Islam’s motivation: Visit other countries to acquire knowledge, widen perspectives and gain friendship
It is heartening to see Taiwan’s efforts to make Muslims feel at home with easily-available halal eateries and prayer facilities in hotels.
An article in The Straits Times, “Taiwan turns up charm to woo Muslims travellers” (July 25, 2016), mentions that “Besides waiving visa requirements, the island is also planning prayer rooms in hotels and more halal restaurants, among other things, to cater to Muslim practices.” (http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/taiwan-turns-up-charm-to-woo-muslim-travellers)
In support of the Taiwanese effort in escalating Islamic tourism and make Taiwan “Muslim-friendly”, I wrote the following message to The Straits Times Forum and it appears in today’s (1 Aug 2016) FORUM ONLINE:
Good to open more doors to Muslim travellers
PUBLISHED on 1 August 2016
I applaud the efforts of Taiwan in inviting Muslims to its beautiful island (“Taiwan turns up charm to woo Muslim travellers”; July 25).
In the last two decades or so, Muslims have become more educated and affluent, and have ventured out of their own countries to visit other places to learn about other people and their cultures.
This is in line with the encouragement given in the Quran to travel and seek knowledge from other countries.
People open their eyes when they travel. They learn from what they observe of the environment and through interaction with the locals.
Travelling also offers the opportunity to make contacts for business, social ventures, sporting meets and education.
The annual haj pilgrimage is one source of informal learning, as Muslims of various races and cultures travel to and assemble in Mecca.
The world offers many special features and attractions.
It would be good for more non-Muslim nations to invite Muslims to their countries and cater to the expansion in Islamic tourism.
Muslim travel has become one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors, and that the number of Muslim international travellers is predicted to rise to 168 million in 2020 from the 117 million last year (2015).
People learn a great deal from travelling and visiting other countries. They learn from what they observe of the environment, both natural and man-made, and through interaction with the local people, Muslims or non-Muslims.
Human beings, who started from a pair of parents, have spread throughout the world by travelling and looking for greener pastures: Allah placed Adam and Eve on earth to generate population, creating varied communities and travelling enables people to know of each other’s existence and cultures. Allah says: “O mankind! We created you from a single pair of male and female, and made you into nations and tribes (races) so that you may know each other.” (49:13)
Today, the ease in travelling has given birth to globalisation by which people of one location can easily travel to another location and “know” other people irrespective of race, religion or culture.
Many institutions of learning in developing nations implement global education schemes for their students. These schemes incorporate student exchange, attachment and educational visit programmes to provide added values to the in-campus acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Another Islamic motivator of informal learning is the Haj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage, globally instituted more than 1,400 years ago. Muslims of various races and cultures from all over the world travel to Mecca where they assemble for a certain number of days to undertake their religious obligations. During this period of stay, while doing their various obligations, they come in contact with Muslims of others races and cultures, and this provides them with the opportunity to make friends and learn from them about their cultures, viewpoints and aspirations.
The Qur’an, in emphasising the learning factor of the Haj, indicates that pilgrims “may learn things that are of benefit to them.” (22:28)
Allah also urges man to enjoy and learn from the natural environment, especially from the natural features of the earth and human survival endeavours. Allah says that He “has made the earth manageable for you, so travel and enjoy what Allah has provided for your sustenance.” (67:15) “Sustenance” includes everything man needs to live in peace and harmony, including the opportunities to learn and obtain anything profitable, and making contacts for friendship and dealings for trade and commerce, social ventures, sporting meets, tourism as well as economic collaboration and cooperation.
In their own countries, many people take things for granted; they “open their eyes” wide only when they travel. Thus, Allah says: “Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation.” (29:20) Creation means both natural creations such as the special features of the earth, the animal kingdom, vegetation and human beings themselves as well as man-made structures.
Spectacular natural creations include the Grand Canyon and the Niagara Falls in America, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, the Fjords of Norway, the Himalayas in India and innumerable natural wonders everywhere on earth. All these are for people to see, wonder and to learn from and to preserve them.
The believers would also come closer to Allah when they reflect that it is He who created these wonders and natural materials by which people learn and use their knowledge to build marvelous structures, like, say, the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal of India and the Great Wall of China as well as modern wonders like the skyscrapers of developed cities.
Knowledge for any development, even self-development, is abundantly available all around us. Those who do not wish to learn are like beasts of burden that carry materials of learning and wisdom on their backs but do not understand or gain from them. The Qur’an likens such a person as “a donkey laden with books.” (62:5)
Today, teachers and students on exchange programmes, especially higher level students, and local students studying in overseas institutions, have profited immensely in not only widening knowledge but also in promoting peace and harmony among people of various races, religions and cultures. Exchange programmes, scholarships, fellowships, courses as well as volunteer work bring people nearer, enhancing social integration and tolerance, and removing prejudices, barriers and restrictions along racial and religious lines.
As for acquiring knowledge from foreign countries there is again no restriction. A well-known Hadith says: “To acquire knowledge, go even to China,”, giving the emphasis that distance and people of different cultures are no barrier to acquiring skills and formal knowledge as well as informal knowledge of local people and their cultures and languages.
In the last 15, 20 years, Muslims have been undertaking the annual Haj and the Umrah (minor pilgrimage) in greater numbers and this initiated the expansion development of the Masjidil Haram the Grand Mosque in Mecca) and its surrounding areas.
Families have also been travelling far and wide to China and Europe. Halal food is no longer a big problem. Like Taiwan, which is expanding facilities for Muslim visitors, like increasing the number of halal restaurants and prayers rooms, some other countries are following suit to meet the demands of Islamic tourism.
Travelling has widen the mental perspectives of Muslims, and numerous inter-marriages have taken place. Likewise non-Muslims too are beginning to know Islam and Muslims better. Mutual friendship and official dealings lead to peace, harmony and progress.
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2 August 2016