I came back two nights ago from a nine-day tour of Muslim Spain; my third trip to the country in the past year, it was a tremendously rewarding experience. But what is always far more fulfilling is not that I can experience it, but that God has given me the chance to share the richness, complexity, and delights of one of Islam's greatest expressions with others. We had about 40 people on this year's trip through the heartland of Muslim Spain; since we've returned, we've gotten great feedback, including this post by Bushra Burney on her experience.
To me, Islam is as a light, and as time has passed, different peoples and cultures have carried that light to different places. By necessity, that light must fragment, it must dim, and it must bend--nothing can ever match the intensity and piety of the Prophetic period. But in that fragmentation is a different kind of beauty: We see how different peoples and cultures realized the same values in different conditions. For some time, Muslim Spain was powerful and formidable. During other times, it was weak, on the defensive, and nobly clinging to what little space it had left.
There is a long tradition of traveling to learn--to expand one's horizons. Mobility and dynamism are at the heart of authentic Islam. This is what my trips are meant to do. By going to Spain, we see what Muslims did, where they went wrong, and how they survived and thrived. And at the end of that trip, we learn how Muslim Spain didn't disappear so much as transform, remaining behind in habits, words, and buildings, or moving to different places--among the most important of which was Eastern Europe. For if there is any other experience of European Islam that can rival Spain's, it is the Balkans'.
I am leading a group to Bosnia and Turkey from July 6-15, 2012 (that's just five weeks away.) Full details are available here; the trip is open to anyone who's interested. It will be a chance to learn about the incredible depth and rootedness of a Western Muslim experience. This is not at all to say that Islam is uniquely or exclusively Western, but for those of us who are Western and Muslim, learning this history is valuable and important. This trip is also a chance to go to a place where Islam still clings to the mountains and valleys, as Bosnia sometimes seems to be the twilight of Granada (of 2012, not 1492).
We go because I think we need a better understanding of ummah.
Not that we are all the same, or must be the same. Not that we are and must be a crude political project. But because, like an ummah, we descend spiritually from one loving tradition, and we are now as siblings to one another, and despite our differences, we need to know we are there for each other, that we see and recognize and appreciate one another. For Bosnia, especially, this is a deeply fulfilling experience: Bosnians will appreciate that Western Muslims, like themselves, understand what they have been through, and once we as Americans and Canadians see and know this truth, we will work harder to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Here are three essays I wrote last year on the importance of Bosnia to the Western Muslim experience: The Bleeding Heart of Muslim Europe; 'We Found My Father, Except For His Hand'; and, A Tiny Little Mecca for the West.
Here are some pictures of Bosnia's tremendous landscape, historical and natural. Bosnia's one of the few countries that you'll leave saying, "I never imagined such a place existed, and don't think I will see such a place again."
And then we'll go to Istanbul, the thriving heart of the former Ottomans, and now the booming capital of a Turkish renaissance--not politically, but with something that includes and transcends that. Istanbul is a little bit like seeing world-changing ambition and energy in action, a Muslim place that is delightfully and overwhelmingly messy, a monster of a city that is so achingly old and so breathtakingly young, it seems to be its own planet.
And, again, package details from Dar El Salam Travel.