Dubai: Nothing could stop this team of Malaysians from travelling 15,000 kilometres by land from Malaysia to perform Haj in Saudi Arabia — not even harsh weather, terrorism, police arrest, and visa problems.
A team of nine Malaysians, nine men and two women, drove their way across thousands of kilometres for this year’s Haj in what they call the Haj Inspiration Expedition.
Haj is a pilgrimage to Makkah. It is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is obliged to go for Haj once in their life. Millions of pilgrims travel to Makkah yearly either by air, land or sea.
For the Malaysia-based association called Pertubuhan Kembara Amal (PeKA), the initial plan was to drive across 10 countries, crossing mainland Asia then to Iran, to the UAE, and to Saudi Arabia — a full 16,000 kilometres journey.
But because of challenges along the way, including visa problems, the trip was cut to 15,000 kilometres and they had to fly to Saudi from the UAE on Sunday instead of drive another 1,000 kilometres.
“We want to feel the true journey of completing the fifth pillar of Islam because the philosophy of Haj is about sacrifice. So instead of going to Haj by aeroplane, we decided to go over land for the adventure and the hardest way to go is better,” Khir Bin Ariffin, PeKA Chairman, said on Sunday afternoon before their flight to Jeddah.
Travelling on two four-wheel drives, the team packed everything — sleeping mats, kitchen stove, gas, and camping gear in case they didn’t find a place to stay in the town where they will stop over for the night.
The team began their journey on July 17, covering roughly 500 kilometres to 700 kilometres per day for eight to 12 hours a day. Everyone in the team was driving and they rotated after every 200 kilometres.
But the journey has not been free of bumps.
“The first challenge was border crossing because of the documentation and waiting time. Then for example at the China border, because of the terrorist issue in Xinjiang, security was very strict. In Uzbekistan, they [authorities] stopped us because one of our members had a drone,” Bin Arriffin said.
“We also faced a lot of issues with the vehicle including overheating, brake problems, and many others.”
Malaysian Consul-General Yubazlan Yusof, who sent off the team from Dubai to Saudi on Sunday, described the team as unstoppable.
“They never say “no”. I admire this kind of spirit because the most difficult part was to get the visa for Haj. I thought they wouldn’t get it because of the time constraints and the quota. But they still insisted that they’re going to try. They were detained by police and went through so many things but they still pursued it until the end,” Yusof said.
Captain Othman Bin Mat Taib, a Malaysian community leader, agreed. “To achieve this, you will need a lot of mental strength, courage, moral support and money.”
Some 30,200 Malaysians are going for Haj this year. The cheapest cost for Haj for a Malaysian is Dh11,500. This is subsidised by government.
But Bin Ariffin and his team each spent 60,000 ringgits (Dh51,700) out of their own pockets to complete the trip.
And it’s not just that. They also did charity along the way, including donating food packs to refugees in Bangkok.