‘A lion cannot hunt his game,
If he does not leave his forest, his narrow plain.
If an arrow does not leave the bow,
It will never reach its aim.’
This poem is one of many ascribed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the relative and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, respected as the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph by all Sunni Muslims, revered as the first divinely appointed Imam by Shi’a Muslims, and viewed as a fountain of spiritual knowledge and the primary transmitter of the mystical teachings of the Prophet by many Sufis. In the so-called Diwan of `Ali ibn Abi Talib, these poetic lines are given the title of ‘On the Benefits of Travelling’, stressing the importance that journeying and travelling should have for every human being and most certainly for every Muslim.
If we are not able to travel, then we are like an arrow which has never left its bow. That is indeed a sentiment that I personally relate to very much. And it seems to haunt me in my dreams these days, in these times of a global pandemic that has restricted our ability to travel so much. At least once a week I dream of some impossible trip or journey. Sometimes I dream about a journey taken by train, but much more often I dream of long haul flights. Certainly, I have had dreams like this before as well, once in a while. But never with the same frequency that they seem to occur during my nights of this pandemic period. My subconscious seems to have a very clear idea of what I am missing the most in these times. Not contact with other human beings, not the possibility of heading to the supermarket without having to wear a face-mask, but simply travelling.
There is a part of me that feels a bit disconcerted by these recurring nightly visions. I fear that they might expose my subconscious as one of a far too privileged individual, deeply mourning the loss of an eventually quite elitist exercise that a lot of people on our planet are barred from anyway, pandemic or not. But another part of me tries to reassure myself that this merely shows what a good Muslim subconscious I actually have. Does not our subconscious hold fast to the importance of travelling for every Muslim that Imam Ali has indicated in his poem?