A GROUP of friends have set off for the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia – by road.

They have left East Lancashire in an eight-year-old minibus and are due to arrive in Saudi Arabia at the start of the Hajj on October 17.

The journey has been 18 months in the planning for the friends who hope to inspire younger people with their efforts.

The Hajj is the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and is the fifth pillar of Islam, a religious duty that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.

The ten friends are all from the Blackburn area and are made up mainly of professionals and businessmen aged 40 and over. They had originally planned to travel the full distance by road but the deteriorating situation in Syria forced them to reconsider because it would have meant driving through a battle zone.

Pharmacist Haroon Patel said, “We are undertaking a great journey so we can take part in the greatest journey which is the Hajj.

“We will be travelling by road to Istanbul then catching a plane to Jordan.

“The journey will then continue by road from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

“It is the next best available option to us.

“We had been advised not to got through Syria. Whilst in Jordan we will be journeying to the Holy Lands in Palestine and Masjid-e-Aqsa.” The group is travelling in a 16-seater minibus and started planning the journey in December 2010.

Faruk Valli, who runs KQF Foods in George Street West, Blackburn, said, “We asked all our group of friends over 18 months ago and decided that this was to be the plan.

“After some discussion, ten of us decided we could take part.

“From then on we have had regular meetings and even set-up sub-committees on each aspect of the journey.

“Our wellness committee aimed to get some of us into shape! Everyone is responsible for particular issues.

“We took part in a camping trip to Wales to get used to camping and visited the London Hajj Exhibition.

“The journey from Jordan to Saudi Arabia should not take more than 24 hours.

“On the way back we are driving by road from Istanbul. Before that we will be visiting Egypt.”

Faruk added: “We appreciate the help from Jack Straw’s office in helping to facilitate overland visas with the Saudi Embassy in the UK.

“They too have been very helpful and receptive to our needs.”

The group is reporting its progress via Twitter @RTM 2012UK or @asianimage.