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A lot of people ask me how I feel traveling as a Muslim. Truthfully, I don’t think about it. In my world and in my head, I am Yasmin; adventurer, photographer, and sushi fanatic. The world is my playground and I’m merely exploring. I love people watching and I guarantee that I’m more fascinated by you than you’d be by me. So when I get stopped and questioned or harassed because of my headscarf, the biggest indicator of my religion, I’m always thrown off.
I should start with some background. I started wearing the headscarf only four years ago, and it was a big moment in my life. I rekindled my faith and what I wanted from this world. It was glorious and beautiful experience until the world turned against people like me. Maybe that’s dramatic. Perhaps, I should say that the media turned against us, which, in turn, caused fear to be instilled in us, but I was determined to stay strong. The world is full of beautiful differences; people will full body tattoos, different skin tones, hair lengths, interests, disabilities, and more. How does a cheap five dollar scarf on my head make me stand out from everyone else, and why does it make me a target?
Coming back to the present, I am a frequent traveler. I love visiting new locations and seeing different lands. I feel as if I’d be depriving myself of the beauty and knowledge of the world if I didn’t! Despite this, I still get the same questions:
- Aren’t you afraid of harassment?
- How can you do this alone? Why not have someone with you in case *insert every worst case scenario* happens??
- Do you think you’ll get hassled at the airport?
The list could go on, and all these questions are completely valid! However, after I couldn’t suppress my urge to travel and live the nomadic life I always wanted, I realized the pros of traveling as a Muslim outweighed all of these fears and risks. So let me illustrate some of the reasons why I love traveling as a Muslim!
I spent four days in Italy with another hijab-wearing friend of mine and, throughout the entire trip, we had constant reminders of one topic – eating halal! For those of you that do not know, eating halal means eating foods that are permissible to us, which, basically, is cleanly cut meat and absolutely no pork. During this time though, we encountered three different men who made it a point (respectfully) to warn us about the dangers of not eating zabiha. There was no real danger and it is a lifestyle choice that is offered to us in Islam, but to some, it’s a lifestyle choice that they believe should be practiced by all. Although we thought this was totally random and odd, it was simply hilarious to see such a pattern throughout our Italy trip and we truly believe we would not have experienced this if it had not been for our hijabs calling us to attention.
You’re a star
I’ve always heard stories from people of color traveling to countries where there is virtually no people of color and the constant attention being drawn to them. Well, I was a four leaf clover in places like Iceland. Not only because I am a hijabi, but because I am also a person of color. It was a cold day in Reykjavik, which is typical. After two days of camping around the Golden circle, I was sitting outside of the Hallgrímskirkja, the grandest church of Iceland, next to an East Asian girl around my age and her friend. They were having the time of their lives doing a photoshoot on the bench we were sharing, while I was looking for the nearest Italian restaurant (hey, gotta feed the cravings!) when I felt a tap on my shoulder. She politely asked for a photo with me, and this struck me as odd. You see, we are in Iceland. Wouldn’t you want photos with an Icelandic person instead of a Somali American tourist?? Looking around, I realized I was the only hijabi person-of-color in maybe the whole area? Still confused I kept thinking why, because, like I said, it was two days after my camping trip so I knew for a fact I didn’t look cute and she definitely wasn’t mistaking me for a model or celebrity. So, of course, I took her photo because that was the closest to fame I’ve ever felt!
You get tested
I am a huge advocate of life tests. In situations where I feel like I’m being tested, although challenging, the benefits that result from it and how strong you feel afterward is just amazing. You grow as a person and you understand a lot more about how the world works around you. Traveling as a Muslim is certainly not roses and butterflies all the time. For every smile and word of encouragement, you get a few stares and disgusted looks. I don’t feel comfortable walking alone late at night by myself in even the safest of countries. If someone stares at me too long, I instantly think of the news. I wish I could say fear is gone but as a woman, as a person of color, and as a hijabi, fear is something I will always have in my back pocket. But, what I do with fear is what helps me grow. It has taught me to be cautious, it has taught me to be careful, and it has taught me to trust myself more than anything. I feel as if I’ve fine-tuned my sense of judgments and instincts ever since I’ve started traveling and, especially, when I started traveling alone. I know this isn’t groundbreaking or new for women across the world, but I truly am proud to be part of the club of strong fearless women who know when to beat their fears and when to trust their instincts.
The Muslim Community is supportive
We get a lot of backlash for seeming “archaic” in our ways of thinking and having “regressive ideas” when it comes to women’s rights, but all of that is beyond untrue. Women have tons of rights and loads of freedom within Islam and despite cultural practices (different from what the religion might state), we still are our own person. I remember when I first went on my European tour in the Fall of 2017, my extremely close Muslim community was following along so closely. All of my photos and locations were being talked about positively and people, both men, and women were reaching out to me asking me 1,001 questions about how I managed to find resources if I was scared to do this alone, and what locations they should try! I was never worried about their reaction but seeing a supportive group made me even more excited to encourage others to travel! I don’t want people to be tied down by fear, to lose sight of their freedom to accomplish their goals, and to feel hesitant to reach beyond their boundaries. Returning home, I was excited to talk to friends about my experiences, speak at events, and help my friends plan trips of their own!
To me, a Muslim traveler is an identity I carry proudly with me. I do understand the risks and the cautions I might have to take, but it’s my right as a human, as an American, and as a Muslim to take advantage of my freedom to travel.
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