Nuha is a 29-year-old Moroccan, passionate about languages and cultural diversity, who left a successful career in a leading IT company to travel the world for 2 years across Europe, Asia, Australia, Latin America and Morocco. She is currently in Melbourne where she plans to spend the next few months.
“Why on earth would you leave an enviable situation to travel alone for such a long time?”
That was the feedback I received from several friends while preparing this project, my family was worried by the dangers facing a woman alone on the road, but very supportive alhamdulillah when I shared the reasons why I wanted to do it. When I started this trip around the world more than a year ago, here were my intentions:
- Experiencing what I would do with the most precious resource we have – time – if I had nearly no constraint on how to invest it. For the first time in my life, there was a sentence I couldn’t say: “If I had time, I would…”. My challenge was, “If I could spend time almost exactly as I want to, what would I do from a spiritual, intellectual, social and physical point of view?”
- Learning to reduce permanently my worldly needs as much as possible, which led me to carrying a 7-kg backpack regardless of climate conditions, projects in the country I am traveling to or duration of my stay in each destination (ranging from a few days to 3 months).
- Engaging in a journey to know myself better, contemplate more of Allah’s Ayat (miraculous signs) within creation and deepen my knowledge. I firmly believed that this journey would strengthen my Iman, help define the most important values I would like to transmit to my children one day in shaa Allah, and more broadly the legacy I would like to leave behind once I leave Dunya, the legacy I shall present once I stand before Allah in Akhira…
- Finding a way to be useful to the people I come across with and strive to be a decent ambassador of Morocco and Islam in countries that know little about both.
“Son of Adam, you are nothing but days. Whenever a day passes away, a part of you passes away too.”
-IMAM HASSAN EL BASRI
While preparing this project, I was amazed by how Muslim history was filled with very inspirational travellers such as Ibn Battuta , Ibn Jubair and Ibn Fadlan to name but a few. I also recalled the captivating stories of my grandfather across Europe and the Middle East in the 60s and 70s and how creative he got to afford visiting those countries, avoid their dangers and learn several Arabic dialects. Most importantly, I tackled this journey as a spiritual retreat, one I needed to build a productive lifestyle around my priorities, including being ready for the next phase in my life: having a family in shaa Allah. This adventure has led me to live beautiful experiences so far. Alhamdulillah, mostly triggered by the encounters I made along the road, ranging from organising a painting exhibition in Tokyo inspired by my travels with a Japanese artist, to learning a new language (Turkish), and including trekking and hiking in the Himalayas, studying a very ancient natural medicine (Ayurveda), working in a farm, studying Qur’an from different perspectives and getting to know better the phenomenal diversity of our Ummah.
What this adventure taught me
- Everything (or almost) is possible: an old Indonesian lady who speaks Moroccan fluently, a Swedish halal restaurant in Singapore, a vegetable that has the exact same name in Arabic and Japanese, meeting the ex Ambassador of Iran in Morocco in a foreign exchange counter, a 75-year old Australian lady backpacking around Eurasia with breath-taking stories about her mountain treks, a 23-year old Muslim young lady who runs 3 businesses at the same time while studying for her masters’ degree and planning to become Indonesia’s President one day, a Japanese who speaks Arabic as a native would, a Malaysian who knows Morocco better than most Moroccans do, you name it ! This world is filled with the most astonishing facts and extraordinary opportunities for people who believe in themselves and practice Tawakkul.
- The Muslim countries I discovered are among the safest and most hospitable places I have been to: the bond of a shared belief in La ilaha illa Allah is often very powerful, several of my most interesting meetings started with a simple “Assalamu Alaykum”; regardless of whether I was talking to a Sunni or a Shii, Maleki or Shafii, born Muslim or convert. This said, I discovered that we had countless misconceptions on the beliefs and practices of other schools of thoughts, which may explain our difficulties to rise as a united Ummah. True, Islam has got several strong undebatable foundations such as Tawhid (uncity of God), but beyond these foundations, there is an infinite diversity I believe we should study and respect. Indeed, Allah is the ultimate Judge of our hearts and our deeds.
This is an Ummah of differences in opinions (…) Our religion is, ‘I think my way is right but I could be wrong; and I think your way is wrong, but you could be right. And within this there are limitations. It amazes me how people can take positions of arrogance. Who are we to proportion God’s Mercy?
SHEIKH HAMZA YUSUF
- The quality of the time we spend with our families is more valuable than the physical closeness or quantity of meetings. Surprisingly, my family and I feel much closer to each other now even if we do miss our gatherings: distance has made our discussions deeper and the time we spend together more precious, it has also helped strengthening our bonds.
- Never underestimate any good deed: Being able to invest my time more freely has made me more open and connected to the world, I take advantage of a red light to appreciate the surroundings, don’t hesitate to greet a stranger without expecting anything back, offer the books I finished to individuals I reckon would be interested in reading them, and help whenever I can people that come across my path. I realised that the simplest gestures can hold a great value in people’s eyes.
- Seeking knowledge (including of other spiritual traditions) can strengthen our Iman, traveling also helped me develop more empathy by trying to see the world from various angles and understand the founding assumptions behind each point of view.
- Arabic words can be found in dozens of languages. Some examples are Hindi, Indonesian, Kurdish, Malay, Turkish, Urdu, which has been very useful to communicate with locals. This is yet another incentive to study this beautiful language (for both Arab and non Arab speakers), on top of improving our understanding of Qur’an and Sunna.
- Traveling is a form of ibadah: “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another” (49:13). Traveling is a way of appreciating the beauty of Allah by interacting with the variety of His creation.
- There is no fair comparison with a person other than oneself. Each one has a unique set of talents and challenges. Therefore, comparison makes sense only between yesterday’s and today’s own self, and how we strive to make the most of what Allah bestowed upon us to become better versions of ourselves.
- Debating to understand the world from the other’s point of view and build upon common grounds vs. debating to prove a point. I realised that dedicating one’s energy to finding a common ground that could be put into good use was far more interesting than highlighting – often once more – our differences.
- Meeting Muslim converts and listening to their journeys to Islam can turn out to be very powerful in the appreciation of the beauty and depth of our faith. One of the most beautiful encounters I came across was a Singaporean Muslim-convert young lady, from a Chinese Buddhist background, who taught me to appreciate simple things we tend to overlook as born Muslims, such as the depth and humbling dimensions of In shaa Allah, Al hamdulillah and Islam.
- Some non-Muslim cultures can teach us a lot about Islam– I was completely awe-struck by the incredible sense of ethics, commitment to service and spirit of Ihsan embedded in the Japanese culture, along with a sharp sense of minimalism without compromising on quality and a deep reverence for Nature.
- The importance of having a circle of close Muslim friends around us. In Jogjakarta (Indonesia) where I spent Ramadan, I met a group of friends who would gather every single week to share what they had learnt, watch together a Tafseer video on a given Surah and comment it, discuss their questions, fears, weaknesses or simply feel the warmth of a person sharing the same purpose and internal struggle to rise to it. I thought: what a beautiful alternative to struggling alone most of the time and resorting occasionally to a random source of help when we reckon we really need it.
- Never be afraid to ask-I prayed in the most unexpected places, ranging from parks to shopping malls, including conference rooms, gym clubs, restaurants, etc. I just asked for a calm clean place and was amazed by how helpful most people were. It also triggered curiosity about Islam and helped fighting some myths.
How these teachings can be applied to a daily “settled” life
True, some of these teachings are specific to a nomadic lifestyle. This said, I believe most of what I learned can be applied to a daily “settled’’ life.
- Going through our belongings regularly to identify what we don’t need and give it as a Sadaqah. Do we really need these 3 black trousers? Or these 4 moisturising creams ? Do we need to cook more than we can eat, only to throw the leftovers away? The stores are not going anywhere, so we can enjoy emptier cupboards and wardrobes, invest in items that would last instead of shopping in a compulsive way, and avoid both tabthir (wasting) and attachment. Furthermore, we can benefit from a series of thriving business models that encourage sharing for occasional needs such as a car, a parking space, sport equipment or even an electric drill. Finally, a woman can be both humble and elegant without having piles of clothes and accessories (most of which many of us ladies rarely use anyway).
- Nourishing our bodies instead of filling them. Not having always access to a healthy meal option made me realise the importance of choosing carefully what we eat, ensuring it is diverse and nourishing, listening to our body when it tells us to stop and being prepared to avoid compromising on quality (for example by carrying healthy snacks). The circumstances of our lives, no matter how challenging they may be, don’t change the fact that we are responsible for our health, which is mostly impacted by our food intake and physical activity.
Your remedy is within you, but you do not sense it… You presume you are a small entity, but within you is enfolded the entire universe… Therefore, there is no need to look beyond yourself. What you seek is within you, if only you reflect.”
ALI IBN ABU TALIB
- Taking retreats regularly, for a weekend or even an hour alone in a park or a coffee for instance, in order to reflect on our actual priorities (those we live by) with regards to our Akhira goals. I find The Ultimate ProductiveMuslim Goal Planner to be a very helpful tool in that regard.
- Keeping an updated list of people who really matter including family, friends and mentors; in order to be even more careful to maintain and nurture these relationships on a regular basis.
- Being committed to knowledge while praying it will bring us closer to Allah and make us among his most humble creatures. We constantly learn from the Qur’an, our experiences, our community, and the legacy of others, but few of us take the time to write these teachings down; in order to improve our ability to reflect upon them, act upon them and share them when relevant.
One day, our Prophet ﷺ took Abdullah ibn Umar by the shoulder and said: “Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer.” (Al Bukhari).
The Prophetﷺ is also reported to have said:
“The worldly comforts are not for me. I am like a traveler, who takes a rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way.” (Tirmidhi)
These are definitely two of my favorite hadiths. Indeed, traveling echoes the fact that our existence in Dunya is temporary, attachment to anything other than our faith in Allah wouldn’t therefore make any sense, whether it is a relationship, a job, a place or an object. In other words, these hadiths remind us to be careful not to make ourselves too comfortable in Dunya if we don’t want gravity to hinder our quest for spiritual elevation and happiness; that we should carry nothing more than what is truly necessary, spare the horse we are riding and make sure to focus on the road, as a wayfarer would do. Who am I other than a traveler who takes a rest under a tree in the shade and then goes on his way ? Who are we all… Other than travellers under a tree ? Very soon, we shall all go on our way…
Do not rejoice except in an increase of knowledge or an increase of good works. Truly they are your two friends who will accompany you in your grave, when your spouse, your wealth, your children, and your friends will remain behind.
ABU HAMID AL GHAZALI