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Haj and the art of bicycle maintenance: An interview
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Haj and the art of bicycle maintenance: An interview

Haj and the art of bicycle maintenance: An interview
Travel

Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

Last month, 43-year-old Rashid Ali became the first person in history to ride a bicycle nearly 5,000 km from London to the holy city of Makkah to perform the haj. My Salaam caught up with the record-breaker to get the inside story on his historical feat.

London to Makkah_Rashid Ali_Muslim Charity

Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

MS: How did you get the idea to cycle from London to Makkah for the haj?

RA: I won a charity race in 2012 where the first prize was a ticket to perform an umrah. I was going through a difficult point in my life, and to suddenly be given the opportunity to go to God’s house felt like a gift from Him, and afterwards I wanted to do something to show my gratitude, something selfless. A few years later I began working for Muslim Charity, who sent me to Bangladesh to spend time with the street children of Dhaka. It was a tough experience, and seeing the state of those children, I knew immediately this was who I wanted to do something amazing for. Having run last time, I thought that I would make an epic cycling journey instead. That’s when I presented the idea of the London haj cycle to Muslim Charity, who were very supportive.

MS: This was an incredible feat. Give us some of the key stats.

RA: I rode nearly 4,800 km through 13 countries over two months. On average, I covered 150 km and sat on my bike for 8–10 hours a day, resting for a day or two every eight days. Our target was to raise £100,000 for the street children of Bangladesh, and so far we have raised £67,000. If anybody wants to help reach our target, they can donate here: http://london2makkah.com/index.php/donate/

London to Makkah_Rashid Ali_Muslim Charity

Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

MS: Wow, and you did this by yourself! That sounds lonely.

RA: Yes, initially, I was meant to be doing it with my ride partner Abdul Hannan, but he got injured near Paris right at the start, leaving me with a tough choice: do I stop and let down those poor children in Bangladesh, or do I carry on alone for the next two months with just my support vehicle? I chose to carry on, and yes it was lonely, but what kept me going was the pictures and memories of the children. In such moments of doubt, I would pull up their pictures on my phone, which was on my handlebars, and keep them there as I rode to remind me why I was doing this. Other things I did to help me included listening to nasheeds and Quranic recitation, but of course there was also the huge motivation of knowing that, at the end, I would get to perform my haj.

London to Makkah_Rashid Ali_Muslim Charity

Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

MS: You mention the street children of Dhaka a lot. What did you see?

RA: We came upon children as young as five and six living in disgusting conditions on the streets of Dhaka, children who were prey to pimps, gangsters and drug dealers. Many were in the service of these awful people. I saw them bathing with water from sewage pipes, fighting with dogs for leftover food. They have nobody, nobody that cares for them. Children with nobody. As a Bangladeshi and a father, that broke my heart.

MS: How did it feel to do the haj like this?

RA: Amazing. In a way, I wanted to experience the hardships Muslims of the past endured getting to the haj. Back then, getting to Makkah was the difficulty, and the actual haj was the easy part. I felt like that when I arrived in Makkah, exhausted and tired. I felt like I was experiencing a glimpse of how Muslims throughout history had come to Allah: tired, desperate and thankful they could be there.

MS: Yes, that must have been such an amazing moment. What was the reception like?

RA: We did the final leg from Jeddah-Makkah in Ihram (by now my ride partner was back after his recovery). That journey with the heat, exhaustion and our outfit felt like the toughest of all, but word had got around, and as we rode, people in cars and trucks hooted their support. Some stopped to give us water and cheer us on. The authorities gave us a police convoy to ensure we were safe, and when we got to the holy city, tons of media met us. Then, to top it all off, the haj authorities gifted us a piece of the kiswah as a reward.

London to Makkah_Rashid Ali_Muslim Charity

Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

MS: And what about performing the haj itself?

RA: The haj itself. What can I say? Firstly, I was grateful we had made it safely barring just a few issues. All those judges, doctors, politicians at the haj with me were all one, needing very little as they performed those ancient rites laid down by the great prophets. The unity of the haj is mind-blowing. When I stood before the Kaabah again, all the things that had happened in my life since the last time I was there came back to me, and I knew Allah had blessed me, and [I knew] what I owed him. It made me even more determined and desperate to continue this work to help those who are less privileged than I am.

MS: And afterwards, what was the journey home like?

RA: What really hit me as I sat on that plane back to England was the sheer magnitude of what I had just achieved. I knew that people had attempted to do the same journey by bike before and had either not completed it or did shorter versions. To have completed it in one piece and performed the haj left me with an overwhelming sense of humility to know I had been chosen to achieve this. That Allah had chosen me to perform such a feat for his less-fortunate ones brought a smile to my face, because I knew I would be going back to see those children in Bangladesh with funds and resources that might change some of their lives forever.

London to Makkah_Rashid Ali_Muslim Charity

Photo by Ahmed Alrahwi / Courtesy of Tharik Hussain

(This article is written by Tharik Hussain. Tharik is a freelance British Muslim travel writer, journalist, broadcaster and photographer specialising in the Muslim stories of Europe. Hussain’s first ever radio documentary, America’s Mosques; A Story of Integration, has been declared one of the world’s best radio documentaries for 2016. All his work can be viewed at www.tharikhussain.co.uk)

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