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14 NOV 2022

Hajj - A journey of a lifetime

RICS spoke with Sarah Chaudry FRICS, Director at Surveyor Store Ltd. and RICS World Regional Board member, about her experience as a surveying professional and her participation in the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj.

How long have you been a surveyor and what made decide to join this profession?

I became a Chartered Surveyor in 2015. I began work in real estate when I was twenty, in my first job I collected rent in an estate local to my home. I liked the work and the clients liked me too. I worked for a housing association then and did not know then I would work for two decades in the sector. I left when I graduated with an MBA in Construction and Real Estate. I then began a ten-year career in local government or related consultancy services as Head of Service and then Director, I was encouraged to become chartered. I applied for and became a Senior Professional Chartered Management Consultant Surveyor in 2015 and a RICS Fellow in 2019. At that time, and now still in 2022, only 4% of women in the profession are fellows.

When did you join the World Regional Board and what has that experience been like for you?

My first board meeting was in March 2022. As is well publicised, the RICS are transitioning. After two years of lockdowns and working from home, our first meeting was face to face and I enjoyed meeting other board members. The Chair gave an update on the now available Lord Bichard Review of the Institution, we then heard from other UK regions and the RICS Matrix Chair whose passion for the role always impresses me. The RICS Chief Executive joined the end of the meeting, it was nice to meet him, he joined to listen. The message from the meeting was that the RICS know they need to change, and to change in the best interests of members they are doing what they can to listen and learn.

I like that I am a member of the World Regional Board. After a two-decade successful career in real estate as a senior leader in the profession, when I struggled to become member, I never thought one day I would sit on the Institution’s board.

Can you tell us about your experience taking part in the Hajj this year? How has the experience impacted you?

Hajj, the pilgrimage to Makkah, is the fifth pillar and most significant manifestation of Islamic faith and unity in the world. It is obligatory for those Muslims who are physically and financially able to make the journey to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is a once in a lifetime duty that is the peak of one’s religious life. Hajj takes place in the Islamic month called Dhu al Hijjah, it was in July 2022 this year.

Two and a half million pilgrims took part in the annual event in 2021, international pilgrims were not permitted in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid. Significant to my Hajj journey in 2021, for the first-time women were permitted to travel alone without a male family member. In 2022 international pilgrims were allowed again and there was high demand worldwide for Hajj places, whilst I first registered under the old system with a tour operator, they were unable to honour the booking as the Saudi Arabian government had changed the system.

In the new system potential pilgrims were to register themselves on an online platform which I did and enter a draw for one of a million places available this year, then at ten minutes past the announcement deadline I learnt I had been selected. I felt very blessed to be one of a million that had been chosen, Arab news picked up my story too, you can read it here: British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million  | Arab News.

As a lone woman traveller until I got onto the flight, I was apprehensive. I did not believe I was going, although as soon as I made the intent to do Hajj, I began a reflective journey on my life. I sorted out things I had thought to do but not done such as to make a will and we all ought to have one.

I had no idea what Hajj was and began to read a book on the plane, I learnt the rituals of Hajj have their origin in the time of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), well before Prophet Muhammad and Islam. The rituals require travel to Makkah, then to Mina, then Arafat and then onto Muzdalifah in Saudi Arabia. Other than Makkah the sites are outdoor open camps, Mina was bearable, Arafat nice for one day, and the one night I spent in Muzdalifah humbling.

To navigate one million people from all over the world, required strength, I did well.

Hajj reinforced to me that no one person is better than another, where you were born determines your destiny and after that it is up to you.

A man that walked with me at Muzdalifah as I was scared in the night told me “I was the bravest women he knew.” He talked and walked with me until the campsite and then we both went our own ways. I met many kind passers-by going the same way as me, but when our journey ended, we let each other go, as it should be.

In a regime traditionally seen in the Western world as difficult for women, I felt accepted, honoured, and respected. There were times where I was spoilt. I found it nice men would rush to carry my bags, offer me money as one day I had none as my things were in different places and tried to cover my expenses even though I did not know them, we just happened to travel together that day. Women were the same, a lot took care of me, it was nice.

The experience has made me content. When I look back on my life where I was responsible and sometimes not responsible too, I did my best despite things not always being easy and I look forward to the future.

What has your experience been like as a Muslim woman in the profession?

Hajj for me was like my real estate career, in that when I began work with only a few GCSE’s I never knew it would become a lifelong career and success. Hajj was the same, in that when I speak to people, I learn I did the best Hajj, I feel accepted and blessed.

Now I am home, I am grateful for my life. I have a good life and career I am proud of. Many of us in the UK are privileged we live mostly good, safe, stable lives. Whilst when I went through Hajj, I thought I would never come back, but now I am back I am keen to be involved in meaningful work.

The profession has equipped me well, from Hajj I know I am highly capable, competent, and skilled. A lot say I am not an average woman, which I do not understand. My professional peak was as the founding and lead public sector officer that bought forward from nothing a new 2,500 home new regeneration opportunity in Brent called One Public Estate Northwick Park (link here: The Northwick Park ‘One Public Estate’ Programme | Regeneration | Brent Council). It was not always easy, and I have reflected on that too, I feel it was redirection and I do not worry about one or two bad experiences that much anymore.

When I look back at my public sector career (all real estate focused) I did excellent work that contributed to society. Whilst I was involved in creating thousands of new homes, I also helped deliver new and improved school facilities. I was involved in in many infrastructure projects as well as local and community initiatives. I look back at my career with a smile.

The work I now do on various boards as non-executive director or trustee contributes to society too. I am particularly proud to be involved with the YMCA a Christian charity, I like that they like my Muslim identity and have been most welcoming, I chair their development board and am trustee. I also volunteer, and currently I am fundraising for flood victims in Pakistan and will walk the London marathon virtually. I am looking for ventures or work that continue to contribute and I think it would be nice to leave some sort of legacy although I do not know what that is but am working on that too. I have started to coach candidates going forward for RICS membership and mentor women in real estate too. 

As a Muslim woman in the profession, I had a good career and life. I left school with barely 5 GCSE’s, along with professional experience, the profession educated me and enabled that I progress. My sisters say, “Sarah, you have done everything, that is why you are now mostly content and do not know what to do next”, but I am searching for my next challenge, and I am happy to hear on opportunities where I might be able to add value.

What advice would you give young professionals thinking about joining the surveying profession?

When I authored my dissertation on diversity in real estate over ten years before, which was then published by the university as a short paper (linked here: diversity_op_030314_low-res.pdf (ucem.ac.uk)), I learnt the importance of authenticity.

It is also important to study and work hard, represent your client or employer well. Then, do not think too much and if you feel you can do a job, apply, and give it a go. The mistake I sometimes made was to not take care of myself and over think, try not to do that.

As in the Quran, one ought to live this life well and do what one can to contribute to society whilst taking care of ones after life, balance is important.

My life and Hajj have taught me we are travellers in this life. Your home, parents, siblings, husband/wife, children, friends, work, colleagues, status are not permanent. One ought to adopt a traveller mindset where one is happy with and without people, with more and with less.

With the sad demise of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, on a world platform we see the importance of faith and as I listened to the first tribute service held just after King Charles III’s first address it made me realise how similar the beliefs of people of faith are, we are mostly the same.

Surveying is a good profession, it put me in good stead and whilst mostly alone, I was able to stand on my own two feet very well. I like that I am mostly free of dependency on other people.

Good luck to anyone that wishes to join!