Dreams do come through, but for 25-year-old Mamadou Safayou Barry, he had to embark on a challenging 4,000km (2,500 miles) bicycle journey across West Africa with the goal of securing a spot at his dream university, Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar.
His journey started from Guinea in May with the hope of gaining admission at Egypt’s Al-Azhar, however, this expedition was plagued with encounters with Islamist militants and political upheavals. Along the way, he faced arrests and extreme heat, which tested his commitment to pursuing his educational aspirations at Al-Azhar University.
He explained that even though he couldn’t afford both an Islamic studies course and airfare to Egypt, he was willing to make the epic journey through Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Niger, and Chad due to the university’s esteemed reputation, according to the BBC.
Barry indicated that he was extremely happy when he was awarded a scholarship for his studies at Al-Azhar University upon reaching Cairo. Al-Azhar University is one of the oldest Islamic institutions of higher learning established in AD670. It stands as a globally significant institution for Sunni Islamic education.
The prestigious position of the university was the driving force behind the risky journey the Guinean father embarked on from home in pursuit of Islamic knowledge. But, it was marked by suspicion and challenges in several countries along the way. He faced formidable challenges while traversing Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, where frequent attacks by Islamist militants on civilians and recent political coups have created an atmosphere of significant instability.
He described the journey through these nations as exceptionally difficult due to the lack of security in the region. During his journey through Mali and Burkina Faso, Barry encountered a region marred by numerous problems and fearful inhabitants. He described being treated with suspicion by locals and often witnessing a strong military presence armed with heavy weaponry and vehicles.
He added that he faced unjust arrests and detentions three times, with two instances occurring in Burkina Faso and one in Togo. His fortunes changed for the better when he arrived in Chad after a journalist interviewed him about his experience. This led to his story being shared online, and generous individuals funded a flight for him to Egypt, sparing him from cycling through Sudan’s war-torn areas.
On September 5, he reached Cairo, where his unwavering determination earned him a meeting with Dr. Nahla Elseidy, the Dean of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar. Following their conversation, Dr. Elseidy extended a full scholarship to Barry, granting him a place in Al-Azhar’s Islamic Studies course.