Thursday, May 10, 2007

the art of travel | sacred journey


According to the Koran (Quran), God's Wide Earth and everything in it are "sacred," not only as divine creations, but also because the material world is full of "waymarks," or signs of divine reality. Moreover, Islam itself is born between two journeys, Mohammad's hijra or "flight" from Mecca to Medina, and his hajj, or return voyage. The hajj is the movement toward the origin and center for every Moslem even today, and the annual Pilgrimage has played a vital role, not just in the religious unity of Islam, but also in its cultural unity.

Mohammad himself exemplifies every kind of travel in Islam; his youth with the Meccan caravans of Summer and Winter, as a merchant; his campaigns as a warrior; his triumph as a humble pilgrim. Although an urban leader, he is also the prophet of the Bedouin and himself a kind of nomad, a "sojourner"an "orphan." From this perspective travel can almost be seen as a sacrament. Every religion sanctifies travel to some degree, but Islam is virtually unimaginable without it.

The Prophet said, "Seek knowledge, even as far as China." From the beginning, Islam lifts travel above all "mundane" utilitarianism and gives it an epistemological or even Gnostic dimension. "The jewel that never leaves the mine is never polished," says the Sufi poet Saadi. To "educate" is to "lead outside," to give the pupil a perspective beyond parochiality and mere subjectivity.

Some Sufis may have done all their traveling in the Imaginal World of archetypal dreams and visions, but vast numbers of them took the Prophet's exhortations quite literally. Even today dervishes wander over the entire world...

Unofficially, there existed two basic types of wandering Sufi: the "gentleman-scholar" type, and the mendicant dervish. The former category includes Ibn Battuta (who collected Sufi initiations the way some occidental gentlemen once collected Masonic degrees), and on a much more serious level the "Greatest Shaykh" Ibn Arabi, who meandered slowly through the 13th century from his native Spain, across North Africa, through Egypt to Mecca, and finally to Damascus.

Ibn Arabi actually left accounts of his search for saints and adventurers on the road, which could be pieced together from his voluminous writings to form a kind of rihla or "travel text": ( a recognized genre of Islamic literature) or autobiography. Ordinary scholars traveled in search of rare texts on theology or jurisprudence, but Ibn Arabi sought only the highest secrets of esotericism and the loftiest "openings" into the world of divine illumination; for him every "journey to the outer horizons" was also a "journey to the inner horizons" of spiritual psychology and gnosis.

Ibn Arabi enjoyed a special relation with Khezr (Khizr), the immortal and unknown prophet, the "Green Man," who sometimes appears to wandering Sufis in distress, to rescue them from the desert, or to initiate them. Khezr, in a sense, can be called the patron saint of the traveling dervishes and the prototype. (He first appears in the Koran as a mysterious wanderer and companion of Moses in the desert.)

Christianity once included a few orders of wandering mendicants (in fact, St. Francis organized one after meeting with dervishes in the Holy Land, who may have bestowed upon him a "cloak of initiation" the famous patchwork robe he was wearing when he returned to Italy), but Islam spawned dozens, perhaps hundreds of such orders.

As Sufism crystallized from the loose spontaneity of early days to an institution with rules and grades, "travel for knowledge" was also regularized and organized. Elaborate handbooks of duties for dervishes were produced which included methods for turning travel into a very specific form of meditation. The whole Sufi "path" itself was symbolized in terms of intentional travel.

from The Caravan of Summer by Peter Lamborn Wilson. Posted part only. read the complete article here.

. About the Author
Peter Lamborn Wilson (a.k.a. Hakim Bey) (born 1945) is the author of Sacred Drift and several books and studies exploring the role of heresy and mysticism in Islam. Wilson spent ten years wandering in the Middle East. He now wanders the streets of New York City.

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