- “Muslim Family Returns Home to Vandalized Apartment, Torn Quran, Stolen Green Cards in Virginia.”
- “Racist Bites And Stabs Random Somali Man Because He ‘Hates Muslims’”
- “Bible break-in: Colorado Islamic center vandalized, community rallies in solidarity”
I wish I could say I made these headlines up. I wish I could say that I had to scour through Google for hours to find these headlines. The reality is, these all happened in the last 24 hours. These headlines have become another day in the life of being Muslim in the United States – and the world. Islamophobia is at an all time high and the 1.6 billion Muslims are suffering as a result.
I understand that the world is scary. Politics are a complete and utter disaster, with politicians fueling the flames of Islamophobia and xenophobia in an effort to gain votes and power. The consequences of using inflammatory language have led to a rise in hate crimes and terrorism; you don’t get one without the other.
Recently, someone asked me what it’s like to be a traveling Muslim. Am I brave, stupid, or a little bit of both for traveling as a Muslim female in today’s environment?
My answer can be best summarized by this quote:
“I am not afraid of the world, but I am afraid of people who are afraid of the world. Terrified people, after all, have a reputation for making terrible decisions.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
You see, 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.
That is what it’s like to travel while Muslim.
Yet, I can appreciate the irony that the best way for Muslims to show the world that we’re not simply terrorists, oppressed women, or religious zealots is through travel.
I know it’s easy for me to sit behind my computer and tell Muslims to travel when I only face a small fraction of the “symptoms” of traveling while Muslim. I don’t “look Muslim:” I don’t wear a headscarf, I don’t look particularly Arab, and my name is Sally. Most people don’t know enough about last names to determine my background.
I may have it easy compared to many but that’s precisely why I travel.
I’m a firm believer that humans are good. At the same time, it’s hard to expect people to act rationally when they’re scared. My fellow Muslims: It’s time for us to stop talking to each other and start talking to the world. We can write countless articles and op-eds and Facebook posts. But if our haters aren’t reading them, then what’s the point? Actions speak louder than words.
We have to travel within our communities, outside of them, and globally (and I’m not talking about those giant tour groups with other Muslims, either). We have to meet people and engage with them and educate them. I don’t travel around preaching Islam. But when I tell people I don’t drink or eat pork, they often ask me why. That’s the perfect window of opportunity.
You don’t get to be a Muslim traveler without being an inadvertent ambassador for Islam. Like it or not, every Muslim traveler has to deal with questions about religion, race, culture, and politics. While many find this tiring, I welcome it, because I’ve realized that there are SO many people out there who are woefully ignorant to the most basic tenants of Islam. They know what the media tells them. They see veiled women on TV or in the streets and think they’re oppressed.
I mean, just a couple of weeks ago here in Madrid, I overheard someone asking my hijabi friend if she showers with her hijab. We clearly have a lot of educating to do. Maybe it’s not our job, but I don’t have faith that people will seek this knowledge for themselves.
It’s up to this generation of Muslims to show the world that we are diverse in race, cultures, and practices. It’s up to us to show the world that 99.9% of Muslims are just ordinary people who want to live a happy life.
Traveling is a different kind of education – the kind where both parties learn from the other. I don’t travel to simply see pretty sites. I travel because I want to learn and teach. I want to view the world with a child-like curiosity and ask each person “Who are you and why do you do what you do? What do you believe in and why do you believe it?”
Deep down, we all know that all humans want the same basic things, but every time I travel and meet new people, I learn something new. We can read as much as we want to about different cultures, but it’s only by visiting places that we can truly see the whole picture of what makes people tick. What’s more – we can show the world the human side of the faceless “enemy that is Islam.” I KNOW we shouldn’t have to prove ourselves to be peaceful human beings, but the reality is that if we don’t do it, then the mainstream media will become our voice. And that is the last thing we need.
To my fellow Muslims: next time you plan a trip, consider the number of ways you can meet locals or do community outreach. Maybe you can volunteer or stay in a hostel or shared Airbnb. It can be as simple as chatting with your barista at a local café or meeting a couchsurfer for dinner. Imagine a world where all the people we meet in turn become ambassadors in their communities. Perhaps then #NotInMyName won’t just be a Muslim movement – but one that serves as a reminder to the world that your religion, gender, or sexual preference should never be a reason for discrimination or generalization. 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.”
The time to rid the world of ignorance is now.
P.S. If you’re a Muslimah who loves to travel or wants to travel more, join our group of kick-ass traveling Muslim women on Facebook.
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