As much as we'd like to think that travelling is all fun and smooth-sailing, that's not always the case 😪 There are so many things that can go wrong while travelling
- from losing travel essentials to getting sick or even encountering negative experiences. Unfortunately, one such negative experience that many Muslim travellers face is Islamophobia - like bumping into locals prejudiced about Islam, being discriminated against because of what they wear and so on.
But it's because of stories like these which motivate the HHWT team to continue inspiring Muslims to travel - to show the real Islam, that it's a religion of peace and that we won't be affected by hate. It's also spurred us stronger to foster peace between Muslims and non-Muslims through travel. Here are 3 Muslim travellers from the HHWT community who have kindly shared with us their experiences with Islamophobia and how it has motivated them to share more about the beauty of Islam through their travels ❤️
P.S. Check out the story of how negative experiences made this solo Muslim traveller stronger
Izzati I have been a solo (hijabi) traveler since 2010 at the age of 19. I have managed to travel to over 30
countries, some solo, some with friends. Safe to say, I have experienced my fair share of Islamophobia, but I'll limit my experiences to my trip in Czech Republic and Sri Lanka. When and where did this experience occur?
1. Prague, Czech Republic (Summer 2010)
Prague was one of the first places I ventured out to as a solo traveler, and Islamophobia was one of the safety issues that concerned me. I stayed in a hostel across the town center. In the dead heat of summer, the hostel did very little to cool off its occupants. I asked the hostel if they could put in an additional fan in the dorm, or turn up the A/C in there. They were annoyed but gave little feedback to my request.
There was a shared bathroom for the ladies dorm, and one day, after returning back from a trip, I left my backpack open and went for a shower. I wasn't so concerned about my items as my valuables were still in the lockers, and was probably too tired to bother. Upon returning back, I found my bag ransacked - the insides were thrown to the floor and 3 of my headscarves were cut into pieces. They were laid on the bed. The shawls were obviously cut into shreds. I double-checked to see if a zipper or any metal pieces inside my backpack tore it, but couldn't find any. Plus, the cuts were sharp, as if it was cut off with a pair of scissors or blade, and not jagged like when you rip a seam open. As there was no one in my dorm at the moment, I went to the receptionist to let them know that someone had ransacked my bag. When I spoke to the receptionist, she said she didn't see anyone come in and asked if I lost anything. I said nothing, but 3 of my headscarves were cut up into pieces and she remarked "Well, dear, so sorry. Maybe you can go scarf-free for the next few days. You did say it was hot in there".
I brushed it off, thinking she doesn't understand why I have a scarf on, said thank you and walked back to the dorm, hoping to pack up and find another place for the remaining days of my trip. On my way up (the female dorm was on the second floor), a few teenage boys (between 16-19 years old) who were also staying there looked at me, spoke in their own language and laughed out loud. As I move past them, they shouted "Afghanistan Pakistan Bin Laden Boom Boom Boom! Allahuakbar".
When I left, the receptionist made it seem as though it was business as usual. As I waited for the bus, the group of boys sat in a corner and snickered their way through. When my bus arrived, I heard them shout "Bye bye Afghanistan! Bye bye!" and laughed their lungs out.
To this day I am unsure what happened, if it was by mere accident that my bag toppled over itself and my scarves tore through the contents of my bag, but after the snickering and remark made by the boys, I felt unsafe to stay there and opted to go for a hotel down the road, where I could have a private room to myself. I figured that being alone, and literally unable to physically fight to save my life, it was safer for me to just back out and go. Looking back, I knew there was nothing I could have done and that I made the right call by switching accommodations. I knew that
I was being bullied because of the association made between my headscarf and terrorists, and there was little that I can do at that moment to change it all. 2. Sri Pada, Sri Lanka (April 2015) Sri Pada, or famously known as Adam's Peak, is a mountain in Sri Lanka and it is where a few Muslim and Christian mystics claim Prophet Adam (AS) first arrived when he was sent to Earth. It was a beautiful hike to the top, and the view was mesmerizing. I remember writing in my journal "I can understand why the mystics claim that Adam was first sent here. By seeing the beautiful sunrise at the peak, maybe God wanted him to have a view so beautiful he doesn't feel so forlorn being kicked out of heaven".
It takes a day to reach the base camp, and most people take between 3-7 hours to reach the peak. The peak is where they found a massive imprint on a rock, said to be Adam's first footprint on Earth. Although there were many sights to see in Sri Lanka, I ultimately came for Sri Pada. I started the climb up at 1am hoping to make it to the
top to witness the sunrise. At 5.30am, in a sea of devotees (Sri Pada is also a holy site for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka), I made it to the peak. I wanted to go see the footprint but was denied entry into the site as I was wearing my headscarf. The guard adamantly denied me entering the site and insisted I remove my headscarf to enter. I asked him what was the problem, and he just shrugged off and signaled "no headscarf to go in". Across me, I could see other people, who had loose scarves draped over their head enter, western tourists with caps and hats move in and out and I pointed this fact to the guard. The guard gave me the ultimatum - to remove my scarf upon entering, or leave. I stood my ground, refusing to remove my headscarf and walked away. I viewed the site from outside and tried to console myself with the view. All the effort to the top and I couldn't even see what I came here to see. A German traveler I befriended tried explaining to the guard that its just my attire, and I should be allowed in. A
small argument followed but my German friend gave in. He turned to me and said, "House rules I guess". He agreed to go in and take a few pictures for me so that I can see how the imprint looks like.
When I crab-walked my way back to the hotel (I was in no way fit to climb the mountain, to begin with, lol), I spoke to the hotel staff about my experience. He coldly replied "This is a Buddhist site. You Muslim come, you must follow rules". I tried to console myself by saying maybe it's how headscarves and mosques work too - house rules. What was your biggest learning from going through this experience? Has it affected how you travel in any way? Going through these experiences made me realise how vulnerable humans are to perceptions. Although it is disheartening to go through hate when you have done nothing wrong, it also taught me how important it is as Muslim travelers, to change this perception. When I first started traveling, it was a rare occasion to see a female hijabi traveling by herself (most still do travel in groups), and I cannot blame them for having preconceived ideas when
this was what was fed to them. I told myself that no matter what kind of hate I get, I will not return it back, and I will try my best to change their perspective.
After the nasty experience in Prague, I continued to travel. Of course, a lot of crazy tales ensued - being stopped for 3 hours at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and trying to convince the security team that soy sauce in an unlabelled water bottle was not dangerous is definitely a story I'll tell my grandchildren 😅
What motivates you to travel even having faced incidents like these? Despite these stories, there were also so so so many heartwarming moments - like how a Turkish family took me in because they believe travellers are a gift from God, or how I ended up teaching a Swiss chef about halal chicken when we were sharing my ayam masak merah over a cold winter's night in Wellington, New Zealand. Or how the devotees at the Art of Living Ashram in Bangalore, India welcomed me to their pooja sessions, or have random "Assalamualaikum" from fellow Muslims on a bus in Germany. Where there is hate, there is always room to push
hate out and replace it with love. Plus, the amount of love I have received traveling outweighs the amount of hate received. What advice or tips do you have for other travellers when dealing with situations like these?
If I can give any tips at all, it will be not to return the hate given, but open an opportunity for discourse. However, in some scenarios, the hate given can be dangerous and in situations like these, please exercise caution. Keep the address and number of your country's embassy handy in case of any emergencies, and always keep your loved ones back at home updated with your current location. It helps to read up on general Islamic discourse and FAQs by non-Muslims as this will help when you are being asked questions you've never thought of (e.g. - What's the issue between Muslims and dogs? Is it true that you sleep in your headscarf? Do you feel degraded by having to wear a headscarf? etc) and above all, be kind. Those who hate most probably don't know the real values of Islam.
P.S. Loved this story and want to share your experience? Find out how you can help the HHWT community
I got the opportunity to study a semester abroad in Timisoara, Romania for my postgraduate studies. I have always wanted to visit Eastern Europe and have heard amazing things about it. So, I was excited to experience and explore that part of the world myself.
When and where did this experience occur?
Credit: Stefan Munder on Flickr
Being a new hijabi, I did not think much about how I would be perceived in my new environment. Aside from the stares, which I had grown accustomed to, I experienced someone taking a video of me while I was on the tram. Luckily, a stranger had stepped in and reprimanded the man recording me.
I also encountered someone saying that they thought women in Islam are not allowed to learn. My immediate response was to talk to the person and answered his questions to the best that I could.
What was your biggest learning from going through this experience? Has it affected how you travel in any way?
These experiences, though unpleasant, provided many beneficial lessons and opportunities. For starters, it made me more outspoken. Not knowing what to do, I shared my experiences with the local students and asked for their advice
to best handle situations like these. Their advice: be strong and stay firm.
Also, I learned to be more empathetic. People act the way they do for a reason and I wanted to understand why I experienced what I did. I eventually learned that people here are curious. Romania is an Orthodox Christian country and Muslim women in hijab are far and few. Looking back, there is not much I would change except that I said something sooner and not take things to heart. Overall, I am thankful for what I went through and am optimistic about the future.
P.S. Read how this hijabi traveller was received with kindness
even though she travelled to the US a day after Trump's travel ban was proposed.
When and where did this experience occur?
It happened in London, the UK in the more posh neighbourhoods of Pall Mall and Kensington. I think it was generally the way people would look at us like we were secondary or did not belong, or that we were in their way. Some shoved us in the Tube and on the streets, without apologies but obvious that they knew what they just did. Some shopkeepers wouldn’t help us the same
way others received help.
My reaction to this was to smile, very hard, just to see if it was just me judging them or if they were truly being prejudiced towards me. When they stared at me in the eye, didn’t smile and looked away, I knew it was coming from a mean-spirited place. Thankfully, there were others who saw it and they overcompensated with their level of friendliness — they would come and speak about the kids and call me darling when speaking to me.
Despite these incidents, I always encourage people to smile at strangers. It made me feel better knowing that I did my part - I showed that I was friendly, forgiving, open to their kindness and inviting. Their own follies or insecurities sit with them, and should never fall on you or make you insecure. What was your biggest learning from going through this experience?
The unfriendliness or air of superiority I felt by certain Londoners and the British cannot be attributed to all. I know that first and foremost because often every Muslim has to be representative of the entire faith. With that said, I find that smiling gives me ease, and truly does show the
other person that they are the ones who need to take a step back to evaluate something within them, hatred or otherwise, and with one smile, I might change their mind about who Muslims are - whether we are “scary” and “cold” to “friendly” and “warm”. When I feel like I've already done my part, I don’t let the prejudice bother me.
P.S. Here's why you should travel, according to Islam
Has this incident affected how you travel in any way? What motivates you to travel even having faced incidents like these?
No, it hasn't. I will always continue to travel to the UK and remember the many many more positive experiences I've faced. The world is so vast - we have a duty to allow people to see that Muslims are open-minded, diverse, friendly and family-oriented. It will help my children become more cultured and better people as well.
What advice or tips do you have for other travellers when dealing with situations like these? Do not let other people’s shoves, comments or refusal to smile impact you and your happiness. It comes from a place of misunderstanding and prejudices that they may have been raised in, and a
dark place that maybe you can shed light onto - even if for just a brief moment or encounter.
Thank you to the HHWT community for sharing your stories with us! While these stories show us some of the realities that Muslims face when they travel, it has also shown something more important - that it's a reminder for Muslim travellers to continue to return hate with kindness and that it's an opportunity for us to show the beauty of Islam.
P.S. If you've experienced Islamophobia while travelling before and would to share them with us, do let us know in the comments section below or leave us a note via Facebook/Instagram or email ([email protected]