11 reasons why every Muslim should travel

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As a Travel Writer I’ve come to see travel as much more than just the opportunity to get away from the mundane. My Muslim heritage has taught me that travel is actually an education with the potential to transform us at a deep and spiritual level, if we allow it to do so. It’s why travel is actively encouraged in Islam – even our ritual obligations, such as fasting and prayer can be postponed or collapsed to make travel easier.

1234981_10151562536375493_2076109999_nBut before I continue with this post, let’s be clear about the term travel. I am not talking about heading off to a five star resort in Dubai or Sharm el Sheikh where all our expectations and creature comforts are met. That would be a holiday. I’m talking about really travelling, the proper independent stuff that takes you out of your comfort zone, brings you up close and personal with the realities of another culture and society, and makes you reflect in ways you simply cannot lying on a beach sipping a ‘halal’ Mojito safe in the knowledge that security will ensure no pesky locals bother you. Even if the latter is more your look, try reflecting on these eleven aspects of Islamic culture that make clear the power of travel:

1. The Hajj (or Umrah) 

Travel is one of the integral aspects of the Islamic pillar of Hajj, when Muslims are required to travel to Makkah, for a transformative experience. If you’ve never been, a glance at the works of Muslim travellers like Ibn Battuta and even Victorian explorer’s like Richard Burton makes clear the power of a journey to the holy city. The Hajj and Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) also involve numerous rituals of motion and travel, such as the tawafs (initial and farewell) around the Ka’ba, the walk between Saf’a and Mar’wah, and the (Hajj only) journeys to Mina, Mount Arafat and Muzdalifah. Each of these demanding the pilgrim meditates and reflects whilst in motion.Malaga 061

2. The Prophet

Travel was openly encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad who, amongst other things, saw it as an essential way to seek knowledge. Preserved narrations such as the oft-cited “seek knowledge even unto China” support this. The Prophet also experienced highly spiritual journeys himself including the mystical ‘night journey’ or Meraj in which he ascends through the Seven Heavens, meets the prophets of before and receives instruction from God about the daily prayers. Later, when life in Makkah became too dangerous the Prophet encouraged emigration for his followers, and emigrated himself to Medina. Even during his formative years, the Prophet spent a great deal of time travelling with his family’s business caravans all over the Middle East. These travels would later have a profound impact on his ability to respect, tolerate and empathise with difference.

3. A travelling tradition

IMG_6619Muslims 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 in 1325, aged only 21. Muslim scholars often covered great distances to acquire knowledge like the Sunni Muhaddith, Muhammad al-Bukhari who collated his volumes of hadith through extensive travels across the Muslim lands. Then there are the prophets who embarked on monumental spiritual journeys that transformed their character and strengthened their inner resolve, like that of Musa (Moses) alongside al-Khidr.

4. The spirituality of Travel

“Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler 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 to the dunya (material world), i.e. make it ‘strange’ to the spirit, and thereby develop a greater appreciation of the hereafter. Following his spiritual crisis, the great medieval theologian Abu Hamed Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Ghazali – often called the ‘Proof of Islam’ – embarked on just such a journey.

5. Love of God

IMG_6068Through 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 Qur’an verses ask man to reflect on what has been created on earth and in the heavens – what better way to do that then on the road?

6. The birth of humility 

1385628_10151640191810493_1818417409_nNothing 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 media has represented them. Yet the very meaning of ‘media’ is that it is in the middle of reality and a mere representation of it. It is not the reality. Travelling to places we have judged or thought we knew is the best way to realise this, because it teaches us just how wrong we can be and addresses our ignorance. Travel makes us see that actually we know very little.

7. Know thyself 

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, Bristol en route Budapest 02-01 (7)why you are and what you are. Muslims believe there will come a time when one will stand alone in front of their Creator and be cross examined. 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.

8. 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. IMG_7181In an age where travel is becoming increasingly cheap, and information on how to do so safely widely available, few excuses remain to not 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 shaken from its tree by Bangladeshi village children.

9. 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 boring stories of old. Come back after a month Euro-railing 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 fond’ they say. What that really means is you finally appreciate what you have been blessed with.

10. Regain your faith in humanity

One day I am going to write a book about the kindness of strangers on the road for those who, like me were also born into a ‘world’ that seemed difficult to trust. It was travel that regained my faith in humanity. IMG_7250

From the gypsies in the hills of Tuscany who drove my family and I up a mountain 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. Growing up in 1980s inner city London, that was difficult to imagine. I now know that the vast majority of human beings in the world are caring, wonderful and respectful people.

11. Islamic history

There is so much Islamic history just waiting to be unearthed and bIMG_5968y travelling to places significant in Islamic history, whether it be Medina or Cordoba in Spain, we come closer to our roots, our past and our heritage. It is only by knowing where we came from, can we truly know where we are travelling to.

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10 Replies to “11 reasons why every Muslim should travel”

  1. Assalaamu ‘Alaikum,

    Beautiful article. How do you fund your travels and can you give advice to others to enable them to travel and travel more frequently please?

    Look forward to your response

    1. Salam Billy. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive, especially independent travel. In fact budget travel is one of the features of independent travel that makes it more interesting. Travel should be about the places you go and the people you meet rather than the expenditure. For example most independent travellers stay in accommodation which is very cheap and offers the opportunity to meet other interesting travellers. I have had some of my best experiences and met amazing people in backpackers hostels all over the world and love staying in them when I travel alone, they take a bit of getting used to but once your in tune with the ‘go with the flow’ atmosphere, it becomes a really attractive feature of your stay.

      Depending on where you live, the rise in budget airlines should also make travel easier now. We often benefit from this being based in London where a lot of these airlines pass through.

      Another way to make the most of travel is to go away for longer and move around when you are there, don’t just stay in one place. Firstly you reduce your carbon footprint and the big initial flight costs and secondly by moving around using local transport such as trains and buses, you save money and really immerse yourself in local culture. This also means you can cover several countries in one trip if planned well.

      Finally (for now as I sense a feature coming on), grab a decent independent traveller’s guide book and do the research before you leave. The really good ones will tell you where to stay, eat, and visit on any budget. This will make the biggest difference as you will know how much to budget for before you leave and not get caught out when you are there.

      I could go on but will save it for a post I think! However if you really want personalised advice send me a message through my ‘about’ page and I will try to help.

      I have been travelling since I was a student and learned to travel on a budget by reading and researching and that’s really how I continue to fund much of my independent travels even now.

      The biggest piece of advise though is to believe you can do it. Trust The world a bit more but don’t be naive. Do the research. For tips on that, get in touch. Hope that helps

  2. Assalamu alaikum, Tharik. These are some very valid and important points you’ve made, and I completely agree with you that Muslims should travel more (and yes, holidays are different 🙂 ). Traveling also gives us a chance to represent Islam. My husband always tell me that everything we do in public whilst traveling, each word spoken, and how we interact with people reflect directly on Islam (both my husband and I are visibly Muslims with his beard and my hijab). So we try to go out of our way to make good impressions and educate people we meet on our trips (we almost always meet so many lovely strangers who ask genuinely about Islam and Muslims).

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