Difficult Journeys in New York
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Photo by Anders Jildén on Unsplash
Experiences

Difficult Journeys in New York

Ziauddin Sardar

Journeys. The word has romantic connotations. We go on journeys of discovery. We travel to ‘broaden our mind’. A travel company invites me to go on ‘relationship journeys’ to make friends with accomplished people, with those who already have deep relationship with an established community. “Long car journeys are key to happy relationships,” announces an advertisement for Admiral Insurance. I often get unwanted intrusions on my mobile phone inviting me to go on a ‘spiritual journey and develop a relationship with God’.

Funny word that, relationship. I have never really understood what it actually means. Anyway, the words ‘journeys’ and ‘relationships’ are often combined to suggest that they have an affectionate bond. But in my experience, journeys seeking relationships are not particularly amorous. I first discovered this in New York in the summer of 1984.

I was on assignment to cover some now long-forgotten but then ever-so-important event at the UN. Staying at a hotel is part of most journeys. A journalist friend recommended I stay at the Tudor Hotel. “It’s not in an atmospheric part of town”, he said. “It has no colour, but it will be good for your heart.” He was convinced that all the ghee (the Pakistani fat) in my diet was escorting me towards a particular journey: a heart attack. “Tudor is the best cure I know,” he had said. No sooner had I arrived at the dreaded place, then I realized what he meant. The entire hotel was covered with a plastic carpet that administered large electrostatic shocks to anyone who was daft enough to walk on it. I have this nightmarish memory of being suspended between two electric charges, inside a lift that had polished steel for four walls, wondering whether I would get to the eighteenth floor before the lift. But I am sure that the shock therapy eliminated all fat from my body. That’s why I’ve been spared the journey to a heart surgeon.

I was allocated room 1814. On my journey to New York from London, I had picked up a collection of Aussie travel stories. “Telephones” by Thomas Shapcott, that’s the one I was reading. The narrator was looking through the New York telephone directory for a woman called Esther Kollsmayer with whom he had developed a close telephone relationship. That she was very motherly to him, this much is certain. Whether she had any other kind of relationship, we don’t know, but we can guess. The narrator, however, had never actually met

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If You’ve Never Travelled, You’ve Never Lived
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Dreams and Visions

If You’ve Never Travelled, You’ve Never Lived

Ziauddin Sardar

Discovery is the sole purpose of travel. There are two kinds of journey, described in Islam by the words rihla and safar. A rihla is a journey on which we embark to discover the world and other cultures; to learn and acquire knowledge. It should not be confused with tourism. A holiday trip is neither a journey, nor a migration. People migrate in search of a better life or to flee war and persecution, whereas journeys are of a voluntary nature. They must be consciously planned and are often time-consuming, not only for the hours spent on the road and at various halts, but also at the final destination. In order to meet other people and cultures, to learn about them and from them, you must learn their languages, beliefs and customs. You must live among them, building a second home in a new place.

Ancient Muslim travellers, such as Ibn Jubair in the 12th century, or Ibn Battuta, who traversed the world in the 14th century, left us their wonderful rihlas (or travelogues). Ibn Jubair visited the entire Arabian Peninsula, writing a book that now provides us with priceless information on medieval Islamic art and architecture. He collected experiences like a magpie collects trinkets, fastidiously describing all that he saw. Ibn Battuta’s rihla is a collection of the weird and wonderful things he observed during his breathtaking adventures. In the 10th century, another Muslim traveller reached Scandinavia: Ibn Fadlan’s travelogue is a valuable source of knowledge about the Vikings and Volga–Kama Bulghar. Muslim scholars considered that a rihla compelled the true traveller to pass on the discoveries and knowledge gained during their travels to others – any serious undertaking should result in a serious body of work.

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