I was originally going to post about my cool new haircut but this week has been quite shitty.
Being denied entry into countries is nothing new as a Pakistani passport holder. After all, we do have the second least appreciated documents on the planet. Having the privilege to also be Canadian, I climbed up the ranks to the 5th best passport position around a decade ago.
Growing up Muslim, offering shukur (thanks), in any situation, had always been a capitalized value. Any night I go to bed with an extreme emotion – happy or sad – I remind myself of how lucky I am to be in a country that feels safe, even if it doesn’t feel fully like home. On Monday night, after the shooting at the Quebec mosque, I couldn’t even do that.
Travel is something heavily encouraged by the Prophet Mohammed and an entire slice of the Islamic pizza is dedicated to just hajj (pilgrimage). I got my first dose of the travel bug when my mom sent my sisters and I to Egypt and Palestine in 2012 to learn and explore the architecture and history of the Islamic world. My 16 year old self actually thought about running away from our hotel in Cairo and starting a new life.
Despite the conflict in the Middle East or the Arab Spring taking place, I explored with an open mind. Seeing other religions peacefully practicing woke a curiosity in me to continue to travel and meet different people.
From the seven countries currently ban from the US; Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are places my family travels often. For Shia Muslims, these countries house histories, shrines, and mosques people from across the world come to see and pray in.
What’s the point of all this? The point is that travel, to me, is more than a hobby, it’s part of my culture and my faith.
In solidarity with my fellow Muslims, immigrants, dual citizens and PRs in North America, let me drop some beauty on your travel bucket list.
Iraq: Babil Iraq
Babylon was the “holy city” of Babylonia from around 2300 BC and the seat of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 612 BC. Babylon was an important city, both politically and aesthetically, ruled by Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar II. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Iran: Nasir al Molk Mosque
The Nasir-al-Molk Mosque, also known as the Pink Mosque, is a traditional mosque for the outside in Shiraz, built from 1876 to 1888. The multitude of stained glass windows turns the inside of the mosque into a riotous wonderland of color that is absolutely breathtaking. You can only see the light through the stained glass in the early morning. It was built to catch the morning sun falling over the tightly woven Persian carpet.
Yemen: Dar al-Hajar, the Rock Palace
Perched atop a rock pinnacle at the famous Wadi Dhahr Valley, some 15 km away from the capital city of Sana’a, Yemen, is Dar al-Hajar, better known as the Imam’s Rock Palace. What makes the building so attractive is perhaps because it is exemplary of Yemeni architecture. It seems to grow out of the rocks on which it is constructed, and it has the characteristic painting of its windows and edges. Furthermore, it stands all alone in an oasis of green and quiet, which is the wadi.
Somalia: Laas Geel
Thousands of years ago, humans from the Neolithic age, decorated the walls of rock shelters with paintings of animals and humans at Laas Geel. The caves provide a glimpse into the little-known history of this part of the world. Even with the history of political instability, war, and natural weathering, the paintings have survived intact, retaining their clear outlines and vibrant colors. They are thought to be among the best and oldest preserved rock paintings in Africa.
Sudan: Lake Nasser
Lake Nasser is a vast reservoir in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. It is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Before construction, Sudan was against the building of Lake Nasser because it would encroach on land in the North, where the Nubian people lived. They would have to be resettled. In the end, Sudan’s land near the area of Lake Nasser was mostly flooded by the lake. Lake Nasser refers only to the much larger portion of the lake that is in Egyptian territory (83% of the total), with the Sudanese preferring to call their smaller body of water Lake Nubia.
Libya: Leptis Magna, Khoms
Leptis Magna was the biggest city of old Rome in Libya. Magna was established in tenth century BC by Phoenicians. A standout amongst the most conspicuous structures left in the destroyed city is the theater. Additionally, in Leptis Magna is the Hadrianic Baths, one of the biggest showers assembled by aged Rome.
Syria: Azm Palace
Azm Palace is the largest and arguably the most beautiful of the Damascene courtyard homes. It was built in 1749 by the governor of Damascus, As’ad Pasha al-Azem. It’s fashioned in the typical Damascene style of striped stonework, which is achieved by alternating layers of black basalt and limestone. The rooms of the palace are magnificent, decorated with inlaid tile work and exquisitely painted ceilings. The palace now houses the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.