Put your hand up if you dislike people who use religion-laced emotional blackmail to make you feel guilty in an effort to make you part with your money or time. [Me: both hands and feet go up]
Since the blessed Hajj pilgrimage is upon us, I thought I would share some of my experiences with predators on Hajj as a means to warn pilgrims of such perils.
While most people will be going to Makkah to pray, a few will be going there to prey.
Below I share some stories of how, with Allah’s help, I was able to neutralise some very dangerous predators when I made the Hajj pilgrimage many years ago.
Even if you are not going on the Hajj pilgrimage, or you do not even know what Hajj is, you may find some of the techniques here useful in spotting conmen who are trying to trick you.
Before I begin, I just want to say that the majority of people at Hajj are not conmen. Most pilgrims are good people simply trying to perform their pilgrimage. But when two million lumps of flesh gather in one area, predators are bound to hunt.
Type One: Cut-Pocketeramus Predator
I am standing in the tent city of Mina when a predator approaches dressed in the white ihram pilgrim robes. Here is the conversation between me and the geezer, translated from Urdu:
Geezer: I came here on pilgrimage from Kuwait but someone cut my pocket and I have lost all my cash and documents. Here is the police report [shows me an official looking piece of paper] Can you help me with some cash until my friend sends me money?
Me: I am so sorry to hear that; I will pray to Allah to relieve you of your difficulties.
Geezer: Thanks, but can you also give me some money to help me?
Me: I tell you what, there are charities here that help people like you get their documents and air tickets so you can return to your country. I speak Arabic so if you come with me I can take you to one of these charities and speak on your behalf.
Geezer [begins raging with anger]: If you don’t want to help me, don’t! What type of Muslim are you?
Me, in a sympathetic tone: I am trying to help you and you are getting angry at me?
I take hold of the geezer’s arm and walk with him to the nearest Saudi policeman. The irony is not lost on me that despite having lived and worked in Kuwait for several years, the geezer cannot understand a word of Arabic. I say to the policeman, translated from Arabic:
Me to the policeman: I am on pilgrimage here from England. This man came to me asking for cash. He told me he has lost all his documents and money and showed me this piece of paper.
[I give the police report to the policeman]. However, when I told him that I will take him to a charity that will help him get his documents back so he can return to his country, he became angry at me.
The policeman looks at the paper, then he looks at the geezer, then he looks at me.
Policeman takes hold of the geezer’s arm and says to him: Come with me, I will take you to a charity.
Geezer to me as he is walking off: You hypocrite! Look at you, you think you are religious? Allah will never accept your Hajj pilgrimage. God damn you…
The last time I checked, predators were not appointed by God to decide whose pilgrimage is accepted and whose isn’t. I wasn’t worried by his curses because I never accused him of lying. I just made sure he got the appropriate “help” that he needed. 😉
I named this type of predator the Cut Pocketeramus. It is normally male and hunts alone, accompanied by a lost property police report in Arabic that anyone can obtain in five minutes.
Sometimes this predator might be accompanied by crocodile tears, women or crying children to add to the sympathy factor.
Sometimes the predator may use emotional words and oaths to entice you into its trap: “I swear by Allah that… Allah is my witness that…I haven’t eaten in days…”
Type Two: Starvingissimus Predator
I am returning from the Prophet’s Mosque to my hotel in Madinah, desperate to go to the bathroom having drunk so much water, when I am approached by an elderly male with a prayer cap and long beard. Here is my conversation with the dude, translated from Urdu:
Dude: My dear son, I came here on pilgrimage but someone took my money. I am elderly, I have nothing, can you help me?
Since I am in a rush to get to the bathroom, I get straight to the point.
Me: What do you want, are you hungry?
Dude [raises his index finger to the sky]: Only Allah knows how many days I haven’t eaten for!
Me: OK, come with me and I will feed you. Let’s go, what do you want to eat? Will chicken and rice do?
Dude: You are busy, I don’t want to take your time so if you give me the money I can go and eat myself.
Me: How could I do that?! I would love to feed a starving person and watch him eat because Allah will be so happy with me. Come on, let’s go.
Dude: That’s very kind of you. The thing is my wife and children are waiting for me and I need to get back to them with food.
Me: Where are they waiting?
Dude: At the Jannatul-Baqi cemetery [He points to the furthest corner of the Prophet’s Mosque that comes to his mind, a distance of about half a mile. It is 20 minutes walk.]
Me: Come on, let’s go to them, we will get them then I will feed all of you.
Dude [now looking worried]: What, you will go all the way there?!
Me: Of course, the longer I walk to feed a starving person, the more reward Allah will give me.
I gently take hold of the dude’s arm and begin to walk but suddenly the dude reveals his true colours. He aggressively releases his arm from my grip and says:
Dude: You are making this so difficult.
At that point I cannot wait any more for the bathroom so I tell him to wait for me outside my hotel while I return in five minutes. When I come back, surprise-surprise, the dude is long gone.
Hence, I named this species the Starvingissimus predator.
Type Three: Hospital-Injuryissimus Predator
I am sitting in my group bus outside the Mosque of Quba in Madinah when a particularly bold and confident predator boards the bus without permission. He begins to address our group.
Predator, emotional and almost in tears: My brother had a serious car accident in Jeddah and both his legs have been severed. If I don’t pay hospital fees of 15000 riyals (about £3000 or $4000) within five days, the hospital will refuse to treat him. Please help me!
The first thing I do is to contain the threat posed by the predator and take him off the bus. He shows me a full-colour, signed and stamped hospital report that, I must say, looks very genuine. It states, in Arabic, something about an injury to the lower limbs caused by a car accident.
I tell the predator that I am going to verify the information he has given me. If all is good, I will announce to our group to help him and we will all help. If it is not in order then…
I get hold of a telephone and call the hospital in Jeddah. [It exists.] I then ask the switchboard (in Arabic) if I can speak to the doctor in question. [He exists.] I then ask the doctor so-and-so patient with such-and-such reference number exists on the hospital system. [The doctor confirms that it does.]
By this stage, I am starting to think that maybe this predator is genuine after all? I then explain the situation to the doctor and ask him to verify why the patient is in hospital.
Doctor to me: The patient had a small fracture to his leg and we discharged him. [The doctor categorically denies that the patient severed any of his legs.]
I put down the phone and have some strong words with the predator. I tell him that he should be ashamed of himself for trying to con these poor pilgrims who have saved up for years to come here.
The Hospital-Injuryissimus predator is unrepentant, his crocodile tears disappear and he reveals his true colours. He begins to scream, curse and abuse me as I return to our bus and it drives off. I don’t blame him for cursing me. After all, I lost him £3000 in business. What a shame. 😉
Type Four: Madrassah-with-Photo-Folderissimus Predator *WARNING: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS PREDATOR*
I am sitting in our group bus late at night when a pack of three male predators come aboard the bus, without permission of course. The spokesman begins to address the bus that they are collecting money for a madrassah (Islamic school) in Pakistan.
He then produces a hard-backed folder which contains several full-colour documents in plastic wallets. The documents are signed in blue-ink, stamped and embossed with “official” seals.
There are official-looking letters from Saudi authorities stating the names of the collectors, the name of their project and confirming that they are authorised to collect money. All three predators in the pack are wearing photographic ID cards around their necks, whose names match the names in the folder’s documents.
I later learn that these ready-made folders can be bought from a predator den for about £20 and they give a good return on investment.
The extraordinary level of stealth, intelligence and deception utilised by this type of predator reminds me of the famous Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of the same name, Predator.
I begin to question the predators about them and their project. I ask them how much they need and how much they have collected so far. Their story soon begins to unravel. I then ask them for their bank details in Saudi Arabia to which prospective donors can donate if they are interested.
As expected, they do not have a bank account. At this point I give them ten seconds to get off our bus before I will take them to the Saudi Hajj police. They leave, cursing and abusing me as they do so.
So, hopefully those of you going on the Hajj pilgrimage this year will not encounter any predators, but if you do, I hope you are a little wiser on how to neutralise them. Otherwise, may Allah accept your Hajj.
Have you ever neutralised any predators, whether at the Hajj pilgrimage, or somewhere else in the world? Why don’t you share your anecdotes below?
If you have not already done so, you can read the story of who I am and why I blog in the interview I gave to The Guardian newspaper here.
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