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Muslim and Catholic pilgrims share the wisdom of travel


Mecca pilgrims 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 peaceful intentions my Turkish ancestors had when they murdered and looted and pillaged during their conquests of India.

These examples of allegedly religious travel were really more about politics, wealth, ego and conquest. Last week, at a Sydney conference on secularism, I had to put up with barbs from a number of delegates who subscribed to what can only be described as evangelical atheism. They frequently reminded me of just how much war had been caused by religion. It was as if communism had never existed in their minds.

But then, must we define communism, atheism or religion by roving warmongers using these beliefs as excuses to shed blood? This is where pilgrims play such an important role. Pilgrims are also travelling warriors. However, their battles are internal and spiritual.

Pilgrims don't travel with a view to loot or pillage. Pilgrims travel in God's path. They know that in the very act of travelling, they will learn things about themselves that they could never learn in books or in attending sermons at their local church or mosque. The inconveniences pilgrims face — delays and queues and expense and unfamiliar surrounds — are all part of the pilgrimage experience.

Pilgrims overcome these obstacles by relying on each other. They learn that they cannot undertake this journey on their own. The process of pilgrimage helps foster a greater feeling of community among both pilgrims and their hosts.

As a Muslim, I believe I can relate to what the thousands of young (and young-at-heart) Catholic pilgrims converging in Sydney must be feeling. It is the same feeling my many Muslim relatives and friends have experienced when they arrive in Mecca for the annual Hadj, the pilgrimage all able-bodied and debt-free Muslims are obliged to make at least once in their lifetime.

I'm pleased a number of Muslim families and schools are hosting their Catholic brothers and sisters visiting Sydney for the WYD pilgrimage. Perhaps when WYD is over and everyone has gone home, both Muslim hosts and their Catholic guests should remain conscious that our pilgrimage to God has not ended.

Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney-based writer and associate editor of AltMuslim.com.

Flickr image by hajj2006

Topic tags: irfan yusuf, world youth day, pilgrims, mecca



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Existing comments

'Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Take it where ever you happen to find it.' I, a Catholic, have found it in your article, Irfan Yusuf.

Trish Taylor | 16 July 2008  

What a wonderful reflection on the essence of spirituality! Such profound meaning anticipates a spirituality in communion, where we may contemplate a universal peace.

John Trowell | 16 July 2008  

a wonderful reflection on the shared path religious pilgrims travel toward their final destiny.

Why would a participant of the annual Hadj have to be "debt free"?

tim brady | 16 July 2008  

Islam, for those how do not know it, is a peaceful religion, and has no relation whatsoever to terrorism act. For those who want to know about Islam, might find these webs of interest to them: www.islam-guide.com or www.islamalways.com . I ask GOD to let all of us, all the world’s inhabitants live in peace and harmony. Thank you.

DAVID | 16 July 2008  

I enjoyed Irfan's artice. I also heard it on LISTEN - fabulous. Keep up the good work please.

John Elliott | 16 July 2008  

Not only are Muslims hosting Catholics during WYD, but so are our Jewish brothers and sisters. While non-believers look upon Catholics with bemusement and disdain as we celebrate WYD, other spiritualities are united with us in prayer and spirit.

A united front is a powerful message to our secular world. Well done Irfan on a wonderful article and thanks for your support.

Mary Crawford | 16 July 2008  

For Tim Brady, no a participant in the Haj pilgrimage does not have to be debt-free.

It is just that, for a person already suffering under a load of debt, the obligation of performing the Haj is waived, rather than allowed to become the cause of further debt for that person or his/her family.

Ian Fraser | 25 July 2008  

The blessings of this season to Irfan and his family and sincere thanks for your contributions this year, they are inspirational. Here is to the New Year and more of the same.

Kevin | 22 December 2010  

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