As a Muslim traveller, I didn't realise I was "that" different. I knew that my food and activity preferences are not always the same as everyone else, but I just considered it personal, but the more I travelled around the world, I realised that the Muslim traveller is different and this post will tell you why! Before I start though, I want to tell you a little bit about Muslim women.
Muslim Women - Who are they?
The thing about Muslims is that they are all different. Islam is spread to over 50 countries and every country has its own culture and customs. Not all Muslims are Arabs and not everyone is part of the Arab culture. The Arab culture itself is different depending on the geographical location. For example, the countries in the Gulf are unlike the countries in North Africa. Muslims come from a rich and vibrant heritage, so defining "A Muslim" is a challenge on its own.
As I live in London, I have friends from African, Pakistani, Arab, Persian roots. We are all considered Muslim women, but we are extremely different even in interpreting the same religion that we are all part of. That is why there are so many constant debates about the “right” Islamic practices. However, I see this as a good thing.
Why are Muslim Travellers Different?
Destination can be an issue
Muslim women, who are dressed modestly and cover their hairs (wear the hijab) standout when travelling outside of the Muslim World and with the negative portrayal of Islam in some Western media outlets (I am talking about you FOX News), it makes them more of a target to a negative interaction. Therefor, covered Muslim women are cautious with their travel choices. For example, I am not rushing to go to the US or far right European countries anytime soon especially with everything that is going on at the moment.
Muslim women, who do not cover their hair, but are from ethnic backgrounds also have their challenges in choosing a destination. A lot of my Black Muslim friends are very aware of the destination choices. Even regular destinations that everyone raves about can be strange when you are a person of colour. For example, when I was in Greece with a group of my Muslim Black friends, two of them got harassed on the street with someone making monkey sounds and moves. All the other interactions were fine and we were really comfortable in the country, but that one negative interaction makes us all aware that we do stand out.
Halal Food while travelling
Food to me is not a huge issue because I am happy eating vegetarian food or sea food, which I find plenty of while I travel. There are some Muslims who don’t even mind eating non-halal meat too. However, the bigger majority of Muslims want to have halal meat. The halal food industry is booming in London because there are more choices than just ethnic types of food.
One of the joys of travels is trying the local food, but it is rare that I get to do that because a lot of it is non-halal meat. I am pleased that there are more and more delicious vegetarian options available.
This is not a big deal, but foodie travellers might choose to travel to only Muslim countries for this reason because they want to enjoy the food without worries.
Alcohol Free Activities
When I was planning my trip to Prague, Kotor and Belfast, I read so many blog posts and travel guides that had multiple alcoholic activities do to the cheap price of alcohol in those countries. Even the tours that are not about alcohol have a some sections dedicated to this. The day trip I went to in Kotor had a planned stop to a liquor making facility, which I just did not go into. The Belfast nature tour as well had a stop to a distillery, which I also skipped and just walked around instead. Going to these tours with an alcohol aspect might not be a big deal, but sometimes other tourists over drink on these stops and start smelling of the liquor, which is a smell a lot of us Muslims don’t particularly love.
Prayer times and locations
Muslims pray daily, a few times a day. I usually pray in my hotel, so, I will have stops to the hotel to do that. On day trips, it is harder to do that because the hotel is probably in another city. When I am on a nature walk hidden from people and their judgement, I just do my prayer, but a lot of the time I feel awkward to just pray in the street or inside an attraction. I make up my prayers at the end of the day when I get back, but other Muslims would like to do them on time, so planning a trip and a schedule will usually involve two prayer stops.
I am telling you this because…
This post is not to say that we cannot travel or we are limited, but it highlights the reality of being a travelling Muslim. I still travel to most places and absolutely love it!
On a side note, it helps celebrate these differences in dedicated travel events to women of colour like this upcoming one I will be speaking in :D
London BAME Women event:
BAME abbreviation means Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.
If you are in London in October, come along to "Turning your travel passion into profit" event to hear me (along with a group of amazing travelling women) speak about Secret of Successful BAME Women EnTRAVpreneurs.