This post has been adapted from the original post: Traveling While Muslim: Why More Muslims Need To Travel.
In over 12 years of travel, I’ve encountered a handful of traveling Muslims. Seriously, I could name them all if you asked me to. I never quite understood why. Was it the places I was visiting? Was it the travel circles I was encountering? Why weren’t more Muslims traveling?
Although I am Muslim and a traveler, I sometimes have a hard time identifying as a Muslim traveler because I’m not easily identified that way. What do I mean? Well, my name is Sally, to start. I don’t wear a headscarf, nor do I look particularly Arab or Muslim (whatever that means). I also have a passport from the United States. All of these factors effectively give me certain leverage over my fellow travelers who aren’t fortunate enough to have these privileges. Interestingly enough, my blog has helped me connect with other traveling Muslims, but let me tell you – we seem to be a minority.
Although this is partially a cultural problem that seems to stem from a lot of traditional ideas about women traveling (alone), a huge deterrent is also the rampant Islamophobia that has been rippling across the globe. I grew up in the time of September 11th and can barely remember a time when Islamophobia didn’t exist.
Traveling while Muslim means a lot of things.
- It means always getting stopped for the “random” security check at the airport.
- It means telling people where you’re really from because you can’t be actually from the United States.
- It means being armed with examples and parables to prove that no, Islam is not a violent religion.
- It means dealing with woefully ignorant questions about differences between race, religion, and culture.
- It means hoping and praying that the latest terrorist attack wasn’t done in the name of Islam.
- It’s the sinking feeling of knowing that an alarming number of people look at you and only see “the enemy.”
- It means wondering if and when I will inevitably be stopped at border control.
- It means debating if I should continue traveling in the Middle East, knowing I could face repercussions when I return to the U.S.
- It means carefully planning my flights so I can keep an eye on my expensive electronics in the cabin of the plane.
That is what it’s like to travel while Muslim.
I’m not one to pull the minority card or complain about my circumstances. I’m incredibly lucky that I get to travel and do a job that I love. I’m privileged to have a U.S. passport and I’m privileged that I am ethnically ambiguous to the average person.
However, I want to highlight that many Muslims are incredibly concerned about their safety while traveling, and I don’t blame them. I’m concerned for my family, friends, and community members. The media fuels the Islamophobia fire daily and it’s disheartening to constantly have to defend my religion against the trolls and the haters. There’s no such thing as being a Muslim traveler without being an ambassador for Islam.
One experience I’ll never forget is when I attended a good friend’s wedding in a small town in Germany. His best man came up in conversation, and he told me that despite his best efforts to convince him otherwise, the best man was “suspicious” of Muslims. I spent the entire weekend feeling like I had to be my best, most likeable self, since this I was clearly the best man’s ONLY encounter with a Muslim. Although I like to think I’m friendly by nature, the added pressure of knowing that I have to represent a billion and a half people every time I’m someone’s “first encounter” isn’t exactly a role I welcome with open arms.
People are woefully uneducated about the religion, but are steadfast in their hatred for it.
I’m thankful that I can educate travelers about Islam when I travel, but I know it isn’t enough. I am only one voice and despite the countless Muslim voices out there, our words fall on deaf ears in favor of the Fox News channels of the world.
I urge other Muslims to go out there and explore and be ambassadors for Islam. I know it isn’t our job to educate people, but it’s the only way I can think of to attempt to change perspectives. We need to travel everywhere – not just to other Muslim-majority countries. In the end, our impact may be small, but as the Dalai Lama once said, “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room.”
This is what inspired me to start Passport & Plates in 2015. I wanted a platform to share cool local experiences, food discoveries and budget travel tips, sure. But I also wanted to share my experiences traveling while Muslim and hopefully inspire other Muslim travelers along the way.
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