This is a unique book, actually groundbreaking in the field of Islamic studies. It is, on its surface, a personal story of a South African couple making their first pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) together. The authors are highly intelligent, well educated, slightly sarcastic, but very devout in a way that resonates with the faith of other young people throughout the world. But this book is more than the musings of young professionals on the meaning of a traditional ritual. The authors are South African activists struggling against apartheid and its aftermath. At the same time, Shamima and Na'eem grapple with gender and authority issues within Islam, especially as these issues question their social activism. Their book is therefore a focused story of Muslims committed to social reform and seeking to reconcile their activism with their deeply traditional faith.
The story is made all the more poignant knowing that the trip is both the vehicle of spiritual discovery and the couple's last trip together. Shamima died a few months later, leaving Na'eem to bring up their two young sons and make sense of their journey(s) together. There have been several books published recently on the Islamic pilgrimage: F.E. Peters, The Hajj: The Muslims' Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places (Princeton, 1994); I.R. Netton, Seek Knowledge: Thought and Travel in the House of Islam (Curzon, 1966); and most recently, Michael Wolfe, ed., One Thousand Roads to Mecca (Grove, 1997). None of these, however, has the accessibility and personal appeal that Na'eem and Shamima have achieved in their Journey of Discovery. More importantly, none has incorporated the meaning of the pilgrimage into the spiritual and social landscape of Muslim life in the contemporary world, as theirs has. This book is easy to read, yet highly charged intellectually and emotionally, making it a good choice for undergraduate classroom discussion. It is also attractive to a non-specialist readership. (Introduction written by Tamara Sonn of The College of William and Mary)
In 1984 Shamima Shaikh was a student at the University of Durban-Westville. These were politically-charged years, and Shamima became involved in the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) and the Islamic Society at the University. On the 4 September 1985 Shamima was arrested for distributing pamphlets that called for a consumer boycott of White-owned businesses. She spent the next few hours locked up at Durban's CR Swart Police Station with her partner-in-crime, Na'eem Jeenah. This was her first meeting with Na'eem, who was National President of the Muslim Students Association. (Two years later, Na'eem was to become Shamima's husband!) The couple spent the next few years of their lives engaged in the struggle against apartheid and establishing their young family. They were also active in the Islamic community, and Shamima was the first female to hold an position on the Executive Board of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. With her increasing activism on behalf of women's participation in the masjid and in Islamic Society, Shamima was thrust into the media limelight. In 1994 Shamima was diagnosed with cancer and after several years struggle with the disease, decided that she would rather live her life doing what she loved than lying sick in a hospital. She and Na'eem performed Hajj together in 1997 and on their return began working on a manuscript about their experience that was to become "Journey of Discovery". Unfortunately, Shamima did not survive to see her work published. Na eem Jeenah is the Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre, a research institute based in Johannesburg, South Africa, that focuses on the Middle East and Africa. He has an MA in Religious Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand, with a dissertation entitled The emergence of Islamic feminisms in South Africa in the 1990s , and is currently working on his PhD thesis entitled Political Islam in South Africa and its contribution to a discourse of a fiqt of minorities. His latest publication (as editor) is a book on Israel entitled Pretending democracy: Israel, an ethnocratic state, published by the Afro-Middle East Centre (2012). Na eem taught political science at the University of the Witwatersrand, and is a sought-after commentator on issues related to the Middle East, the Muslim world, Islam and South African politics.