Lessons Learned by a Muslim Traveler

“O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another…” (Quran 49:13)

Originally from Algeria, I studied in very different cities including New York City (USA), Quebec City (Canada), and Osaka (Japan). Due to my thirst for knowledge, I embarked on graduate studies to explore the unknown world and human nature. These living and educational experiences gave me the opportunity to learn about very different aspects of natural science by conducting experiments in laboratories, and also to further discover diverse facets of human nature by interacting with different cultures, religions, and social backgrounds.

With a commitment to my Muslim heritage, my biggest challenge was to seek an understanding of differences without necessarily adopting them. As if I were searching for something deep inside me, naively I removed my cultural slippers to feel the warmth and the coldness of human nature. Therefore, my curiosity pushed me to cross borders in order to explore cultural and religious practices in depth.

Initially, I noticed many similarities between human beings, since we often experience emotions for the same reasons. One of my best memories is when some of my friends from different cultures found love and embarked on intercultural marriages. Moreover, while practices and conventions may differ, the underlying motivations and needs that unite human beings are the same.

For example, some cultures use cutlery to eat, whereas others use their hands or chopsticks, but everyone is eating for sustenance and survival. Similarly, the need to communicate and express human feelings encompasses the use of many languages and dialects. The practices of faith also vary widely, which I noticed in detail from visiting churches in New York City and Quebec and shrines in Japan, and observing religious practices in those special places.

At the end of my travels, with my mind full of so many exciting experiences, I went back to Algeria to rest, reflect, and consider my future. During the first months in my hometown, I realized that the immersion in different cultures had caused changes within me and my thinking. Since I had the opportunity to discover myself through others, I have come to see humanity as a tree with a single root, with each branch offering a different kind of fruit. As a consequence, I feel more moved by the invisible world than the cultural and physical aspects of our existence. 

Moreover, since I have been for many years conducting research in different types of scientific fields and utilized diverse theories to interpret data from my experiments, I realized that, if the mathematical models used in different fields of science look different in the application, they have a similar profound concept. I came to the conclusion that these scientific principles could belong to one divine science imposed by Allah (SWT) on the whole universe.

In order to explore the impact of my travel experiences on my faith, I decided to deepen my knowledge in Islam by listening on a daily basis to resources, such as “Tafseer Al Quran” (explanation of Quran) and “Asma Allah Al Husna” (The Beautiful Names of Allah SWT) by Dr. Mohammed Rateb al-Nabulsi. The messages contained within resonated with lessons learnt from my travel experiences.

In particular, the very fruitful and clear explanation given by Dr. Nabulsi about the importance of first knowing Allah (SWT) through His creation and signs in the universe in order to worship Him, as it should be. From this perspective, most Muslims know and practice the five pillars of Islam. However, like any structure, these five pillars must have a foundation.

According to my personal interpretation, this foundation is like the soul of Islam that makes our faith (Imaan) in Allah (SWT) strong. The five pillars of Islam are the body parts that one must know in order to practice our faith with love and thankfulness. Notably, the three most important elements of the foundation of Islam are:

1. Al-Eaql (Wisdom)

“He grants wisdom to whom He wills; and he to whom wisdom is granted is indeed granted abundant good. But none remember except men of understanding” (Quran 2:269)

This is the most beautiful treasure from Allah (SWT) to humanity in order to guide us to find the Truth. The Quran has put a great amount of importance on using wisdom in all themes, including gaining awareness about the existence of Allah (SWT), knowing good from evil, differentiating between truth and lies, knowing the difference between freedom and domination, following the moral and leaving the immoral, and finally to find purpose in life.

2. Al-Fitrah (Goodness)

“So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. Adhere to the Fitrah of Allah upon which He has created all people” (Quran 30:30)

Goodness could be interpreted as a DNA-coded Quran that every human is imprinted with from birth. With reference to this concept, new research findings in the field of human biology show that we may be born to be sociable and have the urge to help. Considering my travel experiences, I encountered both good people and bad people everywhere. This illustrated that goodness doesn’t depend on any particular cultural or religious background.

3. Al-Tawheed (Law of Divine Oneness)

“Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, but He forgives anything other than this to whomsoever He pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin” (Quran 4:48)

Al-Tawheed refers to the non-existence of coincidence, and that the pathways of our lives do not happen by chance. It is an assurance that our entire lives depend on our relationship with Allah (SWT) alone. He created us with five senses in order to experience the world around us and find His signs. Indeed, the universe is like a silent Quran with so many marks that show the existence and the Beautiful Names of Allah (SWT).

For example, knowing that there are stars billions of light-years from the earth is undoubtedly a sign to glorify Him by His Beautiful Name “The Great One”. Watching the beautiful smile of a mother holding her baby is a sign of the Love of Allah (SWT) for all human beings by His Beautiful Name “The Loving One”. Listening to waves crashing against the shore reminds us of His Beautiful Name “The Strong One”. The extreme temperatures of a chilly winter or hot summer could be signs to fear the punishment of hell and His Beautiful Name “The Reckoning One”. Finally, the beauty of nature during spring could be a sign of the magnificence of Heaven and His Beautiful Name “The Glorious One”.

In conclusion, my current knowledge and perception have led me to conclude that spirituality is needed in Islam in order to be able to perceive that Allah (SWT) governs everything behind the stage of the visible material world. For my part, I realize now that the hidden Hand of Allah (SWT) was guiding me through every event of my life, whether positive or negative. At times this has created beneficial opportunities in my life and has also steered me away from potentially harmful situations or choices – but whatever the case, all thanks are to Allah and to Allah alone (SWT).


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