The benefits that motivate travelling are either running away from something or seeking out something, for the traveller is either bothered about something where he is staying, without which he would not aim to travel, or he has an objective and purpose in doing so.
Running away takes place because of worldly issues that have adverse effects on him, such as the plague and epidemics when they appear in a country, or out of fear because of sedition, a dispute or a hike in prices. The reasons for travelling are either general, as mentioned, or particular such as being targeted with personal harm in a town so that one runs away.
The reason for travelling may also be for matters detrimental to one’s religion such as being tried with prominence, money and a host of other material causes that prevent one from dedicating one’s time for the sake of Allah, thus preferring the life of an unknown person or a stranger to avoid wealth and status. And it may be that one is coerced to subscribe to a blameworthy innovation in religion or invited to take a public office which is unlawful to assume, and hence one flees from it.
Al-Ghazali captures [in the above passage] the essence of travel. One travels to avoid danger or discomfort, to
look for better conditions for one’s final destination, or simply to seek some other good. There is nothing
more iconic than the image of refugees coming from different religious, ethnic and national backgrounds,
trying to cross the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats. They ran away from war and poverty. Their plight does not end simply by reaching their new destination. If they survive the waves of the sea, the tide of xenophobia is awaiting them.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم sent two waves of early Muslims to Abyssinia to seek refuge because Muslims
were persecuted in Makkah. The Makkan idol worshippers were the first known Islamophobes. They tried unsuccessfully to poison the air between these Muslim refugees and the Negus of Ethiopia, their host.
Travelling, al-Ghazali adds, is sought either for worldly gains or for religious purposes. The latter can be divided into seeking knowledge or action. Knowledge covers personal practical ethics that can be acquired through travelling, but also the knowledge of geography which reflects the marvels of the earth.
As for action, it can be divided into acts of worship such as the formal Pilgrimage or the visitation of Makkah, Madinah and Jerusalem.
Today, People flock to Makkah and Madinah without hesitation, but not to Jerusalem because it is still under occupation. There is a strong scholarly argument encouraging Muslims to visit al-Aqsa Mosque because it is spiritually meritorious to do so. Imam Al-Shaf’i, founder of the legal school to which al-Ghazali belonged, said in one of his poems, extolling the merits of travelling: Travel, you will find recompense for what you leave behind And strive, for the pleasure of life is in working hard.
I have seen water stagnating when left still, Refreshing when flowing, if not it doesn’t taste well. Travelling may take place to avoid tribulations and unwanted personal roles that defy Allah’s plan for humanity. Al-Ghazali travelled to seek knowledge, but once he became the most famous scholar in the Muslim world, he left Baghdad in order to purify his heart from egotistic residues resulting from fame, money and power.
Something to ponder about if you are preparing a journey to Hajj, making Hijrah or if you are travelling abroad.
This excerpt is from our title ‘A Treasury of Ghazali – A Companion for the Untethered Soul‘
Read a sample of the book here!
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