The Travel of the believers
issue 28 - July/August 2015
Be it for pilgrimage or for searching knowledge, Muslims have a long record of traveling. Tharik Hussain reminds us why we should keep up this edifying activity and travel the world
I take off at every opportunity I can, be it with family, friends or alone, exploring, photographing and documenting interesting stuff in exotic destinations and taking the odd selfie to make friends jealous along the way. But as a Muslim travel Writer living in challenging times, I’ve come to see travel in a completely different light, as an education and spiritually trans¬formative experience. I also now understand why travel is encouraged by Islam. But what I don’t understand is the lack of Muslims willing to travel. And before you bombard me with your messages and selfies from Dubai and Sharm, let’s make clear that a package holiday in a touristic location where all your expec¬tations and creature comforts are met is not ‘travel’. That would be a holiday. I believe all Muslims should really travel, the proper independent stuff and here are eleven reasons why.
The Hajj or Umrah
Travel is integral to many ‘spiritual’ aspects of Islam. Most notably the pilgrimage of Hajj is one of the five fundamental pillars of the faith. Then there is also the recommended lesser pilgrimage, the Umrah. Both require Muslims to travel to Makkah, a journey that is viewed as much a transformative experience as the actual pilgrimage itself – something Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta and even Victorian explorer Richard Burton wrote about in their memoirs. The Hajj and Umrah also involve numerous rituals of motion and travel, such as the tawafs (initial and farewell circumambulations) around the Kaaba, the walk between Saf’a and Marwah, and the journeys to Mina, Mount Arafat and Muzdalifah. Each of these requires the pilgrim to meditate and reflect whilst moving.
Travel was openly encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad(s) who, amongst other things, saw it as an essential way to seek knowledge. Preserved narrations such as the oftcited ‘seek knowledge even unto China’ support this. The Prophet also experienced highly spiritual journeys himself such as the mystical ‘night journey’ or Meraj. Finally, many of the Prophet’s formative years were spent travelling with his family’s business caravans.
A travelling tradition
Muslims come from a long line of famous travellers transformed irreversibly by their experiences. This includes the world’s most travelled man, Ibn Battuta, who was born in Tangier, Morocco and travelled for 30 years after setting off for the Hajj aged only 21 (one might say he was the first ‘gap’ year student).
Muslim scholars such as al-Bukhari also deemed it important to travel and often covered great distances to acquire knowledge. Finally there are many prophets who embarked on monumental spiritual journeys that transformed their character and strengthened their inner resolve. The most famous of these is Musa’s journey (Moses) alongside al-Khidr.
The spirituality of Travel
“Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along a path” - this is a popular hadith about attachment to the material world and it is therefore no surprise that every spiritual tradition in Islam (and most other faiths) incorporates ‘wandering’ or ‘travel’ as part of the soul’s training. The wisdom behind this is to encourage detachment from the dunya (material world), and thereby develop a greater appreciation of the hereafter.
Love of God
Through travel we get to know God better, it’s that simple. I have had some of my most spiritual moments staring out across a mountain range, a desert,
lake, or even just humanity going about its daily existence. Travel makes the familiar unfamiliar to us and in doing so we come to better appreciate God’s creation. Throughout the Quran, man is asked to reflect on what has been created on earth and in the heavens – what better way to do that than through travel?
The death of ignorance and birth of humility
Nothing quite extinguishes ignorance like real life experiences. In an increasingly global world saturated by media, we find it easy to sit on one side of the world and judge people on the other. Using video, news articles and pictures it is easy to arrogantly believe we know a people or a place just by how they have been represented in the media. Travelling to places we have judged or thought we knew teaches us just how wrong we can be. Travel makes us see that actually we know very little.
Talk to anyone who has ‘travelled’, especially solo travellers and you will be blown away by their self-confidence, open-mindedness and how well they
seem to know themselves. Travel creates a better you, because it takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to ask questions about who you are, why you are and what you are. Travel allows you to cross examine yourself without the expectations of society, culture, religion and family. Those who have done this will tell you that nothing is more liberating than having only your own expectations. But be aware this can be quite scary the first time as you might suddenly realise that actually you don’t have that many expectations of your own.
Experience something ‘new’
The world is an amazing place full of amazing experiences waiting to be had. To not enjoy some of these whilst you’re here seems such a waste. In an age where travel is becoming increasingly cheap and methods of income ‘on the road’ to fund those travels increasingly flexible, few excuses remain to not go and see the world at least once. Those who don’t will never see a sunrise over an ancient man-made masterpiece like Macchu Picchu; they won’t ever listen to the silence of a natural wonder like the Sahara desert; nor will they taste the sweetness of a star fruit freshly shaken from its tree by Bangladeshi village children.
Appreciate what and who you have
We always take our parents, brothers, sisters and homes for granted, but spend a few months on the road and then taste your mother’s home cooking or listen to your father’s tedious stories of past. Come back after a month Eurorailing and see if your sister is actually as annoying as you thought or your older brother as overbearing as he seemed. ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ they say, but what that really means is you finally see what God has blessed you with.
Regain your faith in humanity
One day I am going to write a book about the kindness of strangers on my travels for those who were also born into a ‘world’ that seemed difficult to trust. It was travel that restored my faith in humanity.
From the gypsies in the hills of Tuscany who drove my family and I up a moun¬tain to catch the last bus, to Omar, the Turkish man who we fell in love with after he spontaneously took us on a road trip through rural Turkey, I have had beautiful encounters with strangers all over the world and come to realise
that actually people are amazing. I now know that the vast majority of human beings in the world are caring, wonderful and respectful people – the very embodiment of what it means to be ‘human’.
There is so much Islamic history just waiting to be unearthed by travelling. I am on my own journey doing just that and have already posted previously unheard tales about Europe’s forgotten Muslim heritage, like the Latin island where the lingua franca is Arabic or the story of the Christian boy who grew up to rule the Ottoman empire. By travelling to places significant in Islamic history, whether it be Madina or Cordoba in Spain, we come closer to our roots, our past and our heritage. It is only by knowing where we came from that we can truly know where we are travelling to.
Tharik Hussain is a Travel Writer & Photographer. He is also a Media & Sociology Teacher web:tharikhussain.co.uk
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