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To Makkah, on foot

25-year-old Usman Arshad has now set his sights on the greatest pilgrimage of all

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PUBLISHED October 09, 2022

With advancements in technology, travel, and accommodation services, going on a pilgrimage is increasingly convenient and unproblematic. Nonetheless, some people prefer to go through hardships to demonstrate the strength of their commitment to a certain belief or act. Usman Arshad, 25, is one of those people who is all set to make a new world record: he is walking to Makkah to perform Hajj in 2023.

With the plan to cover the distance of almost six thousand kilometres, Arshad, a communication studies student, began his journey from Okara, Punjab, on October 1, 2022. In 2021, Arshad walked for 34 days to travel to the Khunjerab Pass on the Pakistan-China border. It was then that he decided to go for Hajj on foot. “When I came back from Khunjerab, I thought about it a great deal, and decided to do Hajj by walking to Makkah. I worked on calculating the possibilities and started planning,” he says.

Arshad plans to travel through Iran, Iraq, and Kuwait. “I started my journey early so that I could have ample time to visit different holy places in Iran and Iraq, on my way to Saudi Arabia.”

Arshad is fourth among six siblings and lives in the Okara city. He has completed six semesters of his degree from the University of Okara. “I have put my last two semesters on freeze, and I will continue my studies once I am back from Hajj,” Arshad, son of a retired air force officer, tells me.

In the last week, Arshad has travelled to Chichawatni, starting from Okara, and going through Sahiwal via Harappa. He plans to travel to Quetta through Khanewal, Multan, and Dera Ghazi Khan, and from Quetta he will enter Iran.

Arshad had been working on his plan for a year, taking into consideration various possibilities and sorting out visa processes, but not much happened until August 2022 when he met Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. “I wrote to embassies, tweeted for help, and even went to several offices, but no one helped me. Somehow, I managed to meet Bilawal Bhutto, who asked me how he could help me in the execution of my plan,” he says. Arshad requires an official letter from the Pakistan Foreign Office to travel through various countries on his itinerary. Now that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has written to Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, he is hoping to receive his visas in the next 45-50 days. A valid visa for his first destination is mandatory to exit Pakistan via Balochistan.

Arshad explains, “I am hopeful to receive all of my visas soon as the letter for special permission has already been sent and the case is under process. I couldn’t have waited for my visas to arrive, or I would have had wasted time. That is why I decided to start my journey within Pakistan before I got my visas.”

Arshad, who is hoping to enter Saudi Arabia in May, hasn’t finalized his exact route, and the cities through which he would be travelling. He believes that he will keep going as the path takes him. “I have mainly routed my journey, but outside Pakistan, I haven’t finalized the cities and route yet. I will go with the flow,” he says. He also plans to rely on people’s help and generosity in terms of accommodation, food, and other facilities. “The main idea is to stay in mosques at night, and if that is not allowed, a check post could be a resting place. I’ll stay in hotels as I see them on my way, I haven’t booked anything in advance.”


Interestingly, Arshad will not be following any map, and he doesn’t have anything definite chalked out. He plans to ask people for directions as he travels, and with their help and guidance he will complete his journey. He plans to enter Saudi Arabia through the Nuwaisib Port, the borders of Kuwait with Saudi Arabia.

Arshad, who travelled the same way to the Khunjerab Pass, has received immense help during his journey. He keeps updating his location and accommodation details on a travel group on Facebook; many people approach him to stay at their home or provide him with homecooked food and water. “I know the hospitality that I have received won't be the same once I exit Pakistan, but I have a few friends and links that could help me,” he says.

The journey is long and difficult. It will take at least nine months, one way. The belongings Arshad carries could have been the weightage that slows him down, but with his prior experience of travelling on foot, he left his home with only one backpack, carrying four trousers, four shirts, one umbrella, some medicines, a water bottle, and dates. He says, “If I need something on the way, I’ll buy it; carrying everything along would have been a hassle with such a long plan of walking. Any extra weight could slow me down and tire me.”

The communication studies student sees himself making his mark and making Pakistan proud. Relying on his family and friends, Arshad has taken up a big responsibility to perform the highest pilgrimage of Islam. “When I told my parents what I was planning, they weren’t comfortable with the idea at first. They asked me to give it some serious thought, but I was adamant, and I was confident,” Arshad shares. His mother had several insecurities in terms of his safety, well-being and hardships of such a long journey. But Arshad decided to travel defying all odds. “I received immense support from my friends and family, and that support is not just in terms of encouragement but also financial. The cost of the whole plan is around 1.5 million rupees.”

Arshad earns his living through some freelancing projects but that is a minimal amount that he uses for himself. For Hajj, he is using his savings, and his family is also supporting him financially.

The enthusiastic young Pakistani never thought that his last year’s journey to the Khunjerab Pass would bring him so much support from people all around the country, encouraging him to further elevate his plans. “I used to get calls from people asking me when I would reach their city so that they could host me. And even now, since the beginning of my journey, I have been getting calls from people who are waiting to host me on my religious journey.”

Arshad walks for about eight hours a day and rests at night. He makes stopovers for food, to use restrooms, and to charge his phone.

Usman Arshad says that he hasn’t planned where he will walk to next, but he will certainly continue to walk as that brings him mental peace.