On the eve of Brexit and with ongoing disruption due to COVID-19, Seán McLoughlin collaborated with the Council of British Hajjis and Licensed Hajj Organisers trade association on a novel Hajj package "Explainer" offering greater transparency to UK Muslims.
In partnership with the Council of British Hajjis (CBHUK), which is the Secretariat to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah, and Licensed Hajj Organisers (LHO), the trade association representing Saudi-licensed Hajj organisers in the UK, Seán McLoughlin, Professor of the Anthropology of Islam in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, today launched a novel Hajj Package Explainer for British Hajjis, which aims at providing the most transparent information possible to those British Muslims thinking about making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Buying a Hajj package in the UK can often be a confusing business. Collaborative research conducted by McLoughlin with UK Hajj industry stakeholders suggests that British Muslims are still often unaware of their rights. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic and following Brexit, they are supported - like other travellers - by UK government travel advice and Civil Aviation Authority ‘ATOL’ protection, as well as package travel and consumer legislation enforced by local Trading Standards officers.
However, the research revealed that many intending pilgrims also lack a basic understanding of "what a Hajj package includes?", "why an economy Hajj package costs more than a luxury holiday?", "who is actually licensed by Saudi Arabia to organise Hajj packages?" and provide the essential Hajj Visa and "why package purchases made from sub-agents and touts can sometimes mean that pilgrims are disappointed or miss out on the journey of a lifetime?". The Explainer addresses each of these questions in turn.
Working with Leeds-based research engagement consultants, Research Retold, CBHUK and LHO, the Explainer is a visually enhanced attempt to communicate the most pertinent findings of McLoughlin's 2019 report - Mapping the UK’s Hajj Sector: Moving Towards Communication and Consensus - for a pilgrim audience. It meets a need corroborated by community-based research consultant, Wahida Shaffi, who was commissioned in early 2020 to establish the facts about UK pilgrims' experiences at the grassroots.
The project was supported by Research England’s Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF, 2019-20), which enables universities to link effectively with policy research priorities and opportunities, from the local to the international scale. The report Mapping the UK’s Hajj Sector was supported by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account Award (2018-19) administered by Leeds Social Sciences Institute. It was this award that enabled McLoughlin, Shaffi and CBHUK to build co-operation with LHO in co-convening the first formal cross-sector regional consultations between UK Saudi-licensed Hajj organisers, Muslim community organisations and local Trading Standards officers.