This isn’t meant to be a political post or a discussion of the struggles that the every day Muslim may face. I have had my share of weird looks when I board planes, ‘random searches’, and questioning. Some situations have definitely left me feeling frustrated and upset. It is a sad reality right now, but I am not one to dwell on negative moments or let them prevent me from experiencing things that bring me true happiness in life. I am aware that I outwardly represent a faith that has a ton of misinformation and misrepresentation out there. This post is meant to share what it is like as a hijab-wearing frequent traveler in foreign countries and various cities.
My goal is life is to dispel any preconceived ideas and notions people may think or assume of me. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t exhausting at times, however, I am a firm believer in that you receive what you put out into the world. I wear my scarf (hijab) loud and proud. You will often see me wearing bright colors, prints, and more often times than not a smile to accompany it. I am a true people-person and one of my favorite things to do while I travel is converse with local strangers and people who are also traveling.
Traveling is a form of education. You may find yourself as the educator or the student. I have found that people may look at you in an intriguing way, but more often times than not they will find your outward devotion to your faith to be beautiful and respectful. I cannot count the number of times I have heard “thank you for talking to me, I have always wanted to ask about Islam.” Conversing with people is so beautiful because there is this cultural-exchange that happens that can be quite eye opening.
I have also found myself to be in places where I may be the first Muslim woman someone is seeing. I remember in Brazil, these girls conversed with my friends in I in this pseudo Portuguese- English conversation that we made work at a metro station. Later they asked to take pictures with us, because they loved the way we were dressed. Recently while at Al-Hambra in Granada, Spain this entire tour group asked to take their picture with me because I had clearly looked Muslim in a historically Muslim location. This one lady from Korea asked to take a picture with my friend and I, which we did. Then minutes later she returned wearing a scarf on her head again and asked to take another photo. Instances like the ones mentioned happen kind of often when I travel and it used to drive me crazy. But I have realized that people do it as a sign of admiration more than anything else. As weird as it can be to have your picture taken with strangers, it can be also nice knowing that you were a part of their adventure.
The more and more I travel, the more I realize not to make any sort of assumptions or have any expectations of how the people of that place may treat you. I remember mentally preparing myself before heading to Paris to be able to stand up for myself should I experience any sort of explicit racism. The French are people to be known to dislike public display of faith and not being kind to those who are not their kind. To my surprise, some of the kindest people and interactions I have had while traveling were in Paris and France. I remember I was confused on the metro trying to find my way to The Louvre, especially since I didn’t know much French. This lady was almost heading the same way I was, and nearly escorted me to the museum to the very stop.
I always get asked questions about how I travel and if I am ever scared (especially traveling solo). To be honest, there is nothing to be scared of. The world is there for you to admire, explore, and tell your story to. Just like anything in life, fear of the unknown or what may happen isn’t a reason to hold you back. Being out of your comfort zone is beautiful, so is being authentically you, and living life to the fullest.
Stay caffeinated, friends!