Of the things that Muslims are permitted to enjoy in this life, travelling is usually somewhere near the top of their bucket list. There are several reasons why a Muslim might decide to travel, some of them being more encouraged in Islam than others. In the Qur’an, Allah (‘a) informs Muslims of a few particularly important reasons for which they should travel. There’s no doubt that paying attention to these reasons would lead to anyone’s journey being a much more rewarding experience than it otherwise would be.
So what are these reasons? Of course, the most obvious one is to fulfill one of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj (major pilgrimage). ‘Umrah, or the minor pilgrimage, is mentioned and encouraged in the Qur’an as well. In 29:20, Allah (‘a) commands Prophet Muhammad (s) to tell those who need to experience the āyāt (signs) of Allah to “travel through the land and observe how He began creation.” This can be interpreted as encouragement to travel to experience the natural marvels of the world.
Another reason for which Allah (‘a) specifically encourages travel is to visit historical monuments and sites. This one often goes unnoticed. In 6:11, Allah (‘a) once again commands the Prophet (s) to encourage those who need to experience the āyāt (signs) of Allah to travel, but this time they should travel to “observe how was the end of the deniers.” Earlier in the same passage (6:6), Allah (‘a) raises the question: “Have they not seen how many generations We destroyed before them which We had established upon the earth as We have not established you? And We sent [rain from] the sky upon them in showers and made rivers flow beneath them; then We destroyed them for their sins and brought forth after them a generation of others.”
The most ancient human civilizations understood that very few things could express their power and prestige as well as monuments, and this is true. Even today, despite all our advances, we’re still awed by the size of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the beauty of the Taj Mahal, etc. And yet, where are the rulers and dynasties who built these magnificent structures? Where are the empires that these monuments symbolize?
If a traveler really reflects on these questions (and on 6:6 of the Qur’an), it may take away some of the thrill of hustling themselves all the way to Giza or Agra; but at the same time, and especially for a Muslim, it serves as a powerful reminder that those who try to demonstrate their own greatness while denying the greatness of Allah (‘a) by disbelieving in Him and/or disobeying Him will be given respite until they can build these monuments, but ultimately they will perish and their monuments will be left behind as a reminder that humanity is nothing in comparison to Allah’s greatness.
Of course, a Muslim (let alone a non-Muslim) doesn’t have to think about any of this at all – it’s perfectly possible (and unfortunately very common) to travel all over the world for the sole purpose of enjoying oneself. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying one’s travel experience as much as possible, especially when travelling with family and friends. But if Allah (‘a) tells us that there is so much more we could get out of that experience, why would we not want that? Forget Air Miles reward miles – the real way to get rewards out of traveling is right there in the Qur’an!
So, how does this work? First of all, make it a priority to travel to places that have a rich history, and there are plenty of them in the Muslim-majority countries that many Muslims come from (Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.) as well as in Europe and elsewhere. Secondly, consciously make the intention (and make sure it’s sincere!) that one of your main reasons for traveling are to reflect on the historic monuments of once-great civilizations that have now perished, as encouraged in the Qur’an itself. (And just like that, your journey is suddenly an act of ‘ibādah (worship)!) Finally, try to read some of the history of the civilizations that produced these monuments and think about why their not around anymore to build more of them.
One very interesting thing to note is that Allah (‘a) didn’t tell us, through His command to His Prophet (s), to travel to see the monuments or ruins of only disbelieving civilizations, but those belonging to any and all of the mukadhibīn (deniers) – Muslims or non-Muslims, whether they denied Allah (‘a) through their words and/or through their actions. In fact, for a Muslim today to visit the historical sites in the Muslim world would probably be a more beneficial experience because he or she will be able to relate to these sites more fully and easily.
If historical monuments are the best symbols of the past, they are also the best of what the past has to offer us: guidance and warning. In a world where Muslim-majority states compete with each other to construct the world’s tallest and most amazing structures, it’s important to remember that the only greatness humans can achieve is through their association with Allah (‘a) and their obedience to Him. This should always be on Muslims’ minds as they travel to see the surviving wonders of the past.