By Aslam Fataar & Najwa Nordien
Published in Al-Qalam, December 2000
“Have yourself a ‘storied’ Ramadan.” This wish by an American friend to us only became meaningful after we read Na’eem Jeenah and Shamima Shaikh’s book Journey of discovery: A South African Hajj.
The book is an example of a couple's active mediation of their Hajj journey’s travails, filtered through their identity as young progressive, somewhat irreverent, and always passionate South African Muslims.
The book fills an important gap in the religious market. It consists of a number of short stories, written with a compelling flow, and each containing a concise, yet deep message.
We marvel at this couple’s love of life, of each other and of Allah (SWT), which shine through the pages of the book. They are an example of lives lived differently, and pushed to the limits of their consciences and beyond.
As committed anti-racists and gender activists, the couple engage with those they meet on hajj, the places they visit, and their acts of worship, in search of greater meaning and inspiration. Hajar is creatively portrayed as “Imamah Hajar” in reference to Muslims following in her footsteps in one of the main rituals of hajj.
Women praying among men in the precincts of the holy mosque in Makkah are a vindication of the authors’ struggle for absolute equality between men and women. The book succeeds in one fundamental respect: it is neither a text about normative Islam, nor a rule book about how to perform the hajj rituals. It is unambiguously a book about “living Islam”, Islam as an unfinished product, of experiencing and experimenting. The journey towards Islam is as important as the fulfilment of the hajj ritual obligations. Their stories suggest a closer relationship between the ideal and the actual, where the two are brought into conversation with each other, leading to a creative and tasteful exercise of faith. Shamima and Na’eem can proclaim their hajj as truly their very own.
We encourage a quick and thorough reading of the book. Become inspired, and then write your own stories about your “living Islam”.