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Unbowed By Roadblocks, Tajiks Continue Hajj Trek

Three of the Kulob pilgrims as they set out on their 4,600-kilometer journey to Mecca in early June.
Three of the Kulob pilgrims as they set out on their 4,600-kilometer journey to Mecca in early June.
No money, no transport, and an uncharted route -- the plan for this hajj trip, essentially, is not to plan.

When we last visited a group of seven Tajik men as they headed off for Saudi Arabia by foot, the only thing they were packing was a sense of adventure and dedication toward reaching their ultimate goal.

One month into the trek, the goal remains the same.

"Reaching Mecca in time to participate in October's hajj," says group leader Abdulaziz Rajabov. The rest, he adds, is up to chance and fate.

The approach has already led to problems, however. While Rajabov gave assurances when we last contacted him on May 9 that "all our documents are in order" and that the group had reached Afghanistan, it seems not all went so smoothly.

In fact, the first major obstacle in the trip came just hours after we spoke, when the group was stopped by Tajik border guards.

"We had obtained Afghan and Iranian visas, and were planning to apply for a Saudi visa in those countries' embassies in Tehran," Rajabov said this week by telephone. "But border guards advised us not to leave Tajikistan without a Saudi visa."

Kindness Of Strangers

Rajabov says such problems are to be expected, "but we take them as part of our adventure." True to his word, while one member of the group headed back to Dushanbe in a bid to obtain visas from the Saudi Embassy, the rest stayed behind and made the most of it.

They embarked on what Rajabov calls a "sightseeing detour through southern Tajikistan" filled with visits to village teahouses, mosques, and roadside dinners. Some rainy nights, he says, were spent "under trees in the middle of nowhere."

Along the way, kind strangers sometimes invited the men into their homes and offered a meal, a shower, and night under a roof. On one occasion this week, we caught up with the men as they were well into a wedding celebration at a total strangers' home.

"It's all part of the fun," Rajabov said, sounding somewhat worse for wear.

The Adventures Continue

The next morning, when asked whether the group is praying five times a day, as required by their Sunni faith, Rajabov said coyly: "Not always, but we are doing our best."

"Well," he concluded, "call us 'adventurous pilgrims.'"

Alas, the adventure took another turn as bad news arrived on June 5 when the group member returned from the Saudi Embassy empty-handed.

Despite the headache, compounded by the fact that they had depleted most of their modest cash reserves even before leaving Tajikistan, the group took the news well. Unbowed, they made the decision to ignore the border guard's advice and cross into Afghanistan without Saudi visas.

"We have some $150 each," Rajabov says. "If we run out of money, we will work as laborers for a couple of days to earn some cash, and then will continue our journey."

Once they get through Afghanistan, they now intend to try their luck at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

In the meantime, they will stick to the plan of enjoying their time in Afghanistan.

When last heard from on Thursday (June 7), the men were lunching in a teahouse in the Afghan border town of Sher Khan Bandar -- they had no idea where they would have dinner.
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Comments
     
by: Anynymous from: Pragu
June 11, 2012 03:22
"when asked whether the group is praying five times a day, as required by their Sunni faith"
Are you saying other branches of Islam doesn't pray 5 times a day? Please stop trying to be other American news organization that uses propaganda in infect the minds of their viewers. You do not work for CIA!
In Response

by: B.Murphy-Bridge from: Canada
June 11, 2012 22:27
Perhaps the reporter inserted the phrase " ..., as required by their Sunni faith " mainly to inform / educate the reader who might not be cognizant of that fact.

Not sure what the reference to the CIA has to do with the reporters comment . Nor why the reporters comment could in any way be construed as propaganda. Here is a definition of propaganda: " derogatory information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature".
It is not propaganda to say Sunni's pray 5 times a day - that is a true fact , NOT biased, NOT misleading , but a true fact.
In Response

by: Anon from: India
June 12, 2012 08:43
Some branches of Shia faith do not require followers to pray five times a day. Instead, they pray three times a day. Some such sects exist in India.
In Response

by: B. Murphy-Bridge from: Canada
June 12, 2012 11:53
Interesting comment 'Anon' - we learn something new everyday.

I went to Google and found a link with in-depth commentary on Islam and prayer requirements

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Why_shias_pray_five_prayers_in_three_times
In Response

by: Jack from: US
June 12, 2012 14:10
They work for CIA and are NATO minions to boot.

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