It’s The Taking Part That Counts

This is the week of an event on a global scale, with national teams coming together in groups, at a set time for a set number of days, with shared values of humanity, equality and destiny. An inclusive event, for men and women, for the able-bodied and para-athletes, now so accessible that for the first time the medals have adjustable ribbons to suit all body shapes and sizes.

January 28, 2023

The event is the Commonwealth Games.

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Around this time 25 years ago, I took part in another large-scale event. Where, at a set time for a set number of days, groups from many nations come together. Where equality is a key principle – all the men dress the same; women from the same country are often in the same colour; no-one is seen as better than another. Where all seek their destiny – all seek success. That event was Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah which every adult Muslim must make at least once in their lifetime if they can, a ritual tracing back to the time of Abraham peace be upon him.

I was young and full of energy so needed little help; others were in wheelchairs; and some who could only lie down were carried around on stretchers. I found it a powerful combination of being an intensely individualistic experience while simultaneously a collective one – I was just one tiny dot in a huge crowd of people, all taking part in the experience of a lifetime. Unified by shared objectives for success: fulfilling a pillar of the faith sincerely, improving ourselves and seeking God’s pleasure.  

By the end of the Commonwealth games, it is usually pretty clear which participants have been the most successful. In contrast, when I returned to the UK from Hajj, exhausted yet elated, Muslims simply said to me ‘May your Hajj be accepted’. Some scholars say my Hajj is successful and accepted if I perform it with sincerity; others say I’d need to come back a better person than the one I was before I left.  Hundreds of years ago, when someone asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), ‘How would Hajj be accepted?’ he replied: ‘Feeding people and greeting each other with peace.’”

While I don’t know if my Hajj was fully successful, I’m very happy I took part – despite never receiving a medal, with a ribbon of any size.