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Tajik pilgrims walk to Islamic shrines
Group, about halfway through walking Hajj, discusses journey
By Dilafruz Nabiyeva
DUSHANBE – An eight-man team of southern Tajiks who began walking to Saudi Arabia in mid-May for the Hajj is still forging ahead.
The eight men, ages 21-65, have already crossed Afghanistan and part of Iraq. The pilgrims will cover 4,600km and plan to reach Makkah in time for the Kurban Bairam Feast of Sacrifice (Eid ul-Fitr) in late October.
The Hajjis are from Khamadoni District, which borders Afghanistan. Abdulaziz Radzhabov, who went with a group of pilgrims on an 18-month walking Hajj from Russia to Makkah in 2005, is leading the group.
Not all Tajiks can afford the traditional Hajj, which includes flying from Tajikistan and costs US $3,546 (17,000 TJS) this year, Radzhabov said by telephone.
“Of course, some of us can well pay this amount in full, but we decided we might both save money and see some of the world's most famous sites,” he said.
Success breeds 2nd trip
After he returned home from his Russia-to-Saudi Arabia walking Hajj, Muslims approached him about the idea of doing one from Tajikistan, Radzhabov said.
“We formed a small group and started preparing for the journey; that took us nearly two years,” he said. “First, we turned to the Committee on Youth Affairs, Sports and Tourism to get registered as tourists wishing to see historical and sacred religious sites; then we obtained visas to Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. … We began by visiting some sacred places on Tajik soil; then we crossed over into Afghanistan.”
Abdurakhim Madiyev, 65, the eldest pilgrim, said he had always dreamed of performing a Hajj but had lacked the money. The walking Hajj, though, presented other challenges.
“True, I had to get very thoroughly prepared – I'd never gone on foot that far,” he said. ““I exercised more than two years to prepare for this. Hopefully, Allah will give me the strength to endure this Hajj's hardships and return home safely.”
Charting a course
When laying out a course, Radzhabov said, they planned to go through Pakistan but couldn’t obtain visas, forcing them to adjust their route.
“Of course, any journey has its own difficulties,” he said.
When hiking across Afghanistan, they encountered Taliban militants on three occasions, the pilgrims said.
“We came across them … each time at night,” Madiyev said. “And each time, they'd look at us with suspicion, but on finding out we were just peaceful Tajik pilgrims, they'd let us go at once.”
Locals have been very friendly, Radzhabov said.
“Ordinary townspeople and villagers whom we've met on our way have treated us with great respect and, parting, asked us to pray for them once we reached Makkah,” he said. “At official checkpoints, we've had no problems whatever because our documents are in full order.”
In Balkh Province, Afghanistan, residents advised the pilgrims to visit Woli, as they call Governor Ata Muhammad Nur, who received the group warmly and donated some money to the cause, the pilgrims said. Whenever possible, the pilgrims call their families to say everything is all right.
“In case they don't hear from us long enough, I want to tell them we're okay so they needn't worry - they'd better pray for us as we'll pray for them,” Radzhabov told Central Asia Online.
Prospects of future walking Hajj
The group could have been much larger, he said, recalling the initial level of interest by Tajiks, but many would-be pilgrims backed out because of lack of documentation for visas.
Still, Radzhabov expressed a readiness to guide any other group of potential Hajjis who would seriously wish to walk to Makkah, and to help them with athletic training, which he said might take a couple of years.
A walking Hajj to see the Islamic shrines is one of the best things a Muslim can do, said Saidmukaram Abdukodirzoda, head of the Ulema Council of Tajikistan.
“In olden days, everyone went to the holy city of Makkah on foot,” he said. “Moving between countries became difficult after the international boundaries were laid. Today, a variety of authorisations is needed. Besides, anything may happen en route, in light of the troublesome international situation.”
Abdukodirzoda’s advice to the elderly is to take advantage of the terms and conditions offered to pilgrims in their respective countries.
“As regards those who are on their way today, we will pray for them to return to their families and dear ones safely and in good health,” he said.