Bicycling to Mecca
I’m fascinated by stories of pilgrimages, religious or otherwise. So this caught my eye, from Al Jazeera:
The idea began as a hypothetical situation — what would happen if a few friends attempted to bicycle from their home in South Africa to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia in time for the annual Hajj pilgrimage?
Twelve countries, nine months and untold kilometres of freshly traveled earth behind them, the hypothetical has become a reality for Cape Town residents Nathim Cairncross, 28, and Imtiyaz Ahmad Haron, 25.
The ritual is foreign, but so is the work culture in which it’s okay to take nine months for a trip like this. These things aren’t typically done by gainfully employed Americans (the article doesn’t say if Cairncross and Haron are employed).
Their main obstacle was Kenyan border guards who denied them exit into Ethiopia — they flew to Turkey to finish instead. It sounds like they also fasted during the month of Ramadan while putting in long days.
They cycled 80-100 km per day, starting after the pre-dawn Muslim prayer, and stopping at night at hotels, campsites, or mosques, where they would tell their story to welcoming listeners who would then invite them to stay the night and eat a meal.
They made friends along the way — locals, other cyclists and tourists curious about their journey. Haron and Cairncross welcomed the curiosity, seeing it as an opportunity to explain Islam, Hajj, and why they intended to perform the pilgrimage.
“On the ground you can speak to the people,” Cairncross said.
“You get an opportunity that traveling by plane or car you don’t get. And you learn much more, you discover much more about yourself. It was an existential experience.”
Cairncross on their arrival to Mecca:
“It was storming when we got to Mecca, with thunder and lightening. But we were so keen to get in, to see the Kaaba for the first time.
“Making tawaf (the circulation around the Kaaba) with your ihram (unstitched garments worn by pilgrims) soaking through — the rain was like mercy coming down on us. Not that we’re special, but it felt like, God willing, our efforts were accepted.”
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