Sheikh Sâmî al-Mâjid
The confusion here is because the Arabic word “siyâhah” had previously been used to refer to a devotional trip performed by some monks and hermits known as anchorites. The same Arabic word is now used to refer to tourism. There is big difference between the holiday of the anchorites (a religious practice forbidden in Islam) and what is meant by going on holiday now, though in Arabic both share the same word (siyâhah).
Before, going on a holiday meant going on a religious retreat to be away from people to perform worship in solitude. This manner of worship used to be practiced by Christian priests. This is the meaning being discussed in the hadîth in question.
A man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, allow me to go on a holiday.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “My people’s holiday is jihâd for the sake of Allah. [Sunan Abu Dâwûd, Mustadrak al-Hâkim and Sunan al-Bayhaqî] Al-Albânî classified it as a fine hadîth.
In Majmû` al-Fatâwa (10/642), Ibn Taymiyah writes: “Touring countries for an invalid reason, as some hermits do, is prohibited. Imam Ahmad said that such holidays have nothing to do with Islam. They were never performed by the prophets or by the pious people.”
Ibn Kathîr said in his commentary, when talking about verse 112 of Sûrah al-Tawbah: “A holiday does not mean what some people would understand. It is to worship in caves and deserts. This is only permissible at the time of trials.”
In brief, the prohibited “siyâhah” in Islam is traveling for devotional purposes in emulation of the ways of the Jews and the Christian anchorites in their manner of worship.
Holidays or “siyâhah” in the modern sense of tourism is a new expression. We cannot apply the hadîth prohibiting holidays to this current practice of going to various countries for sight-seeing and enjoyment, just because the Arabic word “siyâhah” happens to be used for both.
In fact, the rulings of going on a vacation are similar to those of traveling. Therefore, as long as traveling is done for a lawful reason and to a lawful place, then it is permissible to shorten prayers and break fasts. However, a man could be described as a sinful traveler if he is traveling to do something unlawful such as going for adultery, drinking, or for executing a usury contract. Such a traveler may not benefit from the rulings of travel which allow the shortening of prayers and the breaking of fasts.
And Allah knows best.
Source: Islam Today