Big Zuu: My relationship with faith was up and down at time of Mecca pilgrimage

TV chef and rapper Big Zuu has said his first visit to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, for a new documentary came at a time in his life when his relationship to his faith was “up and down.”

The TV star, 28, real name Zuhair Hassan, was born and raised in London with a mother from Sierra Leone and a father from Lebanon, and said he did not grow up following all the rules of Islam.

In the programme he performs a pilgrimage, called Umrah in Islam, during the holy month of Ramadan and found it a profoundly affecting experience.

He said: “It was really emotional, I learned a lot about myself and it was something that I feel like I needed in life.”

He added: “I decided to do the documentary for a combination of things. It was at a time in my life where my relationship with my faith was very up and down.

“So I think exploring that was something I wanted to be able to do. You really see me change over the course of the documentary and that was a real life change, I still carry that with me to this day.

“I’m very lucky that such a poignant moment in my life was able to be captured. I hope it will inspire others.

“There’s definitely been a big change in terms of my spirituality since the pilgrimage. I think it made me become closer to God. Sometimes with the parameters of religion, you don’t understand it until you go through it.

“I didn’t grow up following all the rules of Islam, I didn’t follow every single strict regimen that you were supposed to do. So going through the steps required to perform Umrah and the discipline it gave me, that is what I loved the most about it.”

However, the chef said there were challenges along the way, including the requirement to cut his hair.

He said: “Cutting my hair was definitely the number one challenge in my mind.

“What it taught me was that vanity is such a real thing because I cared so much about my Ihram (the spiritual clothing worn on pilgrimage) and cutting my hair.

“Those are the two things I should care about the least. I’m so used to focusing on my image and how I look.

“I’m a humble person but I like to look nice. So in that moment I was thinking ‘is my towel going to fall down, is my head going to look mad when I cut my hair?’

“All of these things were going through my mind and when I got there and those are the most minor things.

“My hair is my power. Especially as a black man, your hair is your power, and I had to let go of that identity and realise that I’m doing this for a higher purpose.

“I’m cutting my hair to show that I am one with everyone. We’re all the same.”

Big Zuu said he hopes the documentary will shed light on different perspectives on religion in society.

He said: “Especially in the public eye or in broadcasting, I feel like sometimes, when you think of Islam, you think of a Sheikh in religious clothing who is very humble.

“And that definitely represents a part of Islam but it comes in different shapes and sizes – different people, different ideologies, there are so many different sides to it. I feel like it’s good to have that representation.

“With my being in the music and entertainment world, you might not associate Islam with me. And I think what was good about doing this documentary is that people might be able to look at me in a different light.”

Big Zuu Goes To Mecca will air on Sunday April 14 at 9pm on BBC Two and iPlayer.