We are often creatures of habit, with our daily lives and routines limited to a relatively small radius — that of home, school, work, and our own local neighborhood, culture, society, and community. While these are important centering points in our lives, they can be limiting and stifling if we do not ever make an effort to go beyond them. Traveling and seeing and experiencing new places gives an expansiveness to our lives, pushing out the walls that can make us feel confined. Travel expands our minds, our experiences, our connections, and can be spiritually transformative and incredibly inspiring. In the Qur'an, Allah encourages us to travel and reflect deeply on creation, and to ponder on the fate of those who came before us. Our history is replete with amazing stories of Muslim travelers who trekked the globe in search of adventure, religious knowledge, spiritual truths and sacred places. (For excellent reading, check out One Thousand Roads to Mecca by Michael Wolfe, a collection of travelers’ writings over the centuries describing their journeys to Hajj, or Muhammad Asad’s phenomenal autobiography on his journey to Islam and to Arabia, with a similar title, The Road to Mecca.)
Here are some of the many benefits of travel:
The human heart delights in beauty, and seeing beautiful sights in nature can touch the heart and connect it with the divine source of beauty, Allah. It is a Qur'anic injunction to travel and marvel at creation; in our awe of a stunning sunset or the brilliant night sky, our feeling of smallness before a mountain or the expansive sea, can we greater appreciate al-Musawwir, the Creator and Designer of all. These are messages from Allah the Most High about His perfection, His power and His beauty.
Have you not seen the ships speeding through the sea, carrying God’s provisions, so that He might show you some of His wonders? Herein, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are patient, grateful. (31:31)
And how many a message in the Heavens and the Earth which they pass by, yet they turn away from it! (12:105)
Say: Travel through the Earth and deeply observe how God did originate the creation; then God produces the next creation; surely God has power over all things. (29:19-20)1
Connecting with the righteous, past and present
Sometimes the amazing personalities of Islamic history that we learn about in books or lectures can seem like fictional characters from a distant, imaginary land. When we actually walk the streets that such great people walked, when we see the schools and places of worship they frequented, and when we visit their graves, do we more fully realize that these were real men and women who lived their lives doing wonderful things for the sake of Islam. It makes what seems like fanciful legend a reality, that we can take deep inspiration from into our own lives. One of my teachers said that it is from the right of the luminous scholars of our past that we not only learn and practice what they have taught, but that we visit where they are buried and pray for them.
Visiting the scholars and the righteous of our time can also be a profoundly inspiring experience. It is one thing to read about beautiful prophetic manners, or to hear about people deeply immersed in worship and remembrance of Allah, and another to actually see it in a living example in person. We should honor and love people of sacred learning and devotion, and ask them to pray for us and our children, and seek to benefit from their company whenever we are able.
Taking hope from history
We know many places in the Muslim world are currently in a state of disarray, feeling the aftershocks of colonialism, foreign invasion, corruption and numerous other factors. However when we visit sites of significance to Islamic history, we see both what once was, and what could be. In the majestic masjids that were built with such ihsan, in the exquisite complexity and sophistication of Islamic art, in the advanced hospitals, libraries and centers of learning that were so generously financed and developed, we see the heights of Islamic civilization and indeed, what we once again could be with the correct spiritual orientation. Knowing the richness of our tradition and its contributions gives us, and especially our children, a way out from a debilitating victim-mentality and helps us think well both of our past and our future.
Ridding ourselves of tribalism
Seeing, experiencing and interacting with people from varying ethnicities and cultures with different forms of language, dress, diet, norms, and etiquette, helps us not only to humanize others, but to enjoy the beauty in our differences. One culture or ethnic group is not by its nature any superior to another, and each has its merits and positives to be appreciated and honored. Our diversity is not to be mocked or dismissed, but rather to be celebrated as an expression of Allah’s perfection as the Creator and Fashioner. He Himself says, azza wa jal, calling on mankind to take heed:
Indeed We have created you from male and female and made you into races and tribes that you may know one another (not that you may despise one another). Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is All knowing and Aware. (49:13)
An American author said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
Keeping things in perspective
Allah encourages us, in the Quran, to travel through the lands and see and reflect on the fate of others who came before us. This is a sobering reminder for us, about heeding Allah’s message, and about the inescapable reality of death that we all will face. Contemplating on history also helps us keep things in perspective and put our own struggles into context. We begin to understand certain truths: that civilizations have their moments both of triumph and loss solely by God’s permission, and that believers have always faced immense trials and difficulties, which they must respond to with unwavering faith, dignity and perseverance.
Allah says in the Qur'an,
[...] Many a town We have caused to perish (while) it was unjust, so it is (now) fallen into ruin - and how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well-built? Do they then not travel through the Earth, so that their hearts gain wisdom and their ears thus learn to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the hearts in their chests. (22:45-46)
Do they not travel through the Earth, and deeply observe what was the end of those before them? (47:10)
If a wound has touched you, be sure a similar wound has touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that God may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks those who witness to truth. And God loves not those that do wrong. (3:140)
Appreciating our place and role
Being in a new place, shaken out of our usual routine and comfortable lifestyle, can allow us — as one Muslim travel blogger puts it — to cross-examine ourselves — to consider who we are outside of the norms that usually define us. It helps us greater appreciate what we have been granted in our usual lives, and to learn our own strength as we do without in the time of travel. It also gives us an opportunity for introspection, and to reflect on our purpose and the trajectory of our lives, refreshing our intentions and goals.
He it is who has spread out the Earth for you, and has traced out for you ways therein... (20:53)
Travel can be life-changing and spiritually rejuvenating. It can be a means of personal growth, forging new relationships, and appreciating the beauty Allah has placed in the world around us and its people. Find excellent travel companions and plan that trip!
May God bless us to be travelers in journeys enriching to the soul. Ameen!
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