To celebrate the release of my new favourite product, Marryam’s gorgeous world map wall decal for Life Of My Heart, this post is about a wonderful article I read about journeying in Islam, especially from the Sufi tradition.
Islam has a beautifully rich history and tradition of journeying and wandering, from the Prophet’s seclusion in the cave of Hira to the hijrah and many other instances.
This article, written by James Winston Morris and titled ‘He moves you through the land and sea’, begins by stressing the importance of the centrality of Allah swt in any journeying, reminding us that we do not move, but that it is always Allah swt who moves us, as in the verse:
He is the one who causes you all to move on the dry land and the sea… (10:22)
One of the first things Morris does is break down the usage of ‘journeying’ in the Qur’an (excluding hajj and pilgrimage) into the 4 different root words used:
1: Sara/Sayr – ‘Going’ or ‘Moving’ in a general sense, the most frequently used at 27 times. Many of them are used as in the verse above to refer directly to Allah swt moving or transforming things.
The longer form that we love so much that we put it on our wall decal, “travel through the earth and see…” is itself used in different forms 14 times in the Qur’an! It is used more than any other phrase on journeying in all its forms.
Such is the importance of travel, and mindfulness in your travels, as recommended by Allah swt in this verse:
Half of the phrasings for this form are in the imperative and the other half are in a reproachful form as in “Have they not travelled through the earth and seen the end of those who…?”.
So as I see it, both to encourage people to travel and the others to remind us of the importance while travelling, of being aware of the lessons in the world around us. Travelling is not just for pleasure and enjoyment, but to help us grow, and the most important way for us to grow is to become closer to God.
2: Safar / Safara – travelling with a purpose or destination in mind. This form is used 12 times in the Qur’an, and although it apparently is the now go to verb to describe the sufi spiritual journey, Ibn ‘Arabi disliked using it as such because the focus of the word is on our intentions and goals as humans, to the product of our own limited intentionality, which gives it a narrower definition that the other words used.
3: Salaka / Suluk – travelling a road, not necessarily in the correct direction. This root occurs 12 times in the Qur’an, and frequently used to highlight God’s active role in guiding the destiny of humanity.
4: Saha /Sihaya – wandering and solitary devotions. This root and its derivatives are apparently used 3 times in the Qur’an but all in prominent and deep contexts, used to describe both the good and the bad, as in:
So wander in the earth for four months, and know that you-all cannot get away from God…! (9:2)
After reading that I am once again reminded just how deep and complex the Arabic language is. It’s crazy!
So wandering or journeying appears to be pretty important in the Qur’an, but what is the purpose of this travelling?
Further on in the article Morris states how Ibn ‘Arabi emphasises that which makes journeying/wandering (suluk) so important in the human condition is the opportunity and burden of choice and responsibility, as for only in the human and the jinn does such journeying take place in two dimensions: while they are journeying in some form in the physical realm, they are also journeying in the spiritual realm either closer or further from Allah swt.
And it is the latter one which is the more important, but an important facilitation for it is the former.
Of course we also travel in other dimensions while travelling, as many people tend to grow emotionally or in their relationships, but here the focus is on the spiritual journey, rather than emotional.
Morris also discusses the spiritual act of seclusion through solitary wandering (sa’ihun) – those who travel in isolation seeking the closeness to God, as perhaps Prophet Muhammad pbuh used to do in the cave of Hira.
Ibn ‘Arabi distinguishes between the two stages of this solitary wandering: the first is the assumption that one must withdraw from other company and wander to come closer to Allah, and the second is that travelling is an illusion, as it contains an assertion of motion (of themselves moving), and contains the pretense that the motion is theirs and not God’s. But one must experience the first before assuming they understand the second!
The emphasis on journeying for Ibn ‘Arabi is to help us truly understand the Compassion of Allah swt, not through lip service (taqlid) but through deep personal experience painfully acquired through life’s trials and tribulations.
This is something that speaks quite strongly to me as I experienced difficulty when travelling alone, but I have long felt that the experience brought me closer to God as well as helping me to grow significantly, and I look back on those hardships as some of the most rewarding in my life.
This reminds me of a hadith regarding intention while travelling:
Verily, deeds are only with intentions. Verily, every person will have only what they intended. Whoever emigrated to Allah and His Messenger, then his emigration is for Allah and His Messenger. Whoever emigrated to get something in the world or to marry, then his emigration is for whatever he emigrated for. – Hadith
And this serves as yet another reminder to me that we should practice mindfulness with our travel and intention to travel, as a way to get closer to God, and that we should not avoid hardship – we need to actively get ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to experience this incredible thing known as life 🙂