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Muslim and Catholic pilgrims share the wisdom of travel

  • 16 July 2008

While scanning the travel section of a weekend paper, I came across a story on Oman. Beneath the headline were words that went something like this: 'Don't tell me how much you know. Instead, tell me how much you have travelled.'

These words were attributed to Muhammad, a seventh century Arab whom Muslims (including myself) regard as God's final prophet. It was the first time I'd come across this saying, and I was a little sceptical about its authenticity. Muslims are real sticklers when it comes to quoting their last prophet, treating every quote with scepticism until satisfied it comes from an authentic source.

Then again, perhaps I should focus less on its authenticity (or otherwise) and more on its wisdom. After all, another saying of the Prophet (the authenticity of which is said to be beyond dispute) goes: 'Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Take it wherever you happen to find it.'

The inherent wisdom of travel is a notion common to all faiths. It is one thing to gain knowledge by comfortably sitting in an air conditioned library reading books. It's another thing altogether to gain knowledge through the toil and sacrifice that comes with travel.

The Oxford Dictionary provides us with two definitions of the word 'pilgrim'. The first is 'one who journeys to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion'. Pilgrims regard certain places as sacred. They see spiritual merit in travelling to and spending time in these places.

The second definition is (or at least should be deemed) connected to the first. It is: 'persons regarded as journeying to a future life'.

Death is a fact of life. Deny God all you like, but only a fool denies death. We're all walking toward our graves. If we had a greater sense of our own mortality, it's likely our morality would skyrocket. Now there's a sobering thought.

Here's an even more sobering death-related thought. Let us, both Catholics and Muslims, be honest with ourselves. There have been times in history when (alleged) followers of both our faiths used death and destruction to spread faith or defend its honour.

It is true that the etymological meaning of the word Catholic is 'universal', and that of Islam is 'peace'. Yet I wonder just what universalist sentiments inspired the European Crusaders who shed enough Jerusalemite blood to flow at knee's height, just as I wonder what