TORONTO – Counting down days before travelling to Saudi for hajj, Canadian Muslim Mehek Mazhar and her husband fear the recent political tensions between their country and the Gulf Kingdom might affect their lifetime journey.
“We wanted to do it in our first year of marriage, just because it’s a nice way to start off your life together,” the 25-year-old from London, Ont., told Global News.
The newlywed couple plan to leave for Makkah on August 11.
A few days ahead of their dream journey, tensions between Canada and Saudi boiled following a diplomatic spat on jailed female activists.
The tensions led to travel and trade tensions amid the busy season, which sees more than two million people from around the world travel to Saudi Arabia.
The country’s state airline, Saudia, announced it would suspend flights to and from Canada starting Aug. 13.
According to Statistics Canada, preliminary numbers show about 84,000 Canadians traveled to the country in 2017, with 4,000 saying it was for religious purposes.
Mazhar’s flight to Saudi Arabia is before that date, however, the couple’s return flight on Aug. 26 is impacted, she explained.
“We both work, and we can’t wait maybe a week to just see how long we wait to get back to Canada,” she said, explaining that the couple had to book an alternate trip home through Lufthansa airlines.
Paying $15,000 for their journey to hajj, extra expenses were more than they can afford.
“When you’re dealing with that much money, especially as a new couple, putting in the extra money to buy another ticket just because you’re unaware of the situation and what could happen, it is difficult,” Mazhar said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims explained the political tensions “pose challenges” to those that are traveling to the country for hajj.
“Canadian Muslims traveling for Hajj should ensure their return flight to Canada is confirmed on an alternate route or airline prior to leaving Canada,” NCCM stressed in the statement.
The Muslim group urged those traveling for hajj to contact their airlines and respective travel agencies to see if there are alternative travel options.
“Travelers who fail to make alternate arrangements could also be prevented from returning to Canada and risk being stuck in Saudi Arabia for an indeterminate period of time,” it added.
On the other hand, Global Affairs Canada said that the Embassy of Canada to Saudi Arabia, which is located in the city of Riyadh, remains open.
“The hajj is an important religious pilgrimage made annually by many Canadians and Muslims all around the world,” an email statement to Global News read.
“The Embassy of Canada to Saudi Arabia, in Riyadh, continues its regular operations, including consular services.”