayers over a 5 week period and providing trading standards and health and safety information to mosque-goers. Mosque announcements are made before the sermon and people are invited on to the bus by offering free goodies such as pens, fridge magnets, shopping trolley tokens and advice leaflets with a checklist of things to ask for when booking Hajj packages, including an ATOL certificate and travel itinerary. They are also able to report any suspect trader agents.

Also, all travellers for Hajj are urged to consult their GP to ensure an up to date vaccination record and to take simple precautions to prevent general food poisoning and other infectious diseases. These include maintaining a good level of personal hygiene, washing hands before eating or preparing food, drinking bottled or treated water and avoiding contact with animals.

In recent years, there has been an increasing health concern from PHE for those travelling to Saudi Arabia due to a virus called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). MERS is a viral respiratory illness with a high fatality rate and was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The virus has flu-like symptoms such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath.

Although sporadic cases of MERS were detected in other Middle Eastern countries, the vast majority of the cases have been linked to Saudi Arabia. To date, it is still unclear where the virus came from, however there is strong indication that it can be caught from camels and then passed from person to person.

However, the risk of MERS to travellers is considered low and the advice is to wash hands regularly, avoid close contact with sick people and sick animals, avoid contact with camels and avoid consuming raw camel milk or camel products. The use of disposable masks, where appropriate, may also be helpful.

The method

The mosque consultation bus toured for five consecutive weeks and was at the following locations:

  • Esha Atul Islam Mosque, 16 Ford Square, E1 2HS on Friday 5th August from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m.
  • Shadwell Jamme Masjid, 145 Shadwell Place, E1 2QB – Friday 12th August; 12:00-14:30
  • Mazahirul Uloom London, 241-243 Mile End Rd, E1 4AA – Friday 19th August; 12:00-14:00
  • Island Bengali Welfare Organisation, 3 Thorne House, Launch Street, E14 3LU – Friday 26th August; 12:00 – 14:00
  • Poplar Central Mosque, 253 East India Dock Rd & New Poplar Mosque & Community Centre, 6 Webber Path, London E14 0FZ – Friday 2nd September; 12:00 – 14:00

Similarly, the Hajj travel businesses were written to and given advice before officers carrying out compliance inspections with a checklist.

Results

More than 60 inspections were carried out at local agents with all those visited have been found to be generally compliant with requirements of ensuring protection of client monies and repatriation arrangements in case of insolvency. Other findings include some premises no longer offering Hajj, or only passing customers to reputable providers.

Similarly, over the 5 weeks period, more than 700 people interacted with the touring consultation bus.

Conclusion
This project enabled us to reach out to the Muslim community of Tower Hamlets and beyond. The Trading Standards and other regulatory services were well promoted to the Muslim community and the project was well-received. Over the 5 week period, we interacted with more than 700 people and have skilled them to make informed choices when booking Hajj packages.

The compliance visits carried out had a positive impact on the travel industry and has enhanced consumer confidence when dealing with Hajj providers, knowing that they have been monitored and inspected by Trading Standards.

This programme has now been running for a number of recent years and it would seem that it is proving effective in ensuring greater levels of protection for pilgrims.

The success of this project would be better measured only after people return from their pilgrimage around mid-September 2016.

By Nazir Ali
Senior Trading Standards Officer
London Borough of Tower Hamlets
John Onslow House
1 Ewart Place
London E3 5EQ
Tel 020 7364 5008
Fax 020 7364 6901
Email : nazir.ali@towerhamlets.gov.uk

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