When I first met Imtiyaz nine years ago at an Islamic youth function, he was introduced as the grandson of Imam Abdallah Haron, and it was an honour to meet someone so closely related to the Imam.
As time passed, our relationship grew and we found that we had an abundance in common. We started doing business together and we loved outdoor activities – hiking, surfing, cycling, and camping, to name but a few.
Cycling to Saudi Arabia for Hajj was Imtiyaz’s idea. He was inspired by past scholars who would undertake long and arduous journeys to reach the House of God. I was wary at first, but after some convincing from Imtiyaz, I was raring to go.
Over the following weeks, we began to prepare for the physical challenge that lay ahead. Imtiyaz would be the one motivating me as we ran along beaches and up mountains.
I was never afraid of travelling with Imtiyaz. He’s always been calm and collected; I’ve never seen him getting heated in an argument or violently lose his temper. We were close before we embarked on our journey to Makkah, but I trust him even more now and have full confidence in him. During our nine month journey, we had hundreds of discussions about our lives, the future and issues around Islam and the world.
For us, the journey was both physical and spiritual. We wanted to develop ourselves internally and so were particularly conscious of how we spoke and acted. We read stories about the Prophet and his companions and looked to impart his lessons as we travelled.
The entire journey was amazing. Visiting the three holy mosques had always been our dream and what I found phenomenal was the hospitality and generosity of the people in the countries through which we passed. In nine months, we only used our tents twice; wherever we stopped, Muslims and non-Muslims would open up their homes to us.
When I first met Nathim, we instantly felt a bond in our religion and love of God. We’re quite similar in a lot of ways, especially with our interests. I can’t really think of many differences between us – except he’s a couple of years older and my beard is longer!
Around two months before we left, we got our bikes and bags and I spent a lot of time just thinking about the roads ahead; visualising myself in the countries that we would travel across. The local media boosted the excitement levels in the community too.
I felt a little nervous just before we left. But, once we were on the road I had nerves of steel and never thought of turning back.
Our journey took us across half of Africa and the Middle East. We were initially going to travel through the whole of Africa and get to Saudi via Egypt, but we experienced some visa problems at the Kenyan-Ethiopian border.
In Syria, we rode with some Spanish and Argentinean cyclists, but unfortunately, the local shopkeepers charged us higher prices because they thought we were part of their group.
Every place that we visited definitely stuck in my memory. We thought Mozambique was quite challenging with its steep hills, but it was nothing compared to the slopes of Tanzania. In Istanbul, we were fortunate enough to spend time with the best calligraphers. We met a group of Sufis in Syria, one of whom was a 65 year old man able to do somersaults.
We learnt so much about Islamic history and its spread across Africa and Arabia on our journey. We met a lot of Shaykhs and pious people, which helped turn our journey into a spiritual experience and I felt more connected with God as a result.
The experience has definitely cemented my friendship with Nathim. He’s a very understanding and easy going person and we’ve learnt a lot about one another on this journey.