Members of the British Armed Forces are among around two million Muslims from around the world who have begun the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia – in what will no doubt prove to be the journey of a lifetime.
Hajj is the fifth and final pillar of Islam and one of the most momentous spiritual moments in the lives of all Muslims – including the hundreds who serve our country.
The delegation is being led by Imam Asim Hafiz OBE, the Islamic Religious Adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff at the UK Ministry of Defence, and Muslim chaplain to the British Armed Forces. With him are a selection of serving personnel of different ranks, disciplines and ethnicities – for whom Hajj represents a unique and highly emotional experience:
“As a Muslim child growing up, performing Hajj has been my lifelong dream,” says LCPL Aminu Abdulai. “And for this to be made possible by the British Army – I am grateful. It goes to reaffirm my belief that I can serve my country and still practice my faith to the best of my ability.”
Sgt Ahmed Dhalai continues: “This the greatest journey for all Muslims to complete and I have the honour of representing not only myself and my family, but my country.”
“I’m happy and grateful to God first, and secondly to the MOD for making it possible for me to fulfil this pillar of Islam – a lifelong dream for all Muslims,” says Cpl Yankuba Sawo from the RAF.
“I feel so lucky to be representing the British Army at the Hajj,” continues Cpl Seedy Badjie.
The delegation started Hajj at sunset on Wednesday by circling the Ka’aba in Mecca’s Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site. They went on to visit the holy mosque in Makkah and performed Umrah.
“Visiting the Holy Mosque in Makkah, the holiest place in Islam, was overwhelming – the scale is incredible,” says Captain Tim Rudkin. “The most spiritual part for me was supplicating in front of the Kabbah, the first ever place of worship for God in Islam.”
“My first ever Umrah under the guidance and leadership of Imam Asim Hafiz can be described as one of the best experiences of my life,” continues Lcpl Aminu Abdulai. “This spiritual uplift will in no doubt make me a better soldier.”
“Having the privilege to perform Hajj and Umrah and visit some of the most important cities known to the Muslim world, I am overwhelmed by the wealth of spirituality illustrated to me on different parts of my journey,” says Cpl Ceessay Ali. “This journey is going to make me a better Muslim, a better person and a better soldier. The qualities I also have attained on this trip will help make me a better member of my team and in the long run bring about my operational effectiveness among my cohort.”
Cpl Yankuba Sawo continues: “I was taken aback with the volume of human traffic and the impressive Saudi Security services who ensure everyone’s safety. It reminds me of the brilliant job our armed forces do at events such as The Olympics and reminds me that we really do have more in common than that which divide us.”
Sgt Ahmed Dhalai concludes: “Being in the military gives me the physical and mental strength to become a better Muslim and a better soldier. The times of personal supplication and reflection really hits home to myself that this is a huge character building experience.
“This is also highlighted by my chain of command who not only understand the significance of this journey but also actively encourage it.
“The core values of the Army, such as courage, discipline, respect for others, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment are always on the mind of a soldier – however by taking this pilgrimage they are not only highlighted, there is an emphasis on each and every value.”
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