Lessons from Sura Ankabut Lesson 3: Travel fi sabillilah

blog quran & spirituality Jul 19, 2014


The next lesson from Sura Ankabut is that of travel, journey and movement.

Everything in nature is in movement, from the atoms that form the basis of life to the earth and the creatures that walk on it.

In fact, creation itself is on a journey from Allah, back to Allah. (inna lillahe wa inna ilayihi rajioon).

Just as creation is in constant and instinctive movement, so too human beings need to be in a constant state of movement. To change and grow, we need to make this movement intentional. We are told that our tomorrow must never be the same as our today. We cannot hang out or chill. We need to be in constant movement, doing constant jihad, constantly growing.

Our lower nature, of course, does not like growth or change. We love what appears to be permanent. We want to preserve youth and health and beauty. At some point, we begin to recognize that it is losing battle. No matter how hard we try and hold on, control, the moment slips away. Change happens. Wisdom lies in accepting movement and change, not resisting it.
We love the permanent and since we cannot control time, we form rigid habits, try to control our environment.
At the lowest, most superficial level, travel disturbs this tendency. Just as the earth needs to be turned and plowed to release its potential harvest, so too the human heart. It needs to be disturbed, turned, cut off from desires and attachments to bear the fruit of closeness to Him.
Sura Ankabut mentions three kinds of travel:
1) The first is traveling in the land. Earthly travel which is temporary in nature in that you come back to your domicile. (v 20)
2) The second type of travel is hijrat, or migration, which is a permanent transfer of domicile, moving from one land to another for whatever reason. In today’s mobile society, many of us have experienced this travel as well. (v 26, 27, 56)
3) The third type of travel or journey is even more permanent – it is the journey of death and even this is mentioned in this Sura. Although none of us here have experienced it yet, we are all in the waiting lounge so to speak, on standby. We already have the tickets; we just don’t know when we will get a seat on the flight. (v 57)
1. Temporary:
قُلْ سِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانظُرُوا كَيْفَ بَدَأَ الْخَلْقَ ثُمَّ اللَّهُ يُنشِئُ النَّشْأَةَ الْآخِرَةَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

[29:20] Say: Travel in the earth and see how He makes the first creation, then Allah creates the latter creation; surely Allah has power over all things.
This aya tells us to travel the earth in order to appreciate the cyclical nature of creation. In other places in the Quran, we are told to travel to see what became of those who rejected the truth, to gain wisdom, to see the end of the mujremeen, of those who very powerful, of the mushrikeen.
In other words, we are to take historical field trips to learn from the mistakes of the people who have gone before. It is to gain ibrat from travel. Travel like everything in our lives, must have a purpose, that of fi sabilil llah. This is categorically different from the culture of modern tourism which fuels consumerism and hedonism. The purpose of travel fi sabilillah is to promote learning, inner growth and positive change.
In order to benefit from travel, we must, at the minimum, see it as an opportunity to change our habits, to break routine, to give up some attachments and to educate ourselves. Traveling to Islamic countries we learn about their problems. As Muslims we are encouraged to go and visit monuments and relics and not just read about them.
Imam Ali (as) in a poem, tells us to travel in a sea of eminence and attainment and that there are 5 benefits to travel, which are:
1) The removal of sorrow from the heart. A traveler feels relieved of this burden when he changes his environment
2) To earn livelihood
3) Earning knowledge, by contacting the learned men of the place and becoming acquainted with the thoughts of the world
4) Earning experience in manners and conduct. You may find customs which are better than yours and you can select ways which are better than yours.
5) Earning experience in companionship. There is a special delight in conversation and companionship which is afforded by travel. And when you come in contact with lofty minds, it ennobles one’s spirit.
2. Hijra:
The second type of travel mentioned in the Sura is more permanent. It is hijra or migration. This can be external or internal.
1. External:
a. Examples of the prophets (as)
Aya 26 talks about the hijrat of Nabi Ibrahim (as) and Nabi Lut (as) when they had done their best and could do nothing more for their communities.
This type of travel is essential when we have done our best to change our fossilized communities and come to a recognition that no change is possible. It is then time to move away, as exemplified by the Holy Prophet (saw) as well.
In this Sura, Allah swt gives the example of Nabi Lut (as) and Nabi Ibrahim (as):
فَآمَنَ لَهُ لُوطٌ وَقَالَ إِنِّي مُهَاجِرٌ إِلَى رَبِّي إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

[29:26] And Lut believed in Him, and he said: I am fleeing to my Lord, surely He is the Mighty, the Wise.

The results of traveling fi sabil lillah are blessed and Allah (swt) showers gives many rewards for this endeavor:

وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ إِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَجَعَلْنَا فِي ذُرِّيَّتِهِ النُّبُوَّةَ وَالْكِتَابَ وَآتَيْنَاهُ أَجْرَهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَإِنَّهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ لَمِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ
[29:27] And We granted him Ishaq and Yaqoub, and caused the prophet hood and the book (revelation) to remain in his seed, and We gave him his reward in this world, and in the hereafter he will most surely be among the good.

Ibrahim (as) gets four merits after his hijra:
1) Worthy offspring, those who could keep faith and nabuwwa alive amongst his progeny (age 75 and 120 when they were born). He had 3 wives and prophets among the children of all wives. Sarah, Hajra and Qatura. Bani Israel prophets from Ishaq (as) and HP (saw) from Ismail (as). Both were old and Ishaq (as) and Yaqub (as) were gifts from Allah as a reward for their migration.
2) Nabuwwa and the kitab was to be amongst his progeny. A nabi leaves his progeny and his ummat. Allah gives kitab and nabuwwa.
3) Gave him the recompense in this world. It could refer to good name, truthful tongue and the respect of all monotheistic religions. Sheikh ul ambiyya. Father of the Prophets. Hajj arkan all related to him.
4) In the hereafter he will be amongst the saleheen. This is the utmost honor that a man can get.
b. Invitation to His abd to do hijra
In Aya 56, Allah invites His abd who cannot serve only Him, to do hijra. It is said the aya 56 came for those momineen who were being persecuted in Mecca by the kuffar to the extent that they could not fulfill their religious obligations. They were told to leave the land.
Aya 60 came for those momineen who were being persecuted but didn’t want to leave because they were worried about their livelihood.

Allah swt lovingly calls these people ‘My abd”, and tells them not to worry for their rizq:

يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ أَرْضِي وَاسِعَةٌ فَإِيَّايَ فَاعْبُدُونِ

[29:56] O My servants who believe! surely My earth is vast, therefore Me alone should you serve.

  1. Internal Hijra, belief change, giving up habits, paradigm shifts:

Internally we can always do hijra from where we are by having a paradigm shift. Once we see things in a different light, once our thoughts change, our actions will follow. So we can also think of travel as abandoning undesirable spiritual conditions, rather than just abandoning places of domicile. It also includes freeing oneself from undesirable habits. Moving away and freeing oneself from enslaving habits. Inwardly, it is hijra, moving from one state to another state. Islam based on the pillars of hijra and jihad.
So hijra is both internal and external.
Internally, we need to change thought systems that do not serve us, that our not helping us achieve our goals. We need to transform our thinking, have a paradigm shift, look at things from a more enabling perspective.
Externally, if our place of residence does not allow us to connect to Him, we need to immigrate on the basis of His promise that He will provide us in our new homeland.
3. Death:
Sura Ankabut also talks about the ultimate journey we must all undertake.

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ثُمَّ إِلَيْنَا تُرْجَعُونَ

[29:57] Every soul (self) must taste of death, then to Us you shall be brought back.

For the believers, the sojourn on this earth is but a brief transit stop, a stop to gather provisions for the ultimate destination.

Unlike other journeys, the journey of death is choice less. Allah swt guarantees that we will all taste it. The choice lies in how we prepare for it.

Do we live the life of a momin who yearns for the return to Him?

Or do we deny the reality of death, pretend it will not happen to us, and live as if we will be here forever without accountability?


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