What needs to be done before traveling in Islam? Is it a sunnah to choose one of the travelers as the head before setting off?

Details of the Question
What needs to be done before traveling in Islam? Is it a sunnah to choose one of the travelers as the head before setting off?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The person to set off for a travel needs to take all material and spiritual measures. The measures can vary depending on the length of the journey, the situation of the place to be traveled to and the features of the traveler. 

It is mandub (recommended) to perform a prayer of two rak’ahs before setting off for journey or after returning from it.

According to what is reported from Abu Said and Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with them), the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,   

“If three people set off for a journey, let them choose one of the as the head!” (Abu Dawud, Jihad 80.)

It is necessary to try to form congregations so that the large Islamic congregation will be formed from small congregations. (Abdullah Parlıyan, Açıklamalı Tam Riyazu’s-Salihin Tercümesi: 286.)

What is meant by that order is to carry out affairs commonly in harmony, not to have different ideas and to fall into disagreement.

It is sunnah al-muakkadah to choose a head for a journey. There are also some scholars who say it is wajib.

What is meant by three is the fact that a congregation consists of at least three people. If there are more, a head is necessary in the first place. 

It is useful to say the prayers mentioned in verses and hadiths, to ask for forgiveness, to say salawat, to read the chapter al-Fatiha, and read ayat al-kursi seven times.

In the verse, “That has created pairs in all things, and has made for you ships and cattle on which ye ride, In order that ye may sit firm and square on their backs, and when so seated, ye may celebrate the (kind) favor of your Lord, and say "Glory to Him Who has subjected these to Our (use), for We could never have accomplished this (by ourselves). "And to Our Lord, surely, must We turn back!"” (az-Zukhruf, 43/12-13-14), Allah reminds His slaves some of the bounties He has given them; He especially mentions the land and sea vehicles that are used especially on journeys; then, He teaches the prayer to be said when one gets on such a vehicle in order to thank Him for those bounties: “Glory to Him Who has subjected these to Our (use), for We could never have accomplished this (by ourselves). And to Our Lord, surely, must We turn back!”

As it can be seen, those words are the expression of a full state and consciousness of slavery. Especially the last sentence makes a connection between the current journey and the great journey of no return and tells us that the actual journey is the journey of slavery and worshipping and that it should be continued at all times and everywhere. It also tells us that the life in the world itself is a travel and journey. 

“Glorification, blessing, confessing one’s weakness and the fact that the return is to Allah” mean trust and renewing belief for the traveler; it also means to be freed from all kinds of feelings of loneliness and fears. Thus, it means that the traveler becomes ready for a peaceful journey without stress and without tending to be a traffic monster.   

According to what is reported from Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), when the Messenger of Allah got on his animal and settled, he would utter Allahu akbar three times and say the following prayer: 

“Glory to Him Who has subjected these to Our (use), for We could never have accomplished this (by ourselves). And to Our Lord, surely, must We turn back!”

O Allah! We ask from you goodness, taqwa and good deeds that you will be pleased with in this journey.

O Allah! Make this journey easy for us and make the distant places near!

O Allah! You are the one who will help us in the journey and who will protect our families while we are away.

O Allah! I take refuge in you from the difficulties of the journey, facing depressing things, and seeing bad things about our families when we return.”

The narrator says Hazrat Prophet would say the same prayers when he returned from the journey and added the following sentence:

“We are those who have returned from a journey, repented and praised our Lord.” (Muslim, Hajj 425, see Abu Dawud, Jihad 72; Tirmidhi, Daawat 45-46)

We learn from this narration of Abdullah Ibn Umar how Hazrat Prophet acted when he set off for a journey. Our beloved Prophet, who is our role model in everything and our leader, would say Allahu akbar three times after getting on the animal and read verses 12-13 of the chapter az-Zukhruf (43). Then, he would mention his wishes regarding the journey, the return and those that were left behind by expressing the feelings of a person who was about to set off.

If we think about the issues that the Messenger of Allah mentioned, we will see that they are the common thoughts and concerns of everybody who sets off for a journey. We learn from the hadith how to say prayers with those thoughts and concerns and what to ask from Allah. The words to be uttered in each place are different. It is the necessity of knowledge and wisdom to utter appropriate words and to express wishes depending on the place and situation. Those prayers of our Prophet consist of the most appropriate words to be uttered by a slave at the beginning and end of a journey. Therefore, he is an indispensable example for us.

To sum up:

1 Hazrat Prophet would take refuge in Allah everywhere and at all times.

2 A Muslim should not forget that each journey has an aspect that reminds the last journey of man and should not neglect taking refuge in Allah.

3 Prayer (dua) is both the power, duty and worshipping of a slave.

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