Nabil Abdulrashid

Nabil Abdulrashid

A finalist in Britain's Got Talent 2020, Nabil Abdulrashid was born in London but raised in Northern Nigeria, then privately schooled in the UK. His set covers being a middle-class educated man yet simultaneously a street smart urban youth and a black Muslim in South London.
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'I'm quite a loner, which is weird because I'm a comedian'

Nabil Abdulrashid on The Pilgrimage

Comedian Nabil Abdulrashid has taken part in a 364km (225-mile) trek through Portugal for the new series of BBC Two’s Pilgrimage. Carrying their own backpacks and sleeping in hostels and a campsite, he and other celebrities followed a 15-day holy route to the city of Fatima, where in 1917 three local shepherd children experienced several apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Here the stand-up, and practising Muslim, talks about his experience…

Did you experience any revelations about yourself or your faith?

No, I mean, I was pretty much ‘bags fully packed’ in the boat that I'm sailing. There was no major shift in my mindset as a person of faith.


Did you have to prepare in advance for the pilgrimage?

Yeah. I'm quite a big guy. I was bigger before we went on the pilgrimage, so I had to really work on my cardio. I knew that amount of trekking would be difficult, so I had to go on walks every day just to prepare myself and break in a pair of hiking boots. Hiking has never been one of my favourite activities.

Do you think that helped?

No, I weigh over 25 stone! Climbing Bom Jesus do Monte [a shrine accessed by a 116-meter  (381ft) flight of stairs], I remember that day very, very well. Oh, god, that was probably the turning point where, after we did that, the rest of the treks weren't really a problem. It was my threshold.

Once I broke past that, physically, it wasn't so demanding anymore. It was demanding, but not as bad as it had been previously.


What was the biggest challenge you faced during this pilgrimage?

I'm quite a loner, which is weird because of what I do for a living, but I like to have my moments of peace so to not have any privacy and be around people consistently was tough. You never realise how much you enjoy silence until you're with people that don't stop talking.

Also not having easy access to the kind of food I can eat. As a Muslim, I eat halal or kosher and Portugal is like Pork Central, which was also challenging.

Did you find that having spent those couple of weeks with all these people, you built up a tolerance, that would make it easier for you to spend time with lots of people in the future?  Or did it just confirm that actually you just love your own space?

I think it's a bit of both. I've built up my tolerance for people, especially overly exuberant people, and it did make me appreciate my moments of solitude and silence even more.

What was your highlight?

There are two. One highlight was finding a mosque in Coimbra, because in Portugal, historically Muslims were forcefully kicked out of the country and, there is a very horrible history there, so to go to a city and see other Muslims, was nice.

It was nice to go into a mosque after being so far away from my place of worship. We visited so many churches and cathedrals, so to finally come to a simple mosque was one of the highlights. For me, it was very emotional. I don't know why, but it was.

Another highlight for me was when we got to Fatima, because we finally came to the end of this long journey, but the real highlight was when I saw people in our group who weren't initially religious when we left, have a religious experience and appreciate faith. So, it was nice, even though I didn't have that spiritual experience.

Did you find the experience emotional?

Yes, because you're around people who you've never met before, and then you're with them every day and you almost become like a family. And then all of a sudden, you have to separate.

Islamically, we're taught that we should live life as travellers, so for me it was almost like a reiteration of a time old Islamic lesson that we're only in this world for a short time.


Were you surprised by your reaction to any situatiom?

I had an experience in a mosque, which surprised me, I don't know why I had that. It happens from time to time.

I'm not an emotional guy but when I prayed in the mosque, I don't know what it was; maybe my soul had missed home because as a Muslim, the mosque is your home, and I was separated from that for a long time. And I missed it because I was in all these places of worship that are foreign to me.

Catholicism is the polar opposite to Islam in that we don't have statues in a mosque, we don't have pictures. It's against our faith to do so.

So after going to all these big, grandiose, golden, ostentatious, very well decorated buildings and having no religious experience there, then visiting the mosque which by comparison was a tiny little room with just a couple of Arabic verses on the wall, that's where I felt my emotional connection. That's where I felt it.

I also felt it when we were in the woods, when we were with nature. It was beautiful, my best night; the best night's sleep I had was in a tent in the woods. I felt closer to Godliness in nature. And I think that's something we miss out on here in the UK and that's something that I miss because when I was a little kid in Nigeria I grew up on a farm, so it was something special from those days for me.

Is your faith something you have previously felt comfortable openly discussing?

I'm not shy, I'm a Muslim, and I'm proud of it. And I'm not shy discussing my faith or spirituality with anyone as long as they come in with an open mind; I'm not going to sit down with someone who intends to mock my faith.

I think, to some degree, that I represent or talk about it on every single platform that I'm given.

Has the experience changed or increased your faith? Explain

It kept everything as it was. It was interesting though to see Europeans practising a faith because you don't see that in England.   Whereas in Portugal, many of the Portuguese go to church, and that was mind blowing for me, coming from a secular country like England.

Since returning home from the pilgrimage, have you felt  a newfound interest in other religions?

I've always had an interest in other people's religions. As children, we weren't raised in a strict religion. It was only as I grew older that my faith kind of solidified. I’m culturally Muslim, but I've had Jewish people in my family and then they married Muslims.

My family when I was growing up, never forced me to go to the mosque, or made me pray. But we had all kinds of books in the house, so as a kid I grew up reading Jewish literature, Christian literature, even books on Hinduism and Sikhism.

We had a really big library in Nigeria. So, I grew up reading about all the religions, but never really practised any of them, but as I grew older, I kind of came into my own understanding of Islam.

You spent two weeks with a group of strangers. Did you learn anything new about yourself through the experience?

Yeah, I definitely did. It's interesting to see what your limits are, when it comes to certain things and to see how patient you are. I actually was more patient than I thought I would be, which I'm relieved about.  And I left having made no enemies and got on with everyone. And so, I think that was quite a positive, reassuring thing.


What do you hope Pilgrimage viewers will take away from watching you take part in this series?

I hope they will have a broader perspective of history of the region. I hope when they see what faith has done historically for so many nations, giving them an identity, giving them something to rally behind, they'll learn something. I hope that I dispel any misconceptions there are about Islam, because that's always good to do. I hope everyone gains something positive from it.


Describe your feelings/emotions when you reached the end of the Pilgrimage and arrived in Fatima?

Relief. I didn't have any emotional investment in the whole event because it's not holy for me. It was nice to see the effect it had on other people.

Would you do another pilgrimage?

I want to do the Hajj and I want to do that very soon. I think whatever faith you practise; a pilgrimage is important.

How would you summarise your experience?

It was exhausting, eye opening and fun.

• The Pilgrimage: The Road Through Portugal starts on BBC Two at 9pm tomorrow, with all three episodes then on iPlayer

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Published: 6 Apr 2023


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