In April 2018 I had the privilege of visiting Morocco with Illuminated Tours, an eclectic group of about 30 open-hearted travelers from all over the world. Tour leader Dr. Omid Safi, a charismatic professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, not only showed us some of the most holy sites in Marrakech and Fez but also led us on a spiritual journey to the center of our own hearts. Omid was up front about this fact from the first: “We’re going to become spiritual cardiologists,” he said, nodding toward an actual cardiologist in the group who had just introduced himself a moment before. “In fact, the Arabic phrase for ‘how are you?’ – keef al hal – translates to ‘how’s your heart?’ and so we will all be checking in with each other throughout the trip in this way: how’s your heart?” I knew right then in my own heart that I was in the right place.
We had daily reading assignments from Radical Love, a poignant collection of Sufi poetry by Rumi and his contemporaries translated and edited by Omid. One afternoon, I was reading in the courtyard of our lovely riad in the ancient medina of Marrakech when I came across Abu Sa’id’s “Everything Sings.” It took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I read it over and over again. Never has a poem spoke (sung?) to me more clearly.
We have loved
A love that spills over
Everything we are
–Abu Sa’id, trans. Omid Safi in Radical Love: Teachings from the Islamic Mystical Tradition (Yale University Press, 2018). Used with permission.
I believe that music – and especially singing – is directly inspired and created as a result of pure love. Whether that love is for another person, for God, for nature, or even for one’s self, music couldn’t exist without it. We are moved to sing when words by themselves are not enough.
If you are searching for an inspiring travel experience like I had in Morocco, look to Illuminated Tours. Expertly curated and thoughtfully led by knowledgeable guides, it’s thoughtful, organized group travel…for people who don’t usually “do” group travel.
While you do visit important religious and historic sites, this is not your average sightseeing tour. It’s more like a laid-back study abroad program for lifelong learners who are genuinely curious about the world, who seek to better understand diverse communities and cultures on a more meaningful level. You stay in four-star boutique accommodations, with some meals included, and you leave with a deeper appreciation for the destination, gaining access to sites and venues that may not be available to you if you were on your own. If you’re the type of traveler who likes to “go where the locals go,” you will not be disappointed.
From conversations over breakfast about the weirdness of everyday life to thoughtful discussions of poetry, theology and philosophy each evening, I quickly bonded with the group. But there’s also plenty of time to relax and explore on your own. And if you feel like skipping a group activity, there’s absolutely no judgment if you want to bow out. Everyone was so supportive, open and affirming, which made these people so easy to travel with. They definitely set the bar for my group travel experiences going forward.
Have you ever traveled with a organized tour? What did you love or hate about it? Let’s talk (or sing) about it in the comments.