Masood Nawaz Malik, UK
In August 2023, I embarked on an 850-kilometre cycling journey with fellow Ansar brothers across various terrains. This expedition was not merely a test of physical endurance but a journey for the sake of Allah that culminated in the Jalsa Salana Germany 2023.
In anticipation of this voyage, I dedicated weeks to preparation, whether it was through outdoor cycling or immersive indoor sessions on platforms like Zwift. My preparations extended to stockpiling energy bars, gels, recovery supplements, bike accessories, and clothing sufficient for two individuals. As I stood at the threshold of this adventure for the second time, a blend of nervousness and excitement coursed through me. This time around, a notable distinction marked the journey – I was now part of an Ansar team.
In the lead-up to our journey, I trained diligently, conscientiously avoiding the risk of pre-trip injuries by refraining from overexertion. With a heightened awareness of the importance of health amidst the looming spectres of COVID-19, flu, and colds, I diligently practised self-isolation in the days leading to our commencement.
Fajr behind Huzooraa and the beginning of an amazing journey
On the morning of 26 August 2023, I embarked on my journey, setting out around 4:30 am for Islamabad. My mission was to observe Fajr prayer behind our beloved Huzooraa. This served as the ultimate source of motivation and blessing, setting the stage for our formidable 850-kilometre journey, complete with a gruelling 3500-metre ascent and a relentless 40 hours of riding over six days.
Our voyage commenced as we arrived at Dunkirk. We methodically cycled out of the ferry, securely clipped into our pedals, and charted our course towards Ostende. This leg of the journey, characterised by flat terrain, stood out as the shortest among our tour routes. For the most part, we pedalled in two groups, occasionally reuniting as one cohesive unit. This marked the beginning of an opportunity to build enduring friendships among our Ansar brothers. Our primary objective was to provide support to each other, ensuring the successful completion of each day’s ride. Riding as a group proved more manageable than traversing the path alone. We paused on several occasions, receiving attentive care from the Belgian support team, our steadfast companions for the initial three days as we journeyed towards Germany. Our first evening was spent at a hostel in Ostende, where we methodically loaded our bikes into the van. We dined alfresco on the cobbled roadside, adjacent to the hostel, before indulging in refreshing showers, culminating in a well-deserved night’s rest.
Route to Bait-us-Salaam, Dilbeek, Belgium
The following morning marked the inception of our route to Dilbeek – a lengthier journey, albeit one characterised by relatively flat terrain. Our day commenced with a departure from the cobblestone-laden centre, navigating our way towards the picturesque canal-side bike paths. Initially, we encountered a roadblock due to ongoing construction on our designated route. Fortunately, we crossed paths with a benevolent elderly cyclist who guided us through a detour, reuniting us with our intended path. At the midpoint of our journey, we paused at a rest area adorned with park benches, partaking in homemade baguettes thoughtfully provided by the Belgian support team. It was on this day that a niggling pain began to take shape on the right side of my knee. My initial impulse was to persist despite the mounting discomfort, forgoing any consideration of its intensity. Given the extensive mental and physical preparation invested in this journey, I refused to entertain the notion of sidelining myself at any point. We soldiered on as a united front, with me positioned at the rear, a role I personally favoured, as it allowed for a smooth, cadence-preserving ride and mitigated the risk of major flare-ups in my ailing right knee.
On the evening of the second day, after reaching Bait-us-Salaam Mission House, we endeavoured to clean our bikes, utilising a provided hose pipe and applied lubrication to our bike chains in anticipation of smoother rides in the days ahead. This collective activity served to bring us even closer together, fostering reflection on our previous rides and kindling anticipation for the challenges and adventures looming over the next four days of riding. The subsequent morning marked the commencement of the first 100-mile leg of our tour – a day featuring a demanding ascent, unlike the initial two days.
100-mile leg to Mansoor Mosque, Aachen, Germany
Our journey began promptly at 7:30 am to ensure that we would reach our destination during daylight hours, accounting for both planned and unforeseen stops. Following our morning meal, a daily ritual, all Ansar UK cyclists meticulously inspected their tires, bottles, and bike accessories, adhering to the customary routine. Just as we were poised to embark on our day’s ride, a member of our team discovered the first puncture of the tour. Our strategy dictated adherence to our carefully crafted schedule, with a couple of cyclists staying behind to rectify the puncture and rejoining us shortly along the route. Beyond the daunting length and challenges of the day, this marked our inaugural encounter with punctures and cleat changes. Cleats, the disposable components that facilitate engagement with the bike pedal, took centre stage. Amidst these activities, I ensured an ample supply of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, providing a semblance of relief from the pain that dogged me throughout the ride.
This particular ride evolved into the most physically arduous and painful experience I had encountered in all my cycling endeavours. As I approached the culmination of this gruelling 100-mile journey, I experienced a curious paradox—I felt as physically robust as ever, yet my ailing knee posed an insurmountable hurdle. Contemplating alternative options that would serve both myself and the team, I found solace upon reaching Mansoor Mosque in Aachen. There, I made the decision to move from the saddle to the support van, determined to contribute to the team’s overall experience during the remaining three days of cycling—an undertaking poised to be the most demanding of all. The ensuing days promised wet and muddy terrains, making it imperative to afford our bikes a swift cleansing in preparation for another 100-mile ride the following morning, albeit with slightly less elevation than the present day. The gracious hosts at Mansoor Mosque orchestrated an evening meal that was both hearty and delectable. Following Maghrib and Ishaa salat, we all found solace in relaxation. Some devoted their time to swift bike checks, while others busied themselves with last-minute puncture repairs.
The subsequent morning bore witness to a myriad of emotions stemming from my decision to support the team rather than ride. However, an irrefutable realisation swept over me: before being an avid cyclist, I was a nasir—an Arabic term denoting a helper or supporter. My role had transitioned from trailing the group on a bicycle to persistently leading from the support van, navigating the path for both myself and the support team. Utilising a suite of apps, including Strava, Komoot, and Google Maps, we endeavoured to maintain our position ahead of the cyclists, halting every 30-40 kilometres. This position afforded us proximity in the event assistance was required—be it to aid a struggling rider, repair a roadside puncture, or as a last resort, secure swift bike servicing at the nearest shop.
Journey to Tahir Mosque in Koblenz
The fourth day commenced as the cyclists set out at 7:30 am, adhering to their meticulously planned schedule. Departing from Mansoor Mosque in Aachen, their ultimate destination lay at Tahir Mosque in Koblenz. In the predawn hours, we collectively rose for Fajr prayer, transitioning into our cycling attire before partaking in a hearty breakfast. The departure was imbued with warmth and well-wishes, a lovely send-off from the mosque culminated in a silent prayer, earnestly beseeching for a safe, incident-free, and accident-free ride. Assuming our roles as the support team, we meticulously tied up loose ends, ensured the van was loaded, and departed around 8 am, setting our sights on rendezvousing with the riders approximately 40 kilometres into their journey – a mere two hours after their departure. This newfound responsibility involved orchestrating navigation from the van, coordinating with the respective support teams from the German Jamaat, and, most critically, forging a camaraderie with our driver. Our harmonious collaboration was paramount, combining our unique skills to deliver an exceptional support service to the cyclists. Although this role had not been a part of my initial preparation, I had grown passionate about ensuring that I executed it to the best of my abilities.
The fourth day unfurled with its fair share of challenges – a roadside puncture necessitated repair, another bike was conveyed to a local repair shop, and we restocked supplies for the cyclists, ranging from painkillers to herbal medicine. Additionally, we acquired a new pair of cleats. The day was a whirlwind of activity, dedicated to resolving all bike-related issues and ensuring an even distribution of nutrition along the route. Our support van managed to arrive ahead of the cyclists at Tahir Mosque in Koblenz, where we were poised to receive them and capture footage of their arrival, marking the conclusion of the fourth day of riding.
Tahir Mosque to Ehsan Mosque in Mannheim
The morning of the fifth day dawned, bringing with it the longest ride of our tour – a daunting 110 miles in distance, coupled with an average elevation that diverged from our previous rides. This ambitious journey saw us pedalling from Tahir Mosque in Koblenz to Ehsan Mosque in Mannheim. The paramount challenge of the day lay in the imperative to complete this formidable ride during daylight hours. This task assumed even greater complexity given the mixed abilities of our cyclists, whose ages spanned from the early 40s to the late 60s. Our day commenced with a solemn prayer, with the support van departing shortly after the riders. Prior to our rendezvous with them on the route, we assumed the role of procurement, acquiring essentials for the cyclists as per their requests – these included bandages, additional painkillers, and Voltarol gel. Further, we coordinated with the local German support team, slated to accompany us for a segment of the route. Today’s journey promised to be the most scenic yet, weaving together dedicated bike paths and scenic roads tracing the picturesque River Rhine. The day unfolded with remarkable intensity, involving shuttle services for a select few riders, a strategic move aimed at enabling the entire team to maintain an optimal pace for a timely finish. While a handful of unexpected pit stops punctuated our journey, one of note was our pause to replace a broken spoke. The ride culminated under a gentle shower of rain, with one final puncture testing our mettle. We promptly retrieved the affected cyclist and arrived at Ehsan Mosque just in time to receive the rest of the riders. Despite the lateness of the hour, the anticipation of one more day of riding and the warm welcome extended by the hosts at Ehsan Mosque in Mannheim invigorated the entire team, infusing them with renewed strength and determination for the final leg of their extraordinary journey.
Final leg to Jalsa Salana Germany 2023 in Stuttgart
The concluding leg, although the fourth longest of the tour, presented the greatest elevation gain, exceeding 1000 metres. This terrain mirrored the elevation of bike routes around Islamabad and posed a reasonable challenge for seasoned cyclists, yet it may have posed a mild struggle for beginners. Departing from Mannheim, our ultimate destination was the site of Jalsa Salana Germany in Stuttgart. To accommodate this leg, we enlisted an additional support car, replete with extra seats that would prove invaluable for ferrying newer riders up challenging ascents.
On the final day of our journey, we observed some riders grappling with saddle sores, while others contended with bikes that were showing signs of wear and tear, owing to the demands of the tour. The overarching goal remained constant – to ensure that every participant crossed the finish line before the inauguration of Jalsa Salana Germany 2023. Irreparable bikes were loaded into the back of the support van, with a select few riders availing themselves of our shuttle services in the final moments, determined to soldier through the last few miles of the tour, even as their bikes presented a greater challenge than ever before. The fruits of our collective determination and effort bore witness as every cyclist successfully crossed the finish line, arriving safely at Jalsa Salana Germany 2023 to be greeted by our beloved Huzoor-e-Aqdasaa – a remarkable conclusion to a historic ride that left an indelible mark on all who participated. Alhamdulillah.
This remarkable achievement stands as a testament to the collaborative endeavours of a diverse group of ansar from the United Kingdom, each contributing with varying levels of ability. Personally, I discovered deep inspiration in witnessing the profound accomplishments of the senior members of our team. Their achievements resoundingly validate the words expressed by Huzoor-e-Aqdasaa on 12 May 2023, during his address to Majlis Ansaruallah Australia, wherein Huzooraa emphasised in these words, “[…] So, ansar can cycle, but you underestimate them […].”
Furthermore, this ride truly embodied the words of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh, “[…] In a short time, I want 100,000 ‘Ahmadi Cycles’. An ‘Ahmadi Cycle’ is that which is ridden by an Ahmadi. And these 100,000 Ahmadi Cycles should have the ability to cycle up to 100 miles in a day.” (Mash‘al-e-Rah, Vol. II, p. 384)
This journey was a testament to the power of determination, the bonds of brotherhood, and the unwavering faith that guided every pedal stroke. As the sun set on this epic cycling adventure, it left an indelible mark on the hearts of all those who participated – a journey that proved Ansar can achieve far more than one might ever estimate.
The invaluable life lessons gleaned from this tour underscore the necessity of adapting and embracing newfound responsibilities in times of adversity, all in harmony with our team goal.