Canadian Muslims worry about return from hajj amid spat
A diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia has some Canadian Muslims concerned Thursday about how they will return home if they attend the hajj pilgrimage.
Canada's public call for the kingdom to "immediately release" jailed human rights activists angered Saudi Arabia and the kingdom took punitive action, including canceling all flights to and from Toronto, beginning Aug. 13.
The hajj takes place Aug. 19-24 in Saudi Arabia and it is expected of all Muslims to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.
Each year, thousands of Canadian Muslims have gone to Mecca.
But this year, the uncertainty of getting back to Canada is causing anxiety.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) posted advice on its Facebook page.
"As some Canadian Muslims prepare to travel to #SaudiArabia for Hajj, NCCM advises those travelling on Saudi Arabian Airlines with return dates beyond Aug. 13 to contact the airline or their travel agent to assess alternate options for return travel prior to leaving Canada," it states.
But several of those going say they used a contact number provided by the airline, but there was no answer when they telephoned.
Al Madina Hajj Travel in Toronto each year coordinates hajj trip packages for hundreds of pilgrims on Saudi Airlines. The company said the airline "promised us to make alternative flights through Dubai or Egypt or other countries."
But travel manager Faez Yahya said arrangement details are not firm so customers really don't know what to expect.
A trip package can cost around CAN$15,000 and Omar Alghabra of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry said there is a lot of "legitimate anxiety."
"Many are worried that they may not be able to perform their hajj and lose much of their deposit if not the entire payment that they made for that travel," he said. "It's not only the loss of a dream that they have, but also financial resources."
While Saudi Arabia, inflamed by Canada's demand that the kingdom release human rights activists, have instituted various measures, including freezing all new trade with Canada, one commodity will not be affected.
Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said oil -- Canada gets about 15 percent of its petroleum from Saudi Araiba-will continue to flow because the country has a "firm and long-standing policy" that oil supplies are not affected by political considerations.