Travel has always been a fundamental aspect of Islam, from the Hajj pilgrimage to the historic migration, the Hijra, travel is in the DNA of the Muslims. This is clear from the immense journeys of Muslims such as Ibn Battuta, which offer inspiration to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike to set off and see the world.
Most travellers are aware that getting lost is an inevitable part of the journey and it is in those time that one needs a guide to show them way. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is to Muslims the ultimate guide, who illuminates the most beautiful path one can take in all circumstances. His life is a well of wisdom open to all people, inexhaustible in its depth. This article will draw from that infinite well lessons that anyone can learn from and apply on their travels.
1. Travel with intention
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The first lesson that can be learned from the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ regards our intentions. The Prophet wisely counselled us that our deeds are judged by their intentions, it is narrated by Umar bin al-Khattab, May God be pleased with him, who said,
“I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, say: “Actions are judged by their intentions, so each man will have what he intended. Thus, he whose migration was to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger; but he whose migration was for some worldly thing he might gain, or for a wife he might marry, his migration is to that for which he migrated.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
For the traveller, there are many lessons that can be gleamed from this counsel, first and foremost to be reflective of the intentions underlying your actions. Prior to setting out on a journey, ask yourself why you are travelling, think of what it is you hope to achieve through your travels and whether the route you have taken matches up to those goals.
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We all have different motivations and expectations from our travels, to the best of our ability we should ensure that the motivations and intentions of our journey are aimed towards good ends. Once you have settled on a route set out with good intentions, for this will positively affect your state of mind as you embark on your travels.
2. Travel in the search of knowledge
Linked to this first lesson is the value the Prophet ﷺ placed on travelling in the search of knowledge. Abud-Darda reports that the Prophet said,
“If anyone travels on a road in search of knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise. The angels will lower their wings in their great pleasure with one who seeks knowledge, the inhabitants of the heavens and the Earth and the fish in the deep waters will ask forgiveness for the learned man. The superiority of the learned man over the devout is like that of the moon, on the night when it is full, over the rest of the stars. The learned are the heirs of the Prophets, and the Prophets leave neither dinar nor dirham, leaving only knowledge, and he who takes it takes an abundant portion.” (Abi Dawud 3641)
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Many of us may have encountered people who were profoundly influenced by their travels abroad, this growth of character is often a by-product of both the acquisition of experience and of knowledge. As the Prophet ﷺ suggests, those who travel in the search of knowledge are likely to encounter it, as life itself is a great teacher to those who are open to it!
3. Being Mindful on your Journey
Mindfulness is today a buzzword across various fields, from mental health to education, the benefits of being mindful are sworn on. Mindfulness is an ancient spiritual practice found in all the world’s major religions and the Prophet ﷺ was especially vigilant in maintaining mindfulness of Allah in his everyday life. Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A) narrates,
“One day I was behind the Prophet and he said to me, ‘Young man! I shall teach you some words (of advice): Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask Allah; if you seek help, seek help from Allah. (Tirmidhi)
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Travelling in many ways commands mindfulness, as you are often living for the day seeking out experiences to enjoy in that moment. It offers people the rare opportunity to escape the everyday concerns they have back home, which has a clear benefit for those wishing to develop mindfulness. Without everyday distractions lingering in our minds we are better equipped to remain focused on the present, and to be present is to be aware of God’s reality.
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This is a precious state that is often lost in hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, thus take advantage of the time and space you are afforded on your travels and get to know your Lord. Focusing on our internal state will also elevate our travels beyond an external experience towards a spiritual exercise, ensuring that your journey has both internal and external dimensions.
4. Travelling with a smile on your face
A lesson that is so simple to teach yet incredibly difficult to practice, is the Prophet’s ﷺ positive attitude and friendly demeanour. The Prophet was known to have worn a smile on his face in times of ease and struggle, as Abdullaah ibnul-Haarith, relates “I never saw anyone smile more than the Prophet” (At-Tirmidhi) the Prophet himself is reported to have said that “Every good deed is charity. Verily, it is a good deed to meet your brother with a cheerful face, and to pour what is left from your bucket into the vessel of your brother.” (al-Tirmidhī).
The exterior appearance of the Prophet was a testament to his internal reality, in that the faith and peace he had inside his heart translated into the cheerful and infections character which has made him so beloved in the hearts of his companions and in the collective memory of Muslims throughout the ages. For the traveller, the lesson to be learned here is to travel with a good heart which will translate into a friendly demeanour. When words are lost in translation a smile can be relied on as a universally understood symbol, one that has great currency worldwide and will more often than not be reciprocated as you endear yourself to those you encounter.
5. Treat people with kindness
Related to the above point is the Prophet’s advice on kindness, it is narrated from ‘A’isha, the wife of Muhammad, that our beloved Prophet said that,
“Kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty and it is not withdrawn from anything but it makes it defective. (Sahih Muslim)
One of the great joys of travelling strange and foreign lands is to encounter the simple gift of human kindness. This gift is best felt and most often experienced when it is reciprocated, as the Prophet Muhammad stated ﷺ “None of you will have faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” (Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī”). This could relate to any number of positive attributes that we wish for both ourselves and our brothers and sisters. Kindness is an emotion that encompasses so many positive emotions and characteristics, so be kind on your travels and expect to receive in return such kindness 😊
6. Not to get angry
Humayd ibn Abd ar-Rahman ibn Awf reports that a man once came to Prophet’s and asked,
“Messenger of Allah, teach me some words which I can live by. Do not make them too much for me, lest I forget.” The Messenger of Allah replied, “Do not be angry.” (Book 47, Number 47.3.11: Malik’s Muwatta).
The emphasis the Prophet placed on refraining from anger is especially relevant to the traveller, whose ability to remain calm and positive will be repeatedly tested on their journey. Anyone who has arrived in a country after a long journey, hot, tired and overwhelmed by the many challenges being faced can testify to the difficulty of remaining calm in such circumstances (especially when you are faced with a hundred loud and obnoxious taxi drivers when you first step out the airport!). To remain calm in such times is certainly a test of character, however being calm in such scenarios will undoubtedly serve you better that to lose your cool and let your temper overcome you.
7. Being responsible whilst travelling
Anas ibn Malik reported that a man asked the Prophet ﷺ, “should I tie my camel and trust in Allah, or should I leave her untied and trust in Allah?” The Messenger of Allah said, “Tie her and trust in Allah.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī).
The lesson to be learned here is that before we rely on others to help us we should have first relied on ourselves. Ensure that before you set off on a journey you have done research of the country you are travelling in. This is practical advice that may seem obvious, however often the simplest truths are the first to be overlooked. This does not mean one should become obsessed with planning every minute detail of their journey, becoming dismayed when you seem to have strayed off schedule. Anyone who has travelled will be quick to remind you that rarely does one travel without facing knocks, divergences and broken-down vehicles. Improvisation is unavoidable when travelling, however do not set yourself up to fail, rather be prepared for the experience and from then on enjoy the journey itself!
8. Moderation in all you do
The Prophet’s ﷺ frequently stressed the importance of observing moderation, the path he laid out for his followers was a middle path that avoids extremes, as stated, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. . . Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).
For the traveller, the Prophet’s advice points at the idea of maintaining balance in your journey both physically and mentally to ensure you are not worn out on your travels. The Prophet’s understanding of moderation was all encompassing, thus in every day matters the traveller should strive to maintain this moderation, with our wealth we should be neither extravagant (from fear we should exhaust our resources) nor tight fisted and stingy, which when travelling may lead to us missing out on experiences would benefit us greatly. To maintain moderation is certainly a great characteristic and one that any traveller should strive to uphold.
9. Experience awe and natures wonders
“And the earth – We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind, Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah ]. [Quran 50: 7-8]
The Qur’an frequently refers to nature being a sign of God’s majesty and presence for those who are willing to reflect. Another of the greatest aspects of travelling is to experience awe at the sight of natures wonders, whether that be unique landscapes, mighty mountains, flowing rivers, lakes or awesome waterfalls, seek out natures gifts along your journey. This could be as simple as rising early to experience sunrise or to stay up late and look out at the stars. The beauty is that many of God’s gifts are free to those willing to seek them out, as for those that require an admission fee, they are often worth the cost.
10. Environmental travelling
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People are becoming more and more conscious of their environmental impact in their day to day lives and this should also translate to their lives whilst travelling. The Prophet ﷺ around 1500 years ago was already acutely aware of the religious duty Muslims had towards the environment, as he stated,
“There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift [for which there is great recompense].” (Al-Bukhari)
Being environmentally responsible in your travels can be as simple as watching what you eat or being conscious of the waste you acquire on route. Perhaps the most obvious way to lessen your environmental impact is in your means of transport. For those with less time to travel, try to fly direct to your location rather than taking connecting flights. For those with more time why not split up your journey opting to take alternative means of transport along the way, such as buses, ferries or trains; though the journey may end up taking longer, you will have the to see and experience more along your way. Whatever the way you seek to lessen your environmental footprint know that even if it means you pay a little more finically for your journey you will be saving something much more precious than money, namely the earth upon which our journeys depend.
11. Travel to know humanity
Is the Qur’an Allah states, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you people and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” (49:13).
This verse has so much wisdom within it and may serve as an inspiration for anyone wishing to travel, especially to countries with cultures that one knows little about. Travel can be an antidote against ignorance of other cultures and peoples, which at its worst form can turn into prejudice. The Prophet ﷺ himself was firmly against any form of prejudice, in his last sermon he is reported to have stated that, “There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety”.
Never has there been a period in history in which it has been so easy to travel and come to “know one another” as the Qur’an commands. Learning about other cultures and peoples is one of the greatest benefits of travelling. The experience itself is transformative, for not only do we learn about others but we also learn about ourselves in the process.
12. Travel to know yourself
Just as we should travel externally to know different people and cultures, we should also make our journey an internal one to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of ourselves. A saying that appears across various traditions is that, “those who know themselves know their Lord”, Al-Mawardi relates from `A’isha that, “The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was asked: ‘Who among people knows his Lord best?’ He replied: ‘Whoever knows himself best.'” (Kashf al-Khafa (2:3430).
Travel is ultimately about discovery and this discovery can be made at many levels. One level of discovery occurs at the material level, in which we discover new people, places and countries, this discovery happens at the level of outer forms. A deeper level of discovery occurs at the internal level, whereby travelling externally leads to an internal transformation, this may be called self-discovery. This is linked to the highest form of discovery, for self-discovery is linked to discovery of the one who created the self, that is the discovery of our Lord. Therefore, the highest aim a traveller can aspire to is to travel internally in order to know first ourselves and ultimately our Lord. The best way to achieve this end is to follow in the blessed footsteps of our Prophet ﷺ who has laid out the clearest path back to our ultimate destination with Allah.
This list has sought to introduce a few ideas from the life of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that can be applied on our journeys. This is but a drop in the ocean of the immense pool of wisdom that can be accessed through the Prophet’s teachings. For those already travelling we hope it can help you along your way and for those thinking of setting of on a journey we hope it will inspire you to travel in the most beautiful way, the way of our beloved Prophet! Whatever your journey may be, know that in the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ you undoubtedly have the best of guides.