Hajj packages 'sold out' for British Muslims after Saudi Arabia cuts quota
British Muslims can no longer book a place on this year's Hajj after the limited number of spaces given to UK pilgrims ran out.
Nusuk, a new portal designed by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to handle Hajj packages for western pilgrims, confirmed on Tuesday that all the slots for UK Muslims had been filled.
"We would like to confirm that our current packages for UK are indeed sold out and the full capacity is reached," Nusuk said on Twitter.
"However, we recommend periodically checking the availability as new packages may be released."
The Council for British Hajjis (CBH), a charity that supports British Muslims hoping to fulfil the Hajj, also confirmed that the quota for 2023 had been filled.
"Nusuk have confirmed that the Hajj quota for the United Kingdom has now been filled," CBH UK said in a statement.
The CBH added that spaces might open if UK pilgrims cancelled their packages and urged British Muslims to keep checking the Nusuk website.
It remains unclear how many places Saudi Arabia allocated to the United Kingdom for the upcoming Hajj, set to start on 28 June and end on 1 July.
Muslims view Hajj as a key pillar of the Islamic faith and are obligated to attend at least once in their lifetime if they are healthy and financially able to do so.
Ten-year wait for British Muslims
Last week, Middle East Eye revealed that Saudi Arabia had told British MPs it would drastically cut the number of Muslims allowed to attend the Hajj from the UK from 25,000 to 3,600.
British MPs from the All Parliamentary Group on Hajj and Umrah warned that the reduction in the quota could lead to 10-year waits for British Muslims hoping to complete the Hajj.
The final figure has yet to be announced, with the CBH telling MEE that MPs from the APPG on Hajj and Umrah planned to meet with the Saudi ambassador to Britain this week to push them to increase the number of places given to the UK for the Hajj.
According to the minutes of the APPG meeting, Saudi officials told the MPs that new quotas for the UK and other western countries would align with Muslim-majority countries, which have historically been allocated one place per thousand Muslims in the population.
The quota figure for Muslim-majority countries can vary depending on the arrangements between Saudi Arabia and individual countries.
Whether the Saudi government intends to revise the number yearly or what data it will draw on to calculate how many Muslims would be eligible to go from western countries remains unclear.
Concerns over new system
Concerns around the quota have also come to light after the Ministry of Hajj launched a new booking system known as Nusuk, replacing the decades-old system of allowing local travel agencies to organise Hajj tours for western pilgrims.
British Muslims who used Nusuk told MEE that the portal had taken thousands of dollars from their bank accounts without giving any official confirmation that their packages had been secured.
Last year, Saudi Arabia also ended the use of travel agencies organising the Hajj and introduced a new system where western pilgrims had to book the Hajj via a company called Motawif - similar to Nusuk.
Before the pandemic, around 25,000 Muslims from the UK were allocated to go to Hajj each year.
But after Saudi Arabia announced that the pilgrimage was to be scaled down in 2022 - with numbers cut to one million pilgrims worldwide instead of the pre-pandemic total of 2.5 million - the UK quota was cut to 12,348.