Three Thousand Miles for a Wish – Safiya Hussain

Ms Hussain writes of her life, from childhood, through her studies and early career as a lawyer and, most importantly her meeting with someone she thought of as the love of her life. The book tells the story of what happened when the relationship broke down, her spiral into depression and near self-destruction and her eventual decision to turn to the faith into which she was born.

As she aims for recovery and a return to happiness and “normality”, she joins her parents on their pilgrimage to Mecca. The importance of the journey, the garments and the rituals are made clear as she joins millions of Muslims as they fulfil a once in a lifetime act of devotion.

The book had rave reviews, so I accept I may be in a minority. However, as someone with a pretty extensive exposure to Islam, I was disappointed at the author’s apparent lack of knowledge of her own religion. It may be that she used the questioning of her guide and others as a technique to explain to readers what being a Muslim means, but to me it read as if she knew little about Hajj and saw it as a sort of “get out of jail free card” for use when things get tough. Disappointingly, many of the descriptions of those making the journey focus on the hysterical and the smug, rather than the majority who want to get closer to and fulfil the requirements of their faith.

On the positive side, the sense of scale is well expressed and it was good to read of her eventual appreciation of her parents – kind, hard working, decent people who loved and supported her no matter what she did.

Verdict: It is unfortunate that the book makes the author appear so self centred and the experience of Hajj sound like the set of a horror movie. I was saddened by this representation of such an important pilgrimage and I recommend that if you read this book, you do so with an open mind and alongside a more measured account. *

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