Filled with at least 400 photos, former journalist Yusuf Abramjee’s new book, #Hajj2016 A Journey, documents one of Islam’s five pillars that millions of pilgrims worldwide long to undertake.
Muslims are obliged to perform the Hajj – a sacred pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia – at least once in their lifetime, if they can afford it and are healthy enough to do so.
Abramjee did his first Hajj this year and this afternoon he is scheduled to launch his book, an A3-sized landscape hardcover, at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.
“My Hajj was the journey of a lifetime. It has changed me,” said Abramjee, reiterating what many have concluded before him after returning from the five-day ritual.
He said the journey had offered him a “massive spiritual boost”. It also gave him hundreds of photos as he used his mobile phone to document every step of the way.
Abramjee’s friend Yaseen Theba convinced him to compile the photos into a coffee-table book and took on the project of completing the book in a few weeks. All sales income will be donated to an NGO, Awqaf SA, which funds Muslims who cannot afford to perform the Hajj.
Reflecting on his recent travel, where he was among almost two million Muslims from around the world, Abramjee said the experience was a “multinational fellowship of faith”.
“I met pilgrims from across the globe: Fiji, Barbados, Australia, America, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, UK, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique and Zambia among others,” he said.
“This was wholly contrary to the popular Western Islamophobic narrative of Muslims being terrorists. There was so much care and compassion shown in the Hajj, flying in the face of such bigotry and prejudice.
“Yes, we live in a world of turmoil. So, here we pray for global peace. Islam is under attack and misconceptions about our religion are rife.
“But the love we saw here on Hajj, cutting across colour, race, class, culture, gender lines clearly negates the bigoted media narrative.”
Abramjee said he had had “some trepidation to begin with”, considering fatalities due to stampedes in recent years on hajj.
“I had heard horror stories from other South African pilgrims,” said Abramjee.
“Thankfully, my experience was nothing of the sort. It was a seamless experience.”
Extending themselves while on Hajj, Abramjee and other South African pilgrims raised funds to launch a feeding project for less fortunate pilgrims in Mecca. This is also documented and shown in Abramjee’s book.
“South African pilgrims rallied together to raise funds from home to buy food and water for almost 12 000 needy pilgrims.
“It was a small gesture that breathed life into the spirit of unconditional charity that underpins our Abrahamic tradition,” said Abramjee.
Among Abramjee’s Hajj highlights was performing a “religious tradition that goes back several centuries in time including the prophets Adam and Abraham”.
“The Hajj is all the more poignant and emotional experience when you realise that… Hajj forces pilgrims to become deeply reflective,” said Abramjee.
“Another miracle for me is the sacred well of zamzam (holy water found in Mecca), which still exists within the precinct of the Grand Mosque.
“Millions have drunk its blessed water for generations. There seems no end to it.”
Abramjee adds: “Another highlight, and perhaps the most cathartic for me, was the symbolic pelting of the devil, a rejection of all evil and a submission to God Almighty’s will.”
#Hajj2016 A Journey has already received praise and feedback from a host of prominent voices, including former public protector Thuli Madonsela, who said the book “opens a window into an inspiring and insightful spiritual journey that is enlightening about the essence of true Islam”.
Ahmed Kathrada, an anti-apartheid activist imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, said the book “will not only evoke memories of spirituality, but will show unity in diversity”.
Meanwhile Abramjee, who used to head the newsroom for multiple radio stations as well as a national anti-crime initiative, was soon busy with his efforts as a social activist after returning home from the Hajj.
Ironically, he took up a battle against the Saudi Arabian government’s announcement that it would increase its visa fee for local pilgrims to almost R10 000.
“We are continuing the fight and we hope the Saudi government will review it,” said Abramjee ahead of his book launch.