An unpacked suitcase, a spread out ihram and brown slippers remain as they were two weeks ago inside Kumail’s* drawing room. Everything else, on the other hand, does not.
The 83-year-old’s plans of going for the holy pilgrimage this year were crushed as he became the victim of a vicious scam. Not only did he end up losing all his savings, but any hopes of making the once-in-a-lifetime journey have also become bleak.
“Going to Allah’s house was the biggest dream in my life. I don’t know if I would be alive next year or would be able to raise enough money again,” he said.
Kumail relied on travel agents who allegedly stole his money and failed to send him for Hajj. “I had been saving my pension money for the last three years.”
And worst of all, Kumail is not alone. There are almost 200 others like him who had submitted a hefty sum of Rs3, 30,000 to travel agency Karwan-e-Khurassan, which promised to send them on a ‘luxurious’ Hajj. The agency asked for higher fares claiming the pilgrims would be stationed close to the Kabaah.
The agency –located behind Nishtar Park in Karachi – is run by Kausar Mazhar and Saleem Jumma. Mazhar, however, fled to Syria.
“There was a problem which is why the people were not sent. I will hold a meeting with them and solve it,” said Jumma, who stayed behind. However, he refused to share details of what exactly happened and why he failed to refund the money to his customers.
‘Another agent ran off with your money’
According to Kumail, the would-be pilgrims were to leave for Hajj on October 6; however, just hours before their departure, Jumma called to tell them that their passports were not stamped and they would be able to leave till October 10.
On October 10, however, they were in for shocking news. “The travel agents told us that they had given out money to another agent who had run away with it to Dubai,” Kumail said.
The applicants were again told to wait till October 19, but the promise, once again, turned out to be false.
The agents stopped attending the customers’ calls and would not be available in the office.
About 200 people were denied their right to Hajj. They, however, were reluctant to approach the Federeal Investigation Agency or lodge a complaint with the police since they have family connections with the agents. “We approached them because they are from our families. Also, we are hesitant to come out in the open against them because the agents promised to pay back our money in installments. If we complain against them, they might not give us our money back,” said another victim, who chose to stay anonymous.
String of scams
According to a prominent travel agent, Yahya Polani, this is the fourth case of fraud which has emerged this year, the first of which took place in Faisalabad, while the other three happened in Karachi.
Last week, a huge crowd of people protested in North Karachi against their hajj operators for delaying the process. Fortunately the matter was solved and the people were finally sent on the pilgrimage.
Similarly, in Guru Mandir, SHO Soldier Bazar said a fight broke out between applicants and their operator Karawan-e-Islami after the agent ran off to perform hajj with the money of 50 applicants.
“There are over 700 hajj operators in the country, and around 1% of them are involved in cheating which is humiliating for this holy business,” Polani said, adding that those who were scammed should claim their money from the Ministry of Religious Affairs as it was equally responsible.
He added that he was not aware whether Karawan-e-Khurassan had a licence to operate as a Hajj agent. An official of the Al Harmain group said that the agency had a reputation of cheating in the market, and was previously involved in a similar crime.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2012.