Some years ago, a good friend gave me the book "Into The Wild" by Jon Krakauer, as my traveling companion for the 27hrs flight from Singapore to Seattle. The moment I read the first page, I was transfixed and completed the book by the time I left Narita, Tokyo - way ahead of time. Fortunately, I had Sir Richard Burton's unexpurgated translation of "One Thousand and One Nights @ The Arabian Nights" for the rest of the journey.
A sleeve description of the book reads as follows: "In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandles. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. He took up residence at the ragged margin of our society, wandering across North America in search of raw, transcendent experience. His family had no idea where he was or what had become of him until his remains turned up in Alaska." It was McCandles' journey into the wild to find himself, as a reaction to the kind of life he was expected to live.
Such introspective journey, albeit not as dramatic, also resonates in Islam. We are encouraged to travel through this earth. In surah Al-Ankabut, Allah says: "Journey in the land, then behold how He originated creation" [29:20]. A striking example is the story of Prophet Musa (a.s.) who travelled far and wide to search for Khidr who had been favoured with divine knowledge. You can find the details enumerated in surah al-Kahf 18:60-82.
In another beautiful story about the spirit of traveling for knowledge, a man came to Abu Darda' while he was in Damascus. Abu Darda' asked him "What has brought you here, my brother?" He replied, "A hadith which you relate from the Prophet (s.a.w.). Abu Darda' asked, "Have you come for some other worldly need?" He replied, "No." "Have you come for business?" He said, "No." "You have come only to seek this hadith?" He said, "Yes."
Abu Darda' then said, "I heard the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) say: 'Whoever travels a path seeking sacred knowledge, Allah will place him on a path leading to Paradise. The angels lower their wings for the student of sacred knowledge, pleased with what he is doing. The creatures in the heavens and the earth seek forgiveness for the student of sacred knowledge, even the fishes in the water. The superiority of the religious scholar over the devout worshipper is like the superiority of the full moon over the other heavenly bodies. The religious scholars are the heirs of the prophets. The prophets leave no money as a bequest, rather they leave knowledge. Whoever seizes it has taken a bountiful share." (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, ibn Majah)
There is a colossal difference between traveling to savor different experiences, engaging lifestyles different from yours so that you are enriched by contrasting perspectives - as opposed to being a tourist, consumed by taking landmark Instagram photos or designer shopping. Its akin to another classic literature, The Odyssey, the Greek epic poem attributed to Homer, concerning the adventures and ordeals of the Greek warrior Odysseus after the fall of Troy as he struggles to return home and reestablish himself as the King of Ithaca. The Odysseus who left Troy, was not the same Odysseus who eventually arrived at Ithaca.
That is the effect of discovery and travel - you will be transformed. The Beloved Prophet (s.a.w.) commented on our human condition: "Be in this life as though a stranger or a traveller." [Bukhari] Our existence in itself is a journey - be it physical, mental, spiritual, emotional or intellectual - life is a journey manifested in different experiences, so don't make excuses for it. We are never static, and as far as this is our condition, we are always on a journey. Broadly speaking, we all are on a journey of returning 'Home."
Such journeys, even if not physical, forces us to leave our comfort zone - and that is a good thing. It makes us taste the richness that Life has to offer, open up our minds, acknowledge our vulnerabilities, see the beauty and ugliness of fellow mankind all at the same time, it keeps us on our toes, to be more conscious, to take calculated risks and helps in the maturity of the Self. Through it all, we will be humbled by His Majesty and be more grateful for our small share in it.
In another quotation from "Into The WIld," McCandles said: "My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”
Keep on traveling into the unknown, either physically to places, or by learning new things so your mind can be dazzled by various wonders.
To be charmed by Life is to have lived.