Haj, a special experience for Muslims in the West

'The haj is one of the most intense and emotional experiences you can undertake and I’m delighted to be sharing my journey,' British Muslim celebrity chef Nadiya Hussain

Inspiring journey. Muslim pilgrims pray during a rest stop between Taif and Mecca, on August 19. (AFP)

2017/08/27 Issue: 121 Page: 4

The Arab Weekly
Mahmud el-Shafey

London- “It honestly means the world to me,” said Nafisah Ahmed, speaking about her impend­ing trip to Mecca to take part in the haj. “I’ve been waiting all my life to do the haj,” she said.

Ahmed, who has three children and four grandchildren, is one of tens of thousands of Muslims from Britain and millions worldwide planning to head to Saudi Arabia this year to fulfil the fifth pillar of Is­lam — the haj.

Adjusting her white headscarf, Nafisah said she was most looking forward to praying in the Masjid al- Haram in Mecca and performing the tawaf — the ritual circumambulation of the Kaaba.

“I’m going as part of a group with some friends and family. After I’ve performed the haj, I can die a happy woman,” she said of the annual pil­grimage that Muslims are expected to make at least once in their life­time.

Ahmed’s daughter, Khadijah, said she will be avidly watching the haj from home. “We would normally follow the haj on Islam Channel anyway but knowing that mum is going to be among the crowd there this year means that I’ll be glued to the TV,” Khadijah said.

Islam Channel Director of Produc­tions Arfan Ali, who has reported on the annual Islamic pilgrimage four times, said the haj is always special. “We’ve been doing this since 2005 and we are going out… to cover the haj again,” he said. “We’re honoured to do that and it’s one of the things that we’re most proud of.”

Islam Channel, a UK-based free-to-air satellite channel, provides live coverage of the annual Islam­ic pilgrimage, including 24-hour broadcast over the five days of the haj itself. The channel provides in­terviews with pilgrims and short documentaries about the haj and Islamic history.

Ali said the haj experience is dif­ficult to put into words. “It’s just awe-inspiring. You look on your right and you see someone from Af­rica, you look on your left and you see someone from China, you look at the person in front of you and their jacket says they are from Bos­nia, you look over there and it is the Malaysian contingency…,” he said. “It’s like all of humanity has come to this one place and all our differ­ences have been put aside. Every­one is together.”

For Muslims who grew up in the West, the experience is even more special, Ali said. “The volume of people that you get to see is just out of this world. It’s amazing. And for us Muslims living in Britain, when we are just 4 or 5% of the popula­tion, when you find yourself in the midst of 3 million Muslims and eve­ryone is doing the same thing… that is very special.”

Nafisah Ahmed’s daughter and millions of others will be able to watch from home. “Our mantra is to bring the experience of the haj to the people,” Ali said.

After Ramadan, the haj is one of the most important seasons for Is­lam Channel and its viewers. How­ever, it is not just Islam Channel that is focusing on the haj. British Mus­lim celebrity chef Nadiya Hussain, who won the BBC’s “Great British Bake Off” cookery programme in 2015, announced that she will be presenting a two-part documentary on the haj.

“The haj is one of the most intense and emotional experiences you can undertake and I’m delighted to be sharing my journey,” she said.

“I’m really looking forward to showing first-hand exactly what it is like to be there and meeting some of the other pilgrims and hearing their stories as well as finding out more about the cultural and histori­cal significance of this incredible event.”

Khadijah said she intends to per­form the haj in the future. “Yes, one day definitely. Maybe when the kids are older and I’m closer to my mum’s age. For now, it’s just a dream,” she said.

Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.

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