If you undertake the hajj, you pray for a reliable guide in Saudia Arabia.
You make a pilgrimage half way around the world to walk reverently in the footsteps of Abraham and Muhammad.
And while you are in Mecca, more than two million Muslims have many of the same needs. They’re on pilgrimage, too.
In such a throng, you want someone to look after your interests so that trips on foot and air-conditioned bus, which can take several hours under the best of times, don’t last all day.
Unfortunately, things did not go well for Sikander Saeed of Newark last year. The bus trips were OK, but the guide disappeared before Saeed’s visit ended. And the company did not provide the promised five-star accommodations.
The hotel was more three stars than five, and his last few days were spent in a tent.
“It’s not what you expect when you pay $6,000,” he said.
The pilgrimage is still one of the peak experiences of his life. Making the hajj is a requirement of Islam for able-bodied men and women. Children, the sick and people without money for the pilgrimage are free of the requirement.
“I had a great feeling,” Saeed said. “The hajj teaches you patience and to behave well with family and friends.”
Even so, Saeed was disappointed at the trip’s practical aspects. On his return he shared his frustration with friends at the Masjid Ibrahim, (Mosque of Abraham), the Ogletown center where he worships.
Jamil Tourk and Anwar Balkhi, president and vice president of the Islamic Society of Delaware, felt that they could plan better trips, though neither are travel agents. And they said that they would, by inclination, do a better job of looking after the interests of brothers and sisters at the mosque.
“This experience is very important for Muslims,” said Tourk. “I meet people with a real light in their eyes after they’ve been to Mecca and had a positive experience.”
This month the three men are starting to offer tours. They’ve launched Caravan El-Hijaz, a name referring to a group traveling to the hajj.