'Tour de Hajj': British Muslims cycle from London to Makkah to perform pilgrimage

Eight men cycled across 17 countries over 60 days, even meeting a president, in a bid to raise money for charity as they headed to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj

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As if walking the many miles required to perform the Hajj wasn’t an already impressive commitment, a group of 8 British Muslims cycled 4,000 miles to Makkah, Saudi Arabia, from London to complete their pilgrimage.

Passing through 17 countries, the men had three goals: to visit the prophet’s mosque; perform Hajj and raise the money to help build communities in four countries: Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Uganda.

Setting out on June 8, the journey took 58 days – two days quicker than they had originally planned – crossing 15 countries in Europe, before hitting Egypt and Saudi Arabia (having to adjust their route to skip war-torn Syria) and was “definitely worth it”, said cyclist Shazad Akbra.

“It has been a long and difficult journey, a testing one, both mentally and physically, and emotionally draining,” he said.

“We are trying to raise £500,000 (Dh2.2 million) for five villages in four different countries to make sure they have a place or worship, a school and well,” said 30-year-old Junaid Afzal.

He recently lost his aunt and hopes that the endurance challenge will raise enough money to build a mosque in her name.

“I want to inspire young people to do things like this, to achieve great things and leave a legacy,” he said.

Last month, while cycling through Turkey, the group stopped in Istanbul where they met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential office in Dolmabahce palace.

The team, supported by a support car and media representative, reached Saudi Arabia on August 3, a week before Hajj begins, but due to setbacks in Egypt, they had to leave their bikes in Cairo. They took the bus from Jeddah to Madinah before borrowing bikes and cycling the last stretch to Masjid Quba, the first Islamic mosque.

The group then cycled to the Al Masjid Al Nabwi, the prophet’s mosque, where they were given a warm from the people of Madinah, who were holding flowers and chanting.

“It was very emotional, one of the happiest moments,” said team member Said Mohesn Arif.

The challenge cost around £6,000 per cyclist and the men were in the road for at least five hours each day. Challenges along the way included not being able to get halal food in Europe and the weather, having ridden through both rain and intense heat.

Sometimes they camped on the side of the road, while at others they slept inside mosques, and on many occasions it was too cold to sleep.

“Switzerland for me was the most difficult, when we had to cycle climb the Alps,” said Mr Akbra. But all the obstacles they faced prepared the team for Hajj.

According to their Penny Appeal page, the team have raised just over £50,000 in donations so far.

“We are a bit slow, but once we go back to the UK we will run workshops to explain our journey in the hope of reaching our target,” said Mr Afzal.