Up to 1 000 Cape Muslims have lost around R33 million in a Hajj visa scam.
The full extent of the scandal is unmasked in a Daily Voice investigation into the Mecca rip-off.
A senior local imam is under investigation for his role in the scandal and a Flats tour operator – Faizal Moos from Al-Sabireen – has been implicated.
The scandal has devastated hundreds of Muslim families.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and each year millions of Muslims around the world undertake the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, many spending their life’s savings to fulfil their duty to Allah.
In the scam, each individual paid an exorbitant R3 000 to tour operators for ill-sourced visas. But before they could qualify for the visas, they had to fork out between R25 000 and R40 000 on Hajj packages.
This means each of the 1 000 or so pilgrims caught in the scandal lost an average of R33 000 to cover the cost of the failed trip to Mecca.
Now the victims have vowed to bring the unscrupulous Hajj operators to justice.
They have formed The Friends of the Hajj (FotH) to pursue a class action against those responsible.
More than 100 angry victims gathered at a heated meeting on Tuesday night in Silvertown to discuss their options.
The group is led by Imraahn Mukaddam – the shopkeeper who took on the bread giants in a price-fixing scandal.
He told the Daily Voice the scam operators must be held liable.
“Those responsible for throwing the Hajj industry into turmoil, misrepresenting Muslims and robbing them of their holy journey must be held accountable,” he says.
And he urged all of those who have lost money in the scandal not to be afraid to tackle the Hajj operators in court.
“Please people, this is a very sensitive case. Don’t turn your back on us when you are called to testify,” Mukaddam says.
“This whole scandal is unacceptable and despicable.
“If irregularities are uncovered, those responsible must be charged criminally. We will also ask the Competition Commission to investigate any price-fixing in the Hajj industry.”
Notably absent from Tuesday night’s meeting were the implicated Imam, Moos, the Muslim Judicial Council and the SA Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc).
Moos admitted this week to the Daily Voice that he had dealings with a source in Saudi Arabia who had arranged Hajj visas. But the deal flopped and the visas Moos applied for were blocked.
Pilgrims who paid their packages are now demanding Moos refund their money.
“I’ll pay back every cent to Hujjaj,” Moos vowed.
Sahuc, who administer and keep a watchful eye over the whole visa process with the Saudi embassy in Pretoria, say they are investigating.
“The cases are sub judice and we cannot give comment at this stage,” Sahuc secretary general Shaheen Essop tells the Daily Voice.
Every year the Saudi embassy allocates 3 000 Hajj visas free of charge to South African Muslims. But this year, more applications kept flowing in – even after this number of visas had been allocated.
Irregularities soon became clear and the embassy placed a moratorium on the issuing of visas.
Initial investigations revealed two Cape Town operators bypassed Sahuc and the embassy to obtain Hajj visas.
One operator allegedly got hold of foreign Hajj visas and sold them at R3 000 each to unsuspecting pilgrims.
The Daily Voice has learned a second Cape Town operator had direct dealings with a source in Saudi Arabia.
Now Sahuc, along with the Saudi Embassy and authorities, are trying to get their hands on the Saudi Ministry source.
The Sahuc also came under fire at Tuesday’s meeting.
The Daily Voice has learned Sahuc do not have permission from the SA government to negotiate on behalf of South African Muslims with the Saudi Hajj Ministry.
“FotH will ask the South African government to suspend the recognition of Sahuc and that a transparent body for the entire Southern Africa be established,” Riyaad Bosch from Hajj Watch told pilgrims at the meeting.
“The Public Protector informed us that the protocol document that Sahuc is waving about [stating] they have the right to negotiate on behalf of Muslims with Saudi Arabia, is not a legitimate document.”
At this stage there is no police investigation into the matter.
* If you’ve been a victim, call FotH on 086 1115008 or email firstname.lastname@example.org