Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seeing the Kaaba was ‘incredible,’ says South African who came on bicycle

One of two young South African cyclists who rode all the way from Cape Town to Makkah has spoken of his happiness at finally being able to perform Haj.

Nathim Cairncross, 28, and Imtiyaz Haron, 25, arrived in the holy city on Nov. 2, understandably exhausted after covering an estimated 11,000 kilometers in the space of nine months.

They had told Arab News previously that they cycled to Makkah to physically prepare for the rigors associated with performing their first pilgrimage. "However, [Haj] was not as difficult as we thought it would be," Cairncross told Arab News from his base in Aziziyah on Tuesday. "Alhamdullillah it's gone very well. I think it was important not to get caught up in the crowds of people."

He added that while they undertook the journey for many personal reasons, they also wanted to improve their spiritual wellbeing. "It was a very tough journey, and you definitely have to be open-minded and flexible," he said.

Their trek took them from South Africa through Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Palestine before finally arriving in the Kingdom.

"It wasn't just a religious journey," said Cairncross. "It was also about seeing Africa and the sights in other countries too."

He added that in Zimbabwe they did some voluntary work, teaching local children how to count, read and write.

The cyclists did not encounter any serious problems on their journey, and were often very well looked after by the locals in the cities they traveled through. Both pedaled 80 to 100 kilometers a day and would rest from dusk till dawn.

"There was ample food in Africa. We managed to get really good connections in the big cities. They offered us food, water and accommodation," added Cairncross.

Although language was a barrier, they picked up Arabic as they traveled through Syria and Jordan. This served them in good stead when they reached the Saudi border, where they were greeted and welcomed by border guards.

For the cyclists, who had seen so many famous landmarks on their arduous journey, by far the best sight they encountered was when they entered the Grand Mosque. "Seeing the Kaaba was incredible," said Cairncross. "That feeling you get, it was like the cherry on the cake. The wildlife, the nature throughout Africa, nothing compares."

He added that once they reached Makkah, linking up with South African tour group Khidmatul Awaam, the cyclists decided to temporarily go their separate ways. "Me and Imtiyaz never spent time together when we went to the Grand Mosque or while we did our Haj. We thought it was important to be alone and surrounded by strangers," he said.

Cairncross also commended the organization of the pilgrimage, adding that a lot of credit must go to the Saudi authorities. He said from what he has seen, the Kingdom has constantly been improving its management of Haj every year. "We're still hoping to meet some of the Saudi Royal family," he added laughingly.

While he politely declined to say what he prayed for at Arafat, Cairncross did add that it was important to be as well prepared as possible when performing the pilgrimage.

He also said he and Haron planned to sell their bicycles in a bid to fund a plane ticket back to Cape Town. If that fails, he added, they hope a sponsor would step in to help them get home.

Both Cairncross and Haron are students of Islamic law and have studied Shariah teachings and law. "I joined a university and completed a course in town planning and am working in the field of construction," Cairncross said.

Both of them are single and love sports. While Cairncross is interested in wind surfing along beaches and seas, Haron, an economics graduate, excels in kickboxing and mountain climbing.

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