Traveling While Muslim: Why More Muslims Need to Travel

The reality is that traveling while Muslim today faces certain challenges. Learn why more Muslims need to travel, and how doing so can combat Islamophobia. |
  • “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?

The reality is that traveling while Muslim today faces certain challenges. Learn why more Muslims need to travel, and how doing so can combat Islamophobia. |

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.

The reality is that traveling while Muslim today faces certain challenges. Learn why more Muslims need to travel, and how doing so can combat Islamophobia. |
Naturally, one of us got *randomly* security checked on each flight to and from Hawaii.

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.

The reality is that traveling while Muslim today faces certain challenges. Learn why more Muslims need to travel, and how doing so can combat Islamophobia. |
Me and Kareemah from Hijabiglobetrotter

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.

The reality is that traveling while Muslim today faces certain challenges. Learn why more Muslims need to travel, and how doing so can combat Islamophobia. |
Sibling love <3.

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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32 thoughts on “Traveling While Muslim: Why More Muslims Need to Travel

  1. carmelisse says:

    I absolutely love the message you are spreading in this post. With everything that’s going on, I can’t imagine being held back from doing what I love. Good for you hun! xx

  2. Cori Carl says:

    I hate the idea that it’s up to the people facing discrimination to change people’s minds, but I do love encouraging everyone to travel. People’s ideas of what traveling is like can be wildly off-base — the best trips are cheap and often are the kinds of experiences that are tough when you’re going through them, but make amazing stories (and life long friendships).

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      As do I, to be honest. It’s unfortunate that many people don’t attempt to educate themselves before making assumptions about things – whether it be different cultures, religions, or even how expensive travel is! I think we all travel to learn and in turn, educate. This is just one way of doing that – not our ‘job’ per say but I’d rather be the one with the voice than allow the media to make assumptions on my behalf. Thanks for reading 🙂

  3. Christina Pfeiffer says:

    It’s good to see that you’re out there exploring the world and following your dreams. I always get stopped by security at airports too but I think it’s because of all the electronics and camera gear I carry with me!

  4. Sarah Kim, Tales From a Fork says:

    That quote is so spot on. I love that you’re encouraging more Muslims to travel. My husband would actually get stopped for “random” checks every time we’d fly in our college days. He’s not Muslim but went through a hippie stage wearing loose Israeli clothes and had long hair/a huge beard so yah “randomly” would get checked. It got to a point where I would go separately from him because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      It’s one of my favorites!
      Haha yeah, pretty sure everyone knows that “random” security checks aren’t so random – and Muslims certainly aren’t the only ones getting stopped, either! LOL gotta love the hassle that is airport security.

  5. Helen On Her Holidays says:

    I’m sad that you’re having to put up with this. I really worry about my Muslim friends in this political atmosphere. I totally agree that travel and/or coming into contact with people who are maybe a bit “different” is so important for opening minds.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Yeah, it’s pretty unfortunate. I don’t even wear any visible signs of my religion so I know it’s a LOT worse for other people. But I do worry a lot about friends and family members in today’s climate. Seeing the rise in hate crimes is definitely concerning. But I do hope that people will slowly become more open-minded by traveling and interacting with people that are different than they are.

  6. josiekelsh says:

    Fantastic post! I think this is just so important, People are so ignorant sometimes, and if they won’t escape their bubble and visit a Muslim country to see the reality, maybe it’s travellers that can instead teach them at home. Thank you.

    • Sally E says:

      Thanks, Josie! I agree with you. It’s unfortunate that many people stay in their bubble and don’t bother to learn about different cultures or religions. Some people stay in this bubble even when they’re traveling which is mind-blowing. I hope that travelers can combat that Islamophobia that’s spread so wildly in the media! Thanks for reading.

  7. Lindsay Shapka says:

    I am always fascinated by how different people from different countries and cultures experience the world. We all have such different points of view and travel is such a wonderful way to educate people on who you are as a person and what you believe in. Fantastic post!

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks Lindsay! And so am I! It’s always interesting to hear how people experience different places because so much of your experience is due to the lens with which you see the world. Thanks for reading!

  8. Julie Beckers says:

    “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 Love this quote and so true. That’s exactly how I feel.

  9. Sara Bernard says:

    Really sorry about that stupid question in Madrid. I agree that if we are open to hear others the world would be much different and yet I find that people that are open to listen and to “risk” travelling can see beyond those topics. Stereotypes will destry us that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      You’d be surprised by how many people ask! It always surprises me haha. I know that stereotyping is causing so much hatred in the world. I just hope that people will try to be open-minded when they do encounter people who are “different.” Thanks for reading!

  10. Danielle Desir says:

    In this incredible world we live in, there is so much hate and ignorance. Keep being a phenomenal voice for change. You are an inspiration.

  11. Jessie Gill says:

    Thank you for being brave. I can’t imagine what it must be like. I feel nervous about traveling and I’m never singled out. Well said.

  12. M.C. Frye says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m sad that people have to be ambassadors for their identity, but glad that many take up the task with great skill.

  13. Alison Cornford-Matheson says:

    This is a wonderful article Sally. Equally, I believe more non-Muslims should travel to Muslim countries. Nothing opens your eyes to reality and the general kindness of humans like travel.

    • Sally from Passport & Plates says:

      Thanks Alison! I agree 100%. Travel truly does shatter misconceptions. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  14. Dan On The Road says:

    Great article! It’s those conversations we have on our travels that makes it memorable & teaches us a bit more about the world.

  15. Stuti Shrimali says:

    Well, no religion is a violent religion, they are all about truth. It’s we the humans who ain’t human anymore create the divide, mend the meaning of religion and spread fear & hatred. I loved your article Sally. Kudos!

    • Sally E says:

      This is very true! It’s so unfortunate that we use something that should be peaceful as a tool to create more hatred and divide in the world. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  16. Angelica says:

    Love this post! I’m not Muslim, but I think it’s still important to read about the challenges that Muslims face when traveling (and just trying to go in their house… those headlines are wild). I hope your post does get out to the right communities and encourage those who are able to travel more and try to open up the eyes of ignorant people…

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