Adab 08: The Proprieties of Travel
Ustadh Tabraze Azam writes on the proprieties of travel and how one can make even a simple journey an act of true worship.
True, meaningful journeying is found in spiritual wayfaring. In other words, the journey from sin and disobedience to righteous acts and godfearingness, from heedlessness to presence, from distance to proximity, and from everything which Allah hates to everything Allah loves. This is the kind of journey that we will be deeply grateful for when we cast a backwards glance, to here, from the next life. This life is a time of planting the seeds, and the next is when we’ll harvest. Allah Most High says, “It will be as if they had stayed in the world no more than one evening or its morning.” (Sura al-Nazi‘at 79:46)
If things seem bleak for us, then let us be optimistic, as was the prophetic sunna, and make a change for the better today. In an instant, the turmoil and degradation of life in disobedience can be transformed, by His Grace, into something tremendous and everlasting. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, as part of a lengthier tradition (hadith), “One of you would observe the works of the people of the Hellfire until there is only a cubit between him and it, but then the register would forestall him and he would perform an act of the people of Paradise and consequently enter it.” (Bukhari) Whoever strives for Allah will find Him before him, and whoever traverses an upright, trodden, prophetic path will find great blessing, or baraka, in his life journey.
Purpose in Journeys
In the famous tradition (hadith) of intention, the Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Whoever has migrated to Allah and His Messenger, his migration is to Allah and His Messenger. And whosoever has migrated to obtain worldly means or to marry a woman, his migration is for the sake of what he has migrated for.” (Bukhari) What we can learn from this tradition (hadith) is that travel should be to Allah, and by extension, His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace. This doesn’t mean travel only to Makka and Madina, but to travel with Lordly intent, direction and focus.
Realize that all travel is a reminder of the soul’s trajectory from this world to the next, and the successful person is the one who recognizes the need for His Lord, traverses the journey of his life for His Lord, and attains the Pleasure of his Lord for eternity. In deciding to journey, let the intention be clearly for Allah, and naturally, your spiritual compass will be facing the right direction as you proceed. As Ibn ‘Ata Illah al-Sakandari stated, “Whoever’s beginning is illumined, their ending is illumined.” (al-Hikam)
A consistent theme in prophetic practice was prayer before any meaningful matter, and travel, in this sense, is no different. It is reported that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, would regularly perform two cycles (rak‘as) before heading out on any journey. (Tabarani) Make it a point to renew your repentance, pay back anybody that’s owed anything from you and to leave sufficient food and money for your family, if required.
It would be from proper manners and due diligence to ensure that you pack everything you’ll need, both for your worldly and religious affairs. The former is straightforward for most, so let us concentrate on the latter. Thinking ahead would entail traveling with some kind of compass and prayer rug. Compasses are easily available on most handheld devices, but it’s useful to have a backup. Similarly, and depending on the nature of the journey, you should consider taking a smooth stone with you for the purposes of the dry ablution (tayammum). Razors, or anything similar which does the job, and nail clippers should also be carried with you as these are facilitators of personal hygiene, namely, something which is of religious significance.
The Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, encouraged us to leave a bequest or final testament. (Bukhari) This document should expressly state your desire to have your possessions distributed according to the Islamic laws of inheritance. If this document can also be officially recognized in your country of residence, you should take the means to make it as such, not merely for travel, but as a document which you have ready in the case of death. Moreover, you should include any debts owed, whether to other people, or to Allah Most High in the form of missed prayers, fasts and the like. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have to make these matters up in your lifetime! Rather, it affirms your commitment to lift your dues, even in the case of death. The general rule is that you should make up anything which requires making up as soon as possible.
Setting Out: When and How
Our Master Ka‘b ibn Malik, may Allah be well-pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to “like setting out on Thursdays.” (Bukhari) And Sakhr ibn Wada‘a, may Allah be well-pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, used to supplicate by saying “O Allah, bless my community in their early mornings.” (Abu Dawud) From these and other traditions, the scholars explain that there is a secret of increase, or baraka, in setting out in the morning times, particularly on Thursdays. When this isn’t possible, some of the scholars recommend Mondays, then Saturdays – which has also been related, and then any other day (avoiding Fridays as much as possible).
In setting out, it is also from the sunna to bid farewell to family and loved ones in order to attain the blessings of their supplications for safety, facilitation and otherwise. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, is reported to have bidden farewell by saying, “I entrust your affair to Allah who doesn’t allow his trusts to go to waste.” (Ibn Majah) Upon leaving, he, Allah bless him and give him peace, would often supplicate with the following: “Glory be to the One who has subjected these to us, for we could have never done so on our own. And surely to our Lord we will all return. O Allah, we ask You in this journey of ours for piety and godfearingness, and action which is pleasing to You. O Allah, make this journey of ours easy for us, and fold up its distance. O Allah, You are the Companion in the journey and the Protector of our family. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from the hardship of this journey, any sight which brings sorrow, and a harmful return in [our] wealth, family and children.” (Muslim)
It is also established to say the takbir (Allahu akbar) often, and to supplicate as much as you reasonably can as the supplication of a traveler is accepted. (Abu Dawud) For example, you could ask Allah to facilitate your purification and prayers, and not to reject even a single supplication on your journey. More often than not, reciting various remembrances (adhkar) and supplications in such a manner sets the tone for the remainder of the journey. Be the believer who thanks Allah sincerely for the blessings of facilitated travel.
Traveling in a Group and Appointing a Leader
One of the sunnas of travel is to choose righteous companions. The Blessed Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, cautioned against lone travel by saying, “If people knew what I know about the harms of being alone, no rider would travel alone through the night.” (Bukhari) Unsurprisingly, the point is about the harms of loneliness in travel, and issues of riding or otherwise, and doing so during the night, are secondary. What the scholars explain is that among the reasons for the interdiction of being alone is that you don’t have anybody to assist you in your affairs, particularly in the case of great harm or injury. Similarly, you cannot fulfill your religious duties fully, such as prayer in congregation, for example. Further, it is known that the devils come out at night, spreading their harm and whispers so it’s best to be with others in order to ward off such matters with greater strength. It’s a lot easier to fall into sin when nobody else is looking.
The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, also said, “If three people head out on a journey, let them appoint one of them as a leader.” (Abu Dawud) There is great, prophetic wisdom in this because travel is “a piece of torment,” namely, emotionally, psychologically and physically draining, and thus, it is far easier to fall into disagreement with others, get upset with people and to generally fall short in upholding noble character. When there is a chosen leader, ideally the person who is most senior in religiosity and most experienced in travel, then the others are bound to follow his decisions in matters related to travel. When that happens, there is less likely to be discord, or fitna, and any form of argumentation between the traveling companions.
Gracious character entails looking out for your fellow travelers, sharing with them what you have, spending on them – both financially and emotionally, preferring them to yourself, consulting with them, encouraging them to the good, smiling at them, assisting them, checking in on them once in a while, and supplicating for them.
Knowledge of Acts of Religious Devotion
It is important to recognize that different life circumstances have different rulings, and that “the strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer.” (Muslim) Strong believers put Allah first, learn what He has commanded and then strive to implement those Commands, and by extension, Prohibitions, as best they can wherever they find themselves. Although it’s not a condition to know all the details, the general rulings which pertain to your situation should be known as they fall under that which is personally obligatory knowledge or ‘ilm al-hal.
Accordingly, you should make it a point to ensure that you know well the rulings relating to the acts of religious devotion which are altered by travel. The most significant of these, because of its regularity, is the prayer. The basis is that the four cycle (rak‘a) obligatory prayer is shortened to two cycles (rak‘as), and the sunset prayer (maghrib) is left as it is. However, you don’t begin shortening until you have left the city limits, or if not designated, the customarily accepted boundaries of a particular town or city. In the same way, you are only legally considered to be a traveler (musafir) when you are staying somewhere for less than fifteen complete days. If you are staying longer, you’d pray as a resident prays, without shortening any prayers.
During the journey, you would pray the emphasized sunna prayers if you aren’t in an active state of travel. Active travel means that you are hurrying to get to a boarding gate, for example, or are doing something which requires your full attention. In our times, the matter of praying in travel is very much facilitated as you can pray voluntary prayers (except the sunna of fajr) in your seat, in the direction of travel, in almost any mode of transport. In doing so, you would pray with head movements, keeping your head upright for the standing position (qiyam), bending slightly for the bowing (ruku‘) and slightly more for the prostration (sujud). Praying in this manner on modes of transport is an established sunna of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace.
As for fasting in Ramadan, it is superior to fast unless it will cause you hardship or difficulty. If you choose not to fast, then you must ensure that you have left your city limits by the entrance of dawn (fajr). In the case that you’re still in your hometown at this time, you’d need to fast that day.
Returning with Adab
The general sunna was to return home after the need had been fulfilled, and not to remain in a state of journeying and travel when there was no need for it. Abu Huraira, may Allah be well-pleased with him, reported that the Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said as part of a longer tradition (hadith), “So, when one of you fulfills his need, let him return to his family.” (Bukhari) Similarly, he, Allah bless him and give him peace, disliked for somebody to return home in the middle of the night lest he surprise his family in a manner which will cause him harm. Rather, his practice was to return in the morning or afternoon. (Bukhari) Of course, when you have no choice, or when you inform your family of your precise return, then there is no issue. Note that to return after having performed the ritual bath (ghusl) is also meritorious.
Another sunna was to recite the aforementioned supplication [of setting out] on return, with the additional phrase, “Returning, repenting, worshiping and praising our Lord.” Other traditions explain that the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, would repeat this just before and until entering Madina, indicating the merit of expressing one’s gratitude for the blessing of returning home safely. The Noble Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, would then proceed to pray two cycles (rak‘as) at the mosque before heading home. (Bukhari) This can be done at any mosque in your city, if reasonably possible without inconvenience and hardship. Otherwise, you can pray it at home in your designated prayer space (musalla) or anywhere else. Why? So that you begin and end your journey with worship and prayer; and secondarily, use it as an indication of a new point of departure in your spiritual life, seeking Allah at the very beginning and every point thereafter.
Some of the scholars explain that there are some journeys which are truly worth making. From among them, the sacred pilgrimage for either Hajj or ‘umra. The former, especially, is an act of great virtue by which, according to tradition, a person is able to return “like the day his mother gave birth to him,” (Bukhari) namely, cleansed of the lowliness of sin and heedlessness.
In the same vein, great journeys include traveling to redress wrongs, to repay debts, to seek sacred knowledge which cannot otherwise be reasonably attained, to seek safety and protection from oppression and strife, to free oneself from the shackles of habit and sin, to take a break from the rigors of worship and to follow the Divine Command: “Travel throughout the land and see how He originated the creation, then Allah will bring it into being one more time. Surely Allah is Most Capable of everything.” (Sura al-‘Ankabut 29:20)
As for the tradition (hadith) of not journeying to other than the three sacred mosques (Bukhari), this means that you should not travel to pray in other than these mosques in light of their immense, established virtue. It does not mean that you shouldn’t travel at all except to travel to one of these mosques. This is what many scholars have explicitly explained, such as Munawi, Ghazali, Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Suyuti and others.
Finally, and just as we began, the greatest journey of all is the journey of your soul into eternity. As each moment passes, we’re all a single moment closer to leaving this worldly life. It is there, in the hereafter, that actions will take forms and provisions from this life will be required. Let each of us look well to their own lives and how much it corresponds to what Allah and His Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, called us to. “Whoever finds great good, let him thank Allah. And whoever finds other than that, let him blame none other than himself.” (Muslim) A complete change of direction takes a single moment of sincere repentance, and in that moment, all sin and its traces can be completely wiped away. We ask Allah Most High to bless us with journeys He is eternally pleased with.
And Allah alone gives success.