We began the Circle hikes in 2012, they’ve become an important and enjoyable part of the Sunday Circles 🙂 . Faith and worship is not just about accumulating knowledge and being able to give the right answers to questions; nor is it just about rituals – although all those things are important. Rather it is a lived experience, a practical way of life that combines both intentions and actions. Therefore the goal behind the hikes is four-fold:
1. Dhikr (Remembrance of God): London is a great city! Diverse, rich in history and culture, dynamic, tolerant and sometimes (when the weather’s nice) even beautiful 🙂 . But being in a huge, bustling, fast-paced city doesn’t always give you the chance to reflect; it can be difficult to remember God and nurture your soul when you’re always surrounded by buildings, roads, cars, lights and other human-made things. Getting away from the noise and the stress of the city every now and again, and surrounding ourselves by nature, helps us to reconnect with God – to remember, to give thanks, and to feel humble as we see the beauty of Allah’s creation.
The Arabic word Ayah can mean two things: verse and sign. One of the best ways to remember Allah is to read His Ayaat (verses) in the Qur’an. But we can also remember and worship Allah by appreciating His Ayaat (signs) in His creation, all around us. The Qur’an contains countless references to nature to make us ponder, while nature is like the visual accompaniment. So our hikes are a way of softening our hearts, of respecting our fellow creation, and of drawing closer to God.
2. Hiking makes you happy! It’s true! …well, being surrounded by nature certainly does; and the walking releases endorphins, so the physical side does as well (as long as you’ve got the right footwear!). Several academic reports have also backed this up – the most recent one carried out by the London School of Economics in 2012 found that being around nature makes you happier, even if its 15 minutes of walking in the park. This supported research by Washington University in 2009, which concluded that being around nature brings down stress levels and reduces stress-related illnesses. And it makes complete sense when we link this to the above point on dhikr, because Allah mentions in the Qur’an: “Surely in the remembrance of God do hearts find contentment” (13:28).
Also, going on an outdoor trip, travelling in good company, discovering a new place, experiencing new challenges and a sense of adventure, is all fun! Society places a lot of pressure on youth to entertain themselves in ways that are not compatible with moral values – it’s important that our community can provide young Muslims with alternative opportunities for having fun in a halal way. These hikes (among other activities we do) are one way of providing that, inshaAllah.
3. Walking together strengthens friendship and unity:
When you’re walking together for several miles and several hours, you get to know each other much better than you would when you’re all sitting in a study circle. You not only have the chance to speak to each other and find out more about your fellow hikers, but you develop a sense of community, and the need to work together. On a hike, the group needs to stick together, this is important for morale: it means we don’t want to go too fast, but at the same time we need to reach our destination by a certain time so we can’t go too slowly either – this means
going at a pace that suits everyone. This teaches us all an important lesson in cooperation and unity.
Everyone is encouraged to look out for each other in the group, to give support if anyone needs a boost, and to make everyone feel included. The hiking group includes
older and younger circle members, people of different ethnicities, personalities and backgrounds, and this reflects the diversity of the ummah and humanity. It’s always heart-warming to see sisters who might not have known each other at first, forming good friendships by the end of a hike, mashaAllah!
4. Walking is one way to stay healthy: Looking after our health is important – very often this can be something we neglect or take for granted, but being fit and healthy is in fact a requirement in Islam. God has given us our bodies as an Amanah, meaning He has entrusted us with this blessing and will ask us about how we took care of it. In a famous hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) we are told:
“Take benefit of five before five:
your youth before your old age,
your health before your sickness,
your wealth before your poverty,
your free-time before your preoccupation,
and your life before your death.”
Maintaining good health means we will have more energy to do good deeds on a daily basis, and for many more years inshaAllah – whether it is having energy to pray and fast, or helping other people. It also shows gratitude for God’s blessings, and is also a sunnah (practice) of the Prophet (pbuh).
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We try to vary the hikes, from beginners level (gentle gradient, not too long a distance), to medium, to more challenging (either quite steep or long-distance hikes). Some of the hikes we’ve done include: The Seven Sisters Cliffs from Seaford to Eastbourne; Chipstead Downs; Tring Circular; Richmond Park; Box Hill; Dover to Deal; Hastings to Winchelsea; and Gomshall to Guildford, alhamdulillah.