Last week, Emon and Jamiul Choudhury, two British Bengali Muslims won the BBC’s Race Across the World, a show that followed five British pairs travelling across South America without any tech and a budget that would barely cover the air fair.
Last Sunday night’s nail-biting finale – watched by over 3.3million – saw them pip married couple Rob and Jen Lambra-Stokes to the post by just 20 seconds.
One noticeable thing was Emon’s and Jamiul’s display of their “Islam” throughout the series.
In an exclusive chat, Saif from the Mvslim sat down with them (virtually), to get the answers to the questions Muslim’s have about South America and to find out how much of a difference their faith had on them during their trip.
Saif: So let’s jump straight into it. Is South America Safe for Muslims?
Jamiul: “I guess you have to go to these places and be open to them to be able to know more about them as well. We were welcomed everywhere we went, no one said anything derogatory to us or in any racist manner. Everyone was really kind to us and welcomed us in open arms. And I think Muslims are like anybody, to be able to go through South America, Latin America, openly. You’ll be able to find mosques, to be open and show their faith, nobody will be nasty to them or penalise them or anything like that.”
Emon: “We found the hospitality of people amazing. The faith thing didn’t really matter, it was just the human nature that was amazing, that’s what got us through the trip. Me & Jamiul both said that our main highlight of the trip was the people that we met and that helped us through it.”
Saif: As you came out of the lift, before that final sprint to being the first to sign “the book”, you said “Bismillah” – something that what shared on British television to over 3.3million people.
How much of a difference did your spiritual connection make to your journey, and how much of a safe place did it create for you as well during the challenging times you might have had?
Emon: “I remember my Ustadh used to always say to me that travelling was a test of your faith, on how you practice it and how you portray it to other people.”
I’ve done a fair bit of travelling myself and every time I go abroad or go on trips, my faith, my belief strengthens. Since coming back, it’s become stronger and every time I do come back it becomes stronger and stronger. Travelling allows you to do that. It puts you in different circumstances, in different situations, it’s almost a test of your belief and how strong your eeman is.”
Saif: Our faith tells us that if you want to learn something about someone you should either live with them, transact with them or travel with them. How much did the trip help you learn about each other?
Jamiul: “We were put in all those circumstances in every way possible in the 50+ days that we were out there, and you do truly get to know each other.
I grew up where culture was a more dominant aspect in my early life, and it was only in my twenties did I start to see my faith change the perspective I had on things.
Going and doing trips like that makes you realise that you are small, and there is a bigger picture and there must be something greater than just us. You realise these things, financial problems and all these things, they’re easily solvable.
Good communication and relationships are key, and those things are the things you should always focus on.”
Saif: This idea of your trip making you feel like there’s a bigger picture – which place across your trip across South America made you feel most that way?
Jamiul: “Me personally, the whole trip made us feel like that. We saw loads of kids throughout the journey who were living on the streets, who were begging for food, and it became more prominent in our minds when we went to Sao Paolo and we saw the homeless kids there as well.
It makes you realise there is a bigger picture, we should all be doing our part, and should all be making efforts to do good in this world and be better people.”
Emon: “For me a lot a part of the trips were amazing but in particular, Ushuaia, where you’re at the top of that mountain, and you’re looking around and it was truly amazing.
It makes you realise how beautiful the world is, and how amazing the places we live in are and that we would never have experienced these places had we not come on the trip.
Rainbow mountain was another one, going up the mountain and seeing the views up there were incredible.”
Jamiul: “Even going through the Darién Gap, there were so many amazing places, the Tatacoa Desert too.
It made us realise that there is so much more to see still and that we’re all comped up in our own little lives and that we all need to get out there, see more of the world, become more worldly, and hopefully that’ll humble us all as well.”
Saif: That being said though, what place was the most visually stunning, that made you think “wow”?
Emon: “I’d say Ushuaia still. It was visually stunning, absolutely stunning. Especially on top of that mountain.”
Jamiul: “Yeah, I’d have to agree with that, but another place that for me I just felt at peace, harmony and at one with myself was the Darien gap as we were on a boat, riding through, on the water, seeing all these little Islands.
The water was nice, you had this breeze sort of going over your head.
I think the scenery you go to and look at are important and nice, but it’s also about you feel at that moment, it doesn’t have to be big or grand or magnificent, it just has to resonate with you.“
Saif: Emon, you’re married. How did explain to your wife that you were going to disappear for a few months?!! How did you get away with that one?
Emon: “To be honest it was a tough one, and I’m still suffering for it now, and probably for the rest of the year!
I’ve always been like that and I’ve always been spontaneous and do crazy things, she knew I was like that anyway!
I’ve travelled a lot, I was in Africa for almost two and half months, I went randomly didn’t tell anyone just got up and went, and I’m a bit of a free spirit almost.
I guess she kind of expected it!”
Saif: With you Jamiul, your perspective may be a bit different. How have these experiences shaped what you want to do in the future? Has it created a deeper purpose for you?
Jamiul: “I guess I still don’t know. One thing I loved about the race was that everything was so unpredictable, every day was new every day was different.
I’m kind of looking forward to that in life too.
Right now I want to become an architect, I want to finish that, get my qualifications in that, but I don’t know what the future holds.
I do know I want to do loads more, I want to experience so much, but I’ve still got time I just have to wait and see what the cards hold for me and what God has planned.”
Saif: Okay so whilst you were out there, were there things from home that you missed? Couldn’t have been your mum’s curry, could it…
Jamiul: Do you know what, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!
The first thing that me and my uncle did when we got back and eat rice and curry, not going to lie! One of the biggest thing we missed.
Of course, family, friends, missed them so much, it’s hard when you see them every day and talk to them every day.
When you have your phones you can do that, but you don’t have your phone, you can’t do those things, but it also makes you really appreciate what you have so when you do come back to those things, you can sort of nicely understand why they’re so important.
Saif: A final note. As it’s the month of Ramadan, what did your experience teach you about your faith and what advice would you give to a Millennial & Gen-Z Muslims from what your trip taught you?
Jamiul: “One of the biggest things that anyone should take away from the race and our journey is that you should be open to experiences, be open to people.
Whether they’re different from you background, from different religions or have a different opinion from you, you should not be closed off to those things. Once you upon yourself to other people and the world you can understand yourself better, and I believe that’s more key than anything else.
And that’s what God’s pushing us towards anyway, to sort of find ourselves and become enlightened in that manner.”
Emon: “We’ve just shown as two normal British Bangladeshi Muslims that we could do it and that from that anyone can do it, anyone can go on a remarkable journey.
As long as we have our faith, and know who we are and what we believe, it should be right.
And that South America is just incredible. Our misconceptions that we might have had of South America just went out the window.
It’s an amazing place, with amazing people who are so welcoming to us, not just us, but to everybody, the full crew we had with us all the time, in the Mosque too they were welcoming to everybody, so that’s the main thing that I’d take away from the trip – the people who were so welcoming to us all.”