By Dimah Talal Alsharif
The Hajj season is upon us once more, and Saudi Arabia is as usual exerting enormous efforts to ensure that every pilgrim can fulfill their spiritual duty. However, with rights come responsibilities, and there are irregularities that must be avoided — both by pilgrims and by those who serve them.
One of the most common offenses committed during Hajj is attempting to take part in the pilgrimage without a lawful permit. Anyone who tries to do so will be prevented from entering Makkah.
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has also warned against dealing with phantom pilgrimage service companies, and urges everyone to contribute to the application of Hajj rules and regulations by immediately reporting any such company to the relevant authorities.
Providing transport to people who do not have a permit to travel to Makkah is also an offense, and the penalties are severe. First offenders may be fined SR10,000 ($2,666) and imprisoned for 10 days, a second offense is punishable with a fine of SR25,000 and two months’ imprisonment, and a third with a fine of SR50,000 and six months in jail. If the offender is an expatriate, they will be deported after the penalties are complete, and prevented from entering the Kingdom for a period specified by the law.
In addition, the vehicle involved will be confiscated by the Public Prosecution, and the name of the offender and the sentence imposed will be made public.
The Ministry of Interior has drawn attention to these issues several times over the years, but the offenses still happen. Already this Hajj season, more than 329,000 people without a permit have been prevented from entering Makkah, along with nearly 150,000 vehicles, 15 drivers have been arrested for illegally transporting pilgrims, and 181 bogus Hajj offices have been closed.
Nor does the end of Hajj necessarily mean the end of irregularities. Pilgrims who remain in the Kingdom after their Hajj visa has expired may be fined SR15,000, with a fine of SR25,000 and three months’ imprisonment for a second offense and a fine of SR50,000 and six months in prison for a third, along with deportation in all cases.
Much appreciation is due to government agencies in the Kingdom for their awareness-raising campaigns, in many languages and through international channels, offering guidance on Hajj and the pitfalls to be avoided.
Hajj is a great sacred duty, and the rules must be respected to ensure that everyone may perform the pilgrimage with sincerity and in absolute safety.
(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)