I am Muslim, I’m a Hijabi, I will travel

Fernando was one of the few Uber drivers in Mexico City that conversed in English. Glad to have found someone who could speak more than a few words of English, I struck up a conversation. We chatted in general about where I came from, the duration of my visit to Mexico and the places I had already explored, when he asked: “When your husband told you that you would be traveling to Mexico, what were your first thoughts?” I laughed and answered that I pictured vast desert, a surplus of cactus and men riding donkeys dressed in ponchos and sombreros. He laughed heartily, then said that he knew I am from Islam. At this point I was slightly nervous, not sure what to anticipate. Much to my relief, he carried on saying that just like how you have misconceptions about Mexico, the world has misconceptions about Islam. He continued to say he has read some of the Qur’aan and Islam is a kind and beautiful religion. My heart soared upon hearing this!

My most recent trip was from South Africa (home) to Mexico. My outbound flight had a transit in Frankfurt and inbound a transit in Washington. I usually enjoy most of the travel experience, from wandering through different airports to the destination itself. This time I felt less excitement and I was extremely anxious. I’ve travelled to Istanbul weeks after the Coup, with the country in a State of Emergency. I’ve travelled to Kenya after the bombings, when people were cautioned about travelling to the country. On both accounts, I was never in this state of anxiety. Why the nerves? I wasn’t even exiting the airport, I was only in transit. I had nothing to hide, I had a valid VISA and all documentation in order. I was nervous because I was transiting through Frankfurt and I am a Muslim, because I was transiting through Washington and I am a Hijabi.

How I wish I could tell you that my trip was hassle free, that I sailed through airport security and check points. On the contrary. We were stopped in Frankfurt by police officers just as we disembarked the plane. The questions asked were routine. We were again stopped in Mexico by police officers asking routine questions. All our luggage was searched before exiting the airport. It didn’t stop there. On our outbound flight from Mexico to Washington, my husband’s boarding pass was flagged before boarding. My boarding pass scanned clear, but we were both pulled aside and searched thoroughly. This for me was the most uncomfortable experience. Our hand luggage was searched and we were fully patted down in front of the remainder of the passengers boarding the flight. This had me on the brink of tears. We cleared airport security in the US and my hijab was lightly patted, nothing intrusive. I was always searched by a female and was never once asked to remove my headscarf. Advice from me on dealing with this is to remain calm and co-operate within your rights while travelling.

Being in the spotlight is not limited to the airport security checks. I sometimes feel that I stick out like a sore thumb in places where Muslims are a minority or absent. On more than one instance I’ve been stared at. The look is more of curiosity and not fear. My reaction to the stares, is always a friendly smile. I have been asked on occasions as to why I wear the headscarf, I am always happy to explain. As a matter of fact, the onus is not only on the world to change their perception, but on you as well to break the stereotype.

This was my experience. Some may have had a breezy travel experience, some may have experienced much worse. I narrate my story not to discourage you, rather to make you aware and reinforce that you are not alone. The reality is that as a Muslim traveller the chances of being stopped by airport security is heightened. My encounters didn’t dissuade me from wearing my hijab, given the slightly stubborn person that I am, I wanted to don it more proudly. I didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed of being a Muslim, rather more willing to change the way people thought about Islam. It definitely didn’t make me want to stop travelling! Travel helps you to discover yourself. You learn about new cultures, meet interesting people, eat delicious cuisine and discover a little bit of magic in each place travelled to. It also allows you the opportunity to give a little bit of yourself back to the world. No matter how many times I get stopped, questioned and searched, the enrichment that travel imparts far outweighs!

My challenge to the world- Be like Fernando. Don’t judge me by the piece of cloth on my head or the beard on my husband’s face. Take the time to understand my religion. Take the time to get to know me and then decide for yourself.

My challenge to Muslims of the world- Be bold, be fearless and TRAVEL. Explore the beauty of this world and marvel over the magnificence of your Lord’s creation! Give the world the opportunity to get to know you and the beautiful religion of Islam. Stay true to your character, let your character shine and break the misconceptions the world may have.

I AM MUSLIM, I’M A HIJABI, I WILL TRAVEL.

 

16 thoughts on “I am Muslim, I’m a Hijabi, I will travel

  1. I agree wearing hijaab and being in a country where people don’t know much about Islam is sometimes scary bt like u said be brave and calm and you have nothing to hide or did anything wrong so just co-operate with them and we as Muslims should teach them the beauty about Islam. Enjoy the travels and may Allah take u safe n bring u safe ameen.

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  2. As Salam Alikum sister, the security lines in the USA are long every time I travel I always leave for the airport early because I know I will be pulled for extra security searches it’s just a fact of life for me that I’m flagged because of how I look I wear a hijab and jilaba and stick out in the lines like a sore thumb

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  3. I feel like living in Africa honestly we take for granted how amazing it is to wear whatever we want and not get any grief about it. Wearing hijab to full nikab and burka without any hate alhamdulillah. Traveling to certain places can give you anxiety from being a victim of hateful words or actions as a tourist it can be pretty fightening. But I do feel in a way its our way of showing The beauty of Islam in new places to new people and Insha-Allah spreading calmness and peace. Btw your travels are my goals Insha-Allah (www.spicyfusionkitchen.com and http://www.beautywithzainy.com)

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  4. Ma sha allah sister..may Allah make it easy for all the muslims around the world. You are right, we should strive not only for ourselves but also to break the stereotypes. Coming from a non-muslim majority country, I can definetely tell that there are many people out there who dont fear muslims, but are just curious and with the media portarayal of islam they find muslims as distant and it is our duty to change this mindset. Thanks for sharing your experience!!

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  5. I have always tell my folks the same, that is to explore the beauty of this world and marvel over the magnificence of Allah’s creation! And say, Subhanallah! But then I haven’t traveled any far yet. Alhamdulillah. This is a great post.

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  6. These are tough times for Muslims….I am dreading going through airport security now. Even before the terrorist attacks got worse by husband always seem to get questioned (In the UK). I guess he just has that kind of face lol

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  7. I am Canadian and travel to the US quite a bit with my family. When travel started to be difficult for some, I was nervous. I almost cancelled a trip. Elhamduallah I have nevet had an issue. I’m very grateful for that.

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  8. This gives me all types of feels! I am constantly feeling self-conscious about my hijab. I love to hear positive stories about traveling. Although I’ve never had an issue while traveling, I still get nervous every time we are about to go somewhere. ❤ All the best on your travels!

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