by Furqan Naeem
Recently I embarked on a journey of a lifetime when I set out to climb the highest mountain in the world – Mount Everest. It was a great experience with many unforgettable memories. There were moments during the trek, such as the pain of the low altitude and the difficulty in breathing, when I wondered why I was doing this. However, in retrospect, I would do anything to go back.
The journey came about as Islamic Relief, one of the biggest Islamic charities in the world, was undertaking different challenges worldwide by taking groups of people to different areas to raise money for various humanitarian causes. Being an active part of the organization, I always wanted to embark on a journey like this, so when the opportunity to climb Everest came about I felt it was one I could not miss. For me, helping the poor and needy in Africa have access to the basic essential need of clean water was the main motivating factor. I felt there was a greater purpose to the challenge, although at the same time I was fulfilling a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The journey itself will forever live in my memory. Often in our lives we become so bogged down with the trivialities of life itself that we neglect to look at the greater meaning and to reflect. Whether we are at school, our workplaces, with our families or at our social outings – there is very little time to focus on ourselves as an individual. I, for one, was looking for an opportunity like this – to get out of my comfort zone, go out, see the creations of God and be close to them in order to be thankful for the countless blessings He has bestowed upon us. The freezing cold temperatures at night in the mountains, the cold beds we were in, turning on the tap but having no hot water, adjusting to a new food diet without meat for two weeks – after being without these basics luxuries that I often took for granted, it really made me appreciate what I have.
As soon as our delegation arrived in the Himalayas I was in awe of everything that we were surrounded by – the tall, snow-capped mountains, clear blue skies, waterfalls, beautiful trees in shapes I’ve never seen before, stunning views. We set off from Delhi to Kathmandu and I saw what appeared to be pointed clouds in the distance. As we got closer, I realized that this was the start of the huge stretch of the Himalayan Mountains. The view of the mountains from the plane looked amazing and just to think that we were going to be climbing 18,000 feet high and be right amongst them gave me goose bumps.
In total we were out for 16 days, with 12 days of trekking in total. It took around seven days to get to Everest base camp and about five days coming back down. There were thirteen of us in a group, with two women coming along for the first time. The beginning part of the trek was really fun. In the lower part of the base of the mountain, we didn’t have the altitude problems so we enjoyed the lovely views everywhere. Wherever we looked, we were surrounded by huge mountains, with various peaks – some with weird shapes! We stayed at lodges on the entire journey, but as we got further up the mountain the lodges became really basic. Some of us went without showers for over a week because of the lack of warm water. Our whole food diet had to change. We were having porridge in the morning, rice at lunch and a basic lentil dish called dal baat for the evening. We couldn’t complain though because we were always conscious of the reason why we were there, and that the money that was to be raised was to allow for the poor to have access clean water. The whole experience made us humble to the point where we would accept any type of food.
We would wake up everyday at 6 am and start trekking by 7:30. Some days would be really long and we wouldn’t get to the next lodge until 5 or 6pm, meaning we would be climbing for some 11 hours a day. I wouldn’t have imagined it but all of a sudden I was in bed by 9pm on most nights because of the early start and the long days we had ahead of us. This was definitely a point of reflection for myself. Back in the UK I genuinely found it difficult to wake up early but it was usually because I slept so late. There in the mountains, I really began to see the barakah of starting the day early and making the most out of it. We would leave just after fajr time, which proved to be a great time for some early morning adkhar and reflection. Seeing the sun rise high above the lofty mountains made it easy to focus on Allah’s wonderful creations; these were the most perfect moments, and it is these times that I miss the most. But that reflection period would be of no use unless I could go from strength to strength when I got back.
As there were 13 of us, we would often split into different groups. Sometimes we would walk in a group and have the odd banter or two, and other times everyone would be in their own zone, using the time to take in the breathtaking views. There were times were I would rush ahead of the group, sit on rock and just zone out for a few minutes. It was a great purification moment and it really did connect one’s heart back with its Creator. The story of Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah comes to mind of when his student Shaikh Ibn Qayyim Al Jawziyyah used to ask him, “Why do you go to the outskirts of Damascus every morning and just sit there?” His reply was that he used to remember Allah and do his Dhikr and that every morning this was like his breakfast. If he didn’t do it, he wouldn’t have the energy throughout the day; just like breakfast was his physical nourishment, dhikr was his spiritual nourishment. I remembered this as much as I could throughout the journey, as we had long physical days and I wanted the maximum energy within me. When remembering Allah and reciting His name, the thought of the mountains and trees testifying on that Day to Allah when they hear His servant mentioning His name was one thing that kept me going. Just to imagine that day when we would meet Allah and that these very mountains would be a proof for us made us all increase in His remembrance.
As we got further to the top, the difficulty level increased. With really low altitude and the increasing cold many of us were suffering from altitude sickness, hallucinations, diarrhoea, really bad headaches, and more. We were at 50% lower oxygen levels than on normal ground so that obviously was going to take its toll. The day we were going to hit Everest base camp was the coldest of the whole journey. Being 18,000 feet in the air, there were grey clouds all around us and with the wind chill we were hitting -20 degrees. To put it into perspective of how difficult it got at times, I would take ten steps up in this altitude and it was like I had just played a full 90-minute football match.
One of the things I remember fondly was the view at night. As we were high up, there was very little electricity and it was almost complete darkness at night. When we would look up in the skies our eyes would be filled with thousands and thousands of stars shining brightly above the mountains. We saw shooting stars and the view made us wonder about Allah’s creation in our galaxy and beyond it – what is it like in the heavens? His magnificence and the number of His creations just made us increase in His remembrance. When we prayed Maghrib and Isha outside on one of the nights it was so peaceful. We would say salams at the end and when we would look right and left we would have mountains in our direct view on either side. Most times it was a most peaceful prayer and when we prayed we didn’t want to stop.
One verse of the Qur’an that I always remembered throughout the journey was in Surah Hashr where Allah says:
“If We had sent down this Qur’an upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and coming apart from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will give thought” (Qur’an, 59:21).
This verse made me think about the weight of the Qur’an and how even the mountains would be humble due to the weight of His Majesty. It made me consider the state of the dunya after the final trumpet is blown and how all these rock solid mountains will turn to dust. It made me think about how Allah has made these mountains in order for mankind to reflect and think about His creation, and to know when Allah mentions these mountains in the Qur’an we were amongst the highest ones He has created. That was a moment for us all to deeply ponder.
Every evening we would sit in a circle and someone from among the group would give a thought of the day. Everyone came out with excellent reminders to keep us all thinking and renewing our intentions. Some spoke about how we should appreciate the things we have in life that we take for granted, some spoke about animals that we saw and how much they sacrifice for us humans. Others spoke about how our struggle will help impact the lives of millions who are struggling in the third world. After mentioning the ayah I quoted above, I talked about three lessons we should take back in our lives.
- Physical – that all of us were here on a journey of a lifetime and we made that choice. Many of us trained hard before in order to be in the right shape and keep fit. But this shouldn’t be the end of the physical battle within us. We should always strive to remain fit and healthy even after our Everest venture. We should take pride in keeping fit and looking after our shape. We were told that the Prophet ﷺ had the strength of 30 men and used to wrestle in the mosque. And he was physically strong!
- Mental – in our life we will no doubt be faced with obstacles and have struggles that life throws upon is – be it with work, education, family, society pressures, etc. But having completed the trek to Everest and remembering the struggles and hardship that we went through on this epic journey, it should surely encourage us that with any task or obstacle we’re faced with in life, we should first and foremost put our trust in Allah and secondly remember this particular event as it should help us overcome that specific obstacle. Mentally, this experience should make us stronger and more motivated.
- Spiritual – if anything from this journey alone did not bring you closer to Allah then there’s something missing. After being halfway around the world, being able to witness what very few people have had the privilege to see, and viewing Allah’s creation in its full glory, anyone should be on their knees in admiration of the Creator. Spiritually, it should have brought us closer to the One who gave us the ability to walk, breathe, eat, see, etc. It should make us grateful to Allah for His endless blessings, make us appreciate what we have, and above all, make us ask for His forgiveness. And once we get back we should try and take that spiritual high and maintain it even when bogged down with our normal life chores.
All in all, alhamdulillah (all praise be to Allah) it was an event that will live forever in my memory and I am sure for all those that came on the trip. Just to know we fulfilled our own personal venture out into the Himalayas and of course at the same time helping all those poor and needy gain to access clean water was a very satisfying feeling. I hope the lessons I learnt along the way will serve as a spiritual and professional turning point for me. This journey certainly gave me a break to reassess my life and made me become more determined and focused to fulfil my aims in life. Our bodies are vessels that carry us through this world to the next, but it is our legacies and the monumental work we all strive to do to preserve and empower generations to come that will live on. It is my sincerest hope that this entire endeavour will forever remain, like the mountains, as a cemented testament to His Glory for myself and a pedestal for which to reach new heights. We all want to leave a legacy behind us where people will remember us for what we achieved. Sometimes that transition of change is inspired by a certain moment, journey or an event. For me I hope this was that journey…