The Quran calls us to travel

The Quran calls us to travel

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

 

Throughout the Quran life is described as a journey, and knowledge and ignorance as light and darkness on its way (e.g. 6:122, 13:16, 24:35, 24:40, 27:86, 35:19-20, 37:5, 40:61, 84:18-20).

However, besides numerous references to this spiritual journey, special emphasis is also laid on physical travel.

The word ‘saiyr’ – which means travel or move (e.g. a planet is ‘sayyarah’) – with all its variations, appears in the Quran total 27 times. Many of its usages are in the formulation of ‘Do travel’, ‘Tell them to travel’, or ‘Do they not travel?’.

The Quran promotes travel as a potential pilgrimage, since during travel one passes by numerous ‘ayah’ or divine messages (31:31, 12:105, 22:46; cf. 45:3, 10:6). Also, man’s ability to travel is described as a special honour endowed to man as part of man’s exalted status above all natural Forces (17:61, 66, 70).

Travel, tour and navigation demand geographical and astronomical information as well as nautical, aeronautical and astronautical knowledge. Because scientific data about natural objects (explored messages of nature) give man orientation and power, they are described in the Quran as directions of paths, like landmarks and guiding stars:

And He it is who has set for you the stars that you may guide yourselves by them in the darkness of the land and the sea. We have detailed Our messages for a people who possess knowledge. 6:97

And He it is who has made the sea subservient …

And He has placed firm mountains on Earth, lest it sway with you, and rivers and paths, so that you might find your way,

And landmarks; and by the stars they are guided. 16:14-16

He it is who has made the Earth a cradle for you, and has traced out for you ways therein. 20:53

While thus encouraging travel in general, the Quran also strongly recommends travel when it has a specific, positive purpose: travel to trade, search, explore, visit, migrate, enjoy, learn, study and so on.

TRAVEL TO ‘READ’ DIVINE MESSAGES

The Quran promotes travel as a potential pilgrimage since during travel one passes by numerous ‘ayah’ or divine messages that declare God’s oneness and greatness (cf. 45:3, 10:6):

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

There is a call for travel in order to ‘read’ these messages by searching new information and experience-based knowledge and thereby to acquire wisdom:

Do they then not travel through the Earth, so that their minds gain wisdom and their ears thus learn to hear? For surely it is not the eyes that are blind, but blind are the minds which are in the foremost. 22:46

Translated here as ‘minds’, the word ‘quloob’ signifies ‘sites of intellect or understanding’ (as defined in 6:25), whereas the word ‘sadr’, translated here as ‘foremost’, has a metaphoric connotation, and – since in Arabic it has the connotation of chest, top, foremost or upper part of anything – indicates brain as well.

TRAVEL FOR TRADE AND COMMERCE

The Quran encourages travel for trade and commerce – which generates mutual profit and benefit through exchange of commodities and export-import – while depicting it as a great way to get some of the divine blessings:

Your Sustainer is He who causes the ships to move on for you through the sea so that you may go about in quest of some of His bounty: verily Most Merciful is He towards you. 17:66

And in the ships that speed through the sea with what benefits man … there are messages for a people reasoning. 2:164

Then, once the contact prayer is ended, disperse through the Earth and go in quest of some of divine Bounty, and remember God frequently, so that you may succeed. 62:10

TRAVEL TO EXPLORE NEW HORIZONS

Another emphasized purport of travel is searching and exploring new lands and areas, new possibilities, potential resources and richness of various cultures:

And on that one sees ships ploughing through the waves, so that you might go forth in quest of some of His bounty, and thus have cause to be grateful. 16:14

And you see the ships cleave through it that you may seek of His Bounty and that you may be thankful. 35:12

It is God who has subjected to you the sea that the ships may run thereon by His command, that you may seek of his Bounty, and that you may be thankful. 45:12

TRAVEL FOR RECREATION

Travel even for simple pleasure, in the form of recreational tourism, is also encouraged:

He it is who enables you to travel by land and sea; until when you are in the ships, and they sail on with them in a pleasant breeze, and they rejoice. 10:22

Lawful for you is all water-game, and all the catch of the sea, as enjoyment for you and for those who travel. 5:96

And among His signs is that He sends the winds with glad tidings, and to give you a taste of His grace, and so that the ships might sail by His command, and that you might go about in quest of some of His Bounties, that you may be thankful. 30:46

TRAVEL TO LEARN FROM VISITING NEW PLACES

The Quran encourages travel that aims to visit new places as a means of learning:

Do they then not travel through the Earth, so that their minds gain wisdom and their ears thus learn to hear? 22:46

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

TRAVEL TO IMMIGRATE

We are asked to fight or flight. Fight against oppression or, if this is not an option, flight to seek refuge elsewhere. When we fail to freely express our opinions or practise our decent values in a particular country, we should try to emigrate to another which is more suitable for the purpose. Thus travel with intent of immigration, whenever essential, is prescribed, while apathy and self-harm are condemned:

Was God’s Earth not spacious enough that you could emigrate in it? 4:97

Those who have emigrated for God because they were oppressed, We will grant them good in this world, and the reward of the End will be greater, if they knew. 16:41

TRAVEL TO STUDY EVOLUTIONARY SCIENCE, PALAENTOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY

One of the highlighted purposes of travel is searching, exploring and learning about origin and evolution of Universe, life and man:

Do they not see how God originates creation, then reproduces it: surely that is easy for God.

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

TRAVEL TO STUDY ARCHAEOLOGY AND HISTORY

Over and over again the Quran emphasizes the importance of travel with a purpose to study archaeology and the history of nations and humankind in general, including causes of rise and fall of previous peoples and civilizations:

Do they not travel through the Earth, and deeply observe what was the End of those before them? 47:10

Have they not travelled through the Earth and deeply observed the consequences for those who were before them? 40:82 Please refer to similar statements in 35:44 and 40:21.

TRAVEL TO LEARN FROM THE PAST

Then we are invited to ‘travel through the Earth’ so that we can learn lessons from the past. What happened to all those great powers and civilizations of the past? One needs to travel, both physically and conceptually, to search and explore the history and the driving forces behind it:

Say: Travel through the Earth and deeply observe how was the End of the rejectors. 6:11

Ways of life have passed away before you. So do but travel through the Earth and deeply observe how was the End of the rejectors. 3:137 Similar verses are e.g. 16:36 and 27:69.

The Quran asserts that the cause of the causes of the decline and fall of a civilization is people’s rejection of God’s oneness – expressed as their denial of the unity of nature and the unity of humanity. This denial leads to the rejection of human’s ultimate responsibility for his conscious actions, and this, in turn, leads to cognitive and moral bankruptcy – i.e. unscientific attitude to nature and life, and subsequent socio-economic and political chaos – and so to the downfall of communities and civilizations:3

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have earned, and so He will give them a taste of some of their deeds, in order that they may turn back.

Say: Travel through the Earth and deeply observe what happened in the end to those before you: Most of them worshipped others besides God.

Set then your face steadfastly towards the system which is straight. 30:41-43

Here the growing pollution and destruction of our natural and social environment (‘Corruption has appeared on land and sea’), so seriously demonstrated in our time, is predicted as a consequence of man’s self-destructive – because utterly materialistic – inventiveness and frenzied activities (‘because of what men’s hands have earned’) which now threaten the human existence itself with previously unimaginable ecological and socio-economic disasters: an outcome of man’s oblivion of God and, hence, of moral values, and his delusion that ‘material progress’ is the only thing that matters.3

We are asked to learn lessons from history of the extinct civilizations who likewise worshipped material comfort, ego and power, as well as worshipped various false idols like messengers, avatars and other sanctified creatures (‘Most of them worshipped others besides God’). They thus lost harmony with natural laws and moral values – which are based on the unity of nature and the unity of humanity and which have their ultimate foundation on God’s oneness – and, as a consequence, destroyed themselves.

A CALL OF CHEER FOR THE TRAVELLER

However, the Quran also positively reminds the traveller, who is wandering through the pages of history, that – as rain vivifies a barren land – man’s conscious effort can as easily create a civilization out of ruins:

Was it not a lesson for them, how many generations We annihilated before them, in whose dwellings now they do walk about? Certainly there are messages in this: Will they not then hear?

Do they not see that We drive the water to the barren land, then We bring forth thereby crops of which their livestock and they themselves eat; will they not then see? 32:26-27

SUMMARY

Throughout the Quran life is described as a journey, and knowledge and ignorance as light and darkness on its way (e.g. 6:122, 13:16, 24:35, 24:40, 27:86, 35:19-20, 37:5, 40:61, 84:18-20).

However, besides numerous references to this spiritual journey, special emphasis is also laid on physical travel.

The word ‘saiyr’ – which means travel or move – with all its variations, appears in the Quran total 27 times. Many of its usages are in the formulation of ‘Do travel’, ‘Tell them to travel’, or ‘Do they not travel?’.

The Quran promotes travel as a potential pilgrimage, since during travel one passes by numerous ‘ayah’ or divine messages (31:31, 12:105, 22:46; cf. 45:3, 10:6). Also, man’s ability to travel is described as a special honour endowed to man as part of man’s exalted status above all natural Forces (17:61, 66, 70).

While thus encouraging travel in general, the Quran also strongly recommends travel when it has a specific, positive purpose, e.g.:

  • Travel to ‘read’ divine messages (31:31, 12:105, 22:46);
  • Travel for trade and commerce (17:66, 2:164, 62:10);
  • Travel to explore new horizons (16:14, 35:12, 45:12);
  • Travel for recreation (10:22, 5:96, 30:46);
  • Travel to learn from visiting new places (22:46, 31:31);
  • Travel to immigrate (4:97, 16:41);
  • Travel to study evolutionary science, palaentology and anthropology (29:19-20);
  • Travel to study archaeology and history (47:10, 40:82, 35:44, 40:21); and
  • Travel to learn from the past (6:11, 3:137, 16:36, 27:69, 30:41-43).
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