Seeking to show the world that Islam is a peaceful religion, British national Farid Feyadi, 40, has undertaken thousands of miles to reach Mecca from London -- on foot.
A resident of Manchester, designer and inventor Fayedi recounted his ongoing journey to Anadolu Agency while he was in Istanbul.
He launched his project, Walk For Peace, to inspire the young generation and prove to the world that Muslims are peaceful.
"As a Muslim, I believe each of us is an ambassador of this religion, we have a big responsibility on our shoulders to represent Islam and Muslims in the best way to the world. I tried to do something in the very peaceful and show Islam is a wave of peace and comes from Salaam," he said, decrying the "bad impression" of the religion and "horrible" deeds by Daesh/ISIS.
Though his first intention was to make the pilgrimage via bicycle, he later decided to go on foot once he found out others had also made the journey in that manner.
"I said if they can do it, why shouldn't I? So, I decided to do it by walking. When I told my friends, they didn't believe me," he recalled.
'I was so excited'
Making the pilgrimage to Mecca -- a religious obligation for Muslims with sufficient means -- on foot is an honor and blessing, he said, recounting: "I started this journey on Nov. 3, 2019. I have never experienced traveling like this, I have traveled by plane, I booked nice hotels, but never like this."
"I was so excited!" he added.
Once he made the five-day journey from London to Dover, where he took a ferry to Calais, France in mainland Europe, he exclaimed he was "so excited because I couldn't believe I was doing it”.
Feyadi said he had to change his trolley thrice so far due to his lack of experience using it, and faced difficulties along the way.
"I have too many dangerous experiences while camping in places far from city centers. I was scared, but then I decided to camp in city centers or where there are people I can reach," he added.
So far, he has worn out four pairs of shoes and is now on his fifth, even as he takes medicines and vitamins every night to mollify the aching in his knees from a long day's journey.
Feyadi plans to arrive in the sacred city of the Kaaba, where millions of Muslims journey every year, in July, as the scorching summer heat takes hold of the region.
"I've walked 4,000 km [2,485 miles] to Istanbul. I pushed myself very hard to arrive in Istanbul," he said, adding that he had roughly 2,700 km to go.
After Istanbul, near Turkey’s northeastern-most corner, Feyadi marched on southeastward to the capital Ankara and is on his way to the central city of Konya, down to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast.
From there, he will make the only non-foot segment of his journey, catching a flight to Jordan to avoid ongoing violence in Syria and Iraq.
"I will continue my journey to Saudi Arabia from Jordan. Hopefully, I will arrive in July," he said.
One reason for his arriving late, he explains, will be the weather, as the rising temperatures will bar him from walking at his usual pace.
According to his calculations, he has budgeted his time well and is about three weeks ahead of schedule.
Enduring all this, Feyadi hopes to inspire hope in cancer patients the world over.
"I'm a kidney cancer survivor, I live with one kidney. I'm doing this project and I walk between 60 km every day. All this blessing comes from Allah. If he wouldn't help, I wouldn't reach here. I've been in the heavy rain, snow and cold water," he said.
Feyadi says he wants to make more journeys in the future, this time with fellow travelers.
"I have a Spanish-background Muslim friend. Two years ago, he [traveled] from Paris to Mecca by walking. There is a lovely Chinese friend of ours who grew up in Paris and converted to Islam. We are planning to do this walk to Mecca again -- or by bicycle -- we haven't decided yet," explained Feyadi.
"But my idea is, I want to make a group of about 20 people from every background, country or ethnicity, as a small ummah," he added.
Some, who have heard his plans, have excitedly asked to join him on his next project, he said, adding: "As a Muslim, when I heard this, I felt proud."
Feyadi explained that people from Bosnia, Albania and Turkey -- Muslim countries he passed along the way -- had been particularly pleasant to him.
"I didn't want to take a break except for Sarajevo because it has a special place in my heart. I consider it the capital of Muslims in Europe," he said, referring to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Balkans.
Alas, his "proper rest" would have to wait for Istanbul, he said, where he took a break from the road for a few days.
"Turkey is magnificent historically […] You’re like walking through history. It makes you feel proud," he said, expressing gratitude for the hospitality he was receiving in Turkey and Turkish communities elsewhere.
After Turkish authorities heard of his visit, Feyadi even met the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"Turkish history is part of Islamic history, our glory. We are proud of it," he added.
"I tell people I came here from London by walking, they say 'Okay, good,' but when I say 'I'm going to Hajj by walking' their face and reaction changes 180 degrees […] they hug me, they kiss me, they ask if I need anything. They at least invite me to drink tea or coffee. I'm just speechless," he recounted.
'Islam is peace’
Feyadi explained that he aimed to be an inspiration to future generations and deliver a message to the world.
"My achievement is delivering a message that 'Islam is peace, Muslims are peaceful people'," he said, hoping that this would inspire the "young generation" to persevere in leaving their "fingerprint on the planet."
"I'm doing this and going to the holiest place in the world,
"I want to deliver a message to the world and also to Muslims: Whenever you receive an objection from […] the world, have a pure intention, pure heart. Open your heart to the world with peace and love," he said.
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