With South African families embarking on the Umrah pilgrimage during the holiday months, Haj and Umrah operator, Al Mujaahiedeen, has been suspended by the South African Travel and Haj Operators Association (SATHOA) following the cancellation of flights of 20 mu’tamireen, who were scheduled to leave on December 25, 2017.
Chairperson of SATHOA, Adam Jainodien, explains that he became involved in the process when one of the passengers was advised to contact SATHOA.
Jainodien says that one operator had issued packages for travel on 21 and 25 December, the complainants being scheduled to leave on December 25, 2017.
The passengers set to leave on the 25th were informed that the seats secured for them had been cancelled by Emirates Airlines due to a default of a payment that was arranged by the operator with the bank.
He affirmed that as of Wednesday, 21 December, the flights were pending for payment.
“On a presentation of the actual payment, which was to my record done via cheque in the period that it was supposed to be cleared the cheque was obviously not met by the bank and Emirates reserved the right to suspend the flights.”
The operator was subsequently approached to make payments in order to ensure that the passengers were secured a flight.
Arrangements were also made for the passengers to travel at 18h00 on Thursday on Turkish Airlines.
According to Jainodien the operator now seeks to arrange a loan by Monday, 25 December, given alleged financial difficulties his business has been experiencing.
“The agent at present has a situation in his business that his in a financial difficulty. When we engaged with him, I was there with at least 10 or 12 of the mu’tamireen that I could get contact with and arrange to meet with the operator.
“He is seeking assistance from a source that will obviously come to his rescue.”
Describing the 20 mu’tamireen as remaining hopeful, he says that despite their disappointment, the pilgrims have dealt with the situation in a non-aggressive manner.
Jainodien says that a number of passengers are hoping to recover their money by Monday, failing which they may have to absorb the costs of the flights and recover it upon their return.
“Similarly, customers have the right to contact me and my executives should there be any issues around operators,” Jainodien advised.
“In the meanwhile I am still assisting them to get flights to still go on their Umrah. Where they obviously still have to folk out the money for that purpose and claim back their money.”
Pending an investigation, Al Mujaahiedeen has been suspended; Jainodien asserting that should Cassim be found to have not complied with SATHOA’s regulations, the body will go public with the information to ensure that the operator does not engage in the business of Haj and Umrah.
In a bid avoid irregularities and better manage financial capabilities within the South African Haj and Umrah industry, SATHOA and South African Muslim Travel Association (SAMTA) are in talks to merge the two organisations under one banner.
Commenting on the matter, founding member of the operator, Imam Isgaak Cassim, confirmed that the operator did not have sufficient funds to pay the full balance of payment to the airline, this being due to “operational issues.”
While the 20 mu’tamireen paid the costs of the flight, Cassim, however, refused to disclose further information on details of the lack of funds.
“This is sub judice for me to say. There is something that happened, so I actually don’t want to disclose what has happened. Suffice to say that it is under control; I have spoken to everybody, I am in my office every day and everybody understands what the situation is,”he stated.
Cassim confirmed that he is working to correct the situation in order to ensure that the pilgrims depart this week.
Upon requests to clarify SATHOA’s assertions that Cassim’s business is experiencing financial problems, Cassim stated that SATOA’s statements “is probably so.”
Describing the current situation as a “dry run”, Cassim affirmed that the operator has complied with regulations since inception.
“Why must I be investigated, I didn’t steal anybody’s money, I didn’t take anybody’s money – I faced everybody.”
The long standing founding member of the operator noted that the matter may be a signal for him to bow out of the industry.
“It might be that I’m saying if I sort out all these things that I would maybe say ‘ok, thank you very much, I had enough now of Al-Mujaahiedeen and lets close Al-Mujaahiedeen on a good note’. But, it’s not a surety yet, but that is a possibility.”
Given SATHOA’s indication that Cassim is arranging a loan to ensure that the pilgrims are able to make the trip, he confirmed that the loan is not going to be provided by a bank.
Cassiem further asserted that he is not in the position to declare which banks were used for the transaction.
“It’s a personal thing, I don’t think that I should be divulging all [of] this on the radio,” Cassim elaborated.