We believe strongly in inspiring Muslims to see the world and learning more about other cultures through travel. So what better way to meet travellers from all over the world than through our new feature – #HHWT Explorers! Watch this space as we talk to travellers to find out about their stories, what inspires them and their travel tips!
The first explorer of #HHWT Explorers is Meryem, the founder of The New Muslim! After speaking to her, we found out more about her initiative and we were really inspired by the stories of reverts all around the world. Read on to find out what motivated her to start The New Muslim (we promise it’s interesting)!
Hi Meryem, do tell us about yourself!
I’ve been a Muslim since Oct 2013. I’m also a designer, and in my spare time (apart from work and The New Muslim) I love studying Turkish and Japanese and Quran Arabic, travelling to Japan, and baking healthy food (I have a weird penchant for baking during Ramadan.)
What inspired you to start The New Muslim?
2013-2015: Between Faith- A personal journey
In 2013, I started an online blog to document my personal journey to find God. The blog, known as Between Faith, started as an open-minded discovery into my birth religion, Catholicism, which gradually guided me to Islam.
Along the way, I realised that the challenges I was facing could not be unique to me alone- there were many others like me out there, scattered far and wide across the globe. During the times I felt alone, I found comfort through reading similar stories online, and if I was blessed enough to cross paths with some of them.
Mid 2015: Finding sisterhood in Japan
Whilst in Tokyo for 3 months, I searched for a Muslim community, and found my second home in Tokyo Camii. I spent most of my weekends, including Ramadan at the mosque, forming a close bond with fellow sisters, many of whom were Japanese muslim reverts. I was greatly touched and inspired by their pureness and innocence of hearts whilst listening to their stories, and desired to tell their stories to everyone back home.
Nov 2015: The New Muslim was born
Greatly inspired to spread the real, personal stories of the people that I had met, a support platform The New Muslim began. Insha’Allah, I hope that through this website, more people can be inspired to find their own journey, misconceptions about Islam can be answered, and reborn muslims will be able to receive the moral support and help to face challenges and to cope with life as a better muslim.
Did anything interesting happen after you started The New Muslim?
Well not much since it has only been a month, but I made friends from all round the globe, including a Turkish girl who emailed me to say that the posts on the website inspired her to begin wearing the hijab (she never thought that she would wear the hijab before). It’s people like her who keep me going 🙂
If you could teleport to a place now, where would it be and why?
Japan. Definitely Japan, without even thinking twice. Too many of my closest friends (whom I met in Tokyo Camii and am still keeping in contact with) and my fiancé are living there now and I miss them really badly. But then the question would be which part of Japan? And then I’d be really torn because my fiancé is in Fukuoka and my friends are in Tokyo, and the Shinkansen is CRAZY. EXPENSIVE.
What are 3 of your favourite destinations and why?
Credit: David Spender
I had never thought that Japan would be a favourite destination when I was growing up in the past, but it’s a country that really grows on you. It grew on me, the culture of hospitality is so ingrown in every Japanese I’ve met. For example I was at the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama, and I had to pray. The receptionist not only escorted us to a VIP room, but opened the cupboard and took out prayer mats, Qiblah compass and EVEN a foot basin for us to do our ablution! I was ASTOUNDED. This memory will definitely stay with me forever.
Another of my favourite destinations is Turkey. I love the architectural majesty of the mosques and palaces, the luxury of being able to hear the call to prayer when it came, the beauty of iznik tiles, mystery of the natural sceneries (especially Cappadocia!) and the rich history of the entire country. Istanbul was bustling, Antalya was breathtaking, but my favourite is İsparta- a laid back, countryside town where everyone knows each other. I guess my favourites always lie with people. People make a place memorable 🙂
I’ll stop at two, because I want to reserve the last for Mecca when I visit it to fulfil my religious duty Insha’Allah. It’s the place I’ve not yet visited but am absolutely certain it is the most beautiful place on Earth.
Which country are you most excited to visit in 2016?
Nothing planned yet except for repeated visits to Japan, so maybe you don’t need to post this question haha.
(In my opinion, repeated visits to Japan is more than enough!!! – Suzana)
What are some of the challenges you have faced while travelling and how did you overcome it?
Doing my ablutions before prayer, in a public washroom. But it’s a funny challenge. First I mentally prepare myself for the weird stares when I take off my hijab- look Ma, that girl has hair!!! And then everything’s okay until the part where I have to stick my foot into the sink (hey! No judging!). How else can you do it? Once I was at yoyogi park during an event, so the washroom had a massive queue and everyone was looking the whole time while I was trying to wash my feet. Japanese don’t stare though, so I was thankful even though I felt super awkward.
What are your travel must-haves?
My carry on duffel/ backpack. I’m a light traveller and I really dislike having to wait for check in luggage or travelling with baggage, so I usually try to stuff every thing in my carry on even if it’s for a month’s travel. And it happens that my longest travels usually happen during the winter/ early spring season. I spend hours figuring out what to bring and what to scrap.
What I find really useful is my travel sejadah- it’s a foldable material that doesn’t take up much space in your bag. And in places where it’s impossible to find an allocated place to pray (but Japan is awesome in that- most of their airports have a praying space!), anywhere is a place to pray! I’ve got a list of funny places where I’ve just took out my mat and prayed… But that’s probably not relevant to the question 😅
If you could give one piece of advice to people who want to travel – what would it be?
Make friends with the locals. For us Muslims, it is VERY easy to do so because we have a home every where we go to- the local mosque. Pop in and say Assalamualaikum, and smile! Even if you don’t speak their language, the bond is already there. We aren’t strangers; we are family.
What do you hope for the world in 2016?
Frankly, hoping for something won’t work unless I try my best to achieve it while hoping. So one thing I would really hope for is for the openness of hearts- the openhearted-ness to understand and accept someone else’s viewpoint even if it means admitting you’re wrong; the openhearted-ness to go for what you believe in or what you’ve always dreamed about without thinking about what others think of you; the openhearted-ness to smile at that neighbour whom you’ve always met in the lift but never said hi to before; the openhearted-ness to accept that things can’t always go along as how you want it to be and the willingness to let go. So many things in the world now are the way it is because of Ego, and so many more things can be changed if we are openhearted enough to realize that the world isn’t just only about ourselves. And as I am writing this and others can read, it’s more of a reminder to myself that I’m writing it.
Have a hilarious/interesting/memorable travel story or any tips you would like to share with us? Drop us an email at email@example.com!
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