At HHWT, our vision is to bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims through travel and we strongly believe that this is the best way to spread peace in an increasing world of hatred and extremism today. Whether it's meeting non-Muslim locals when you travel or by going on trips with non-Muslim friends, travelling teaches us things in the simplest ways. Travelling is when you spend a lot of time with your buddies and you'd understand each other, especially when it comes to different beliefs and religious needs. It's different from back home where you'd only spend a few hours with your friends as compared to being together 24/7 on a trip.
Some of us might not have thought of travelling with non-Muslims as we might not want to get out of our comfort zone, or perhaps many of us just simply haven't had the chance to. We asked the HHWT community about their experiences travelling with friends of different faiths and here are some tips that they've shared with us!
P.S. Keep on reading for heartwarming travel experiences from our community below ?
Compromise and understanding
Most of our readers mentioned that compromise is the most important thing they've learnt from their trips with non-Muslim friends. As Muslim travellers, finding places which serve halal food in non-Muslim majority countries can be tricky. Their non-Muslim friends were always accommodating when dining at halal places but it also goes 2 ways - they'd try to compromise and dine at a non-halal place as long as they were comfortable with it and it doesn't go against their deen. There's a lot of "give and take" and understanding each other's needs will really help when travelling with non-Muslims.
[P.S. Need help explaining halal to your friends? Our guide will help you out!]
Opportunity to share more about Islam and learn about other faiths
Travelling with non-Muslims also gives us the chance to share more about Islam. Little things like waking up early in the morning to pray Subuh or taking 5 minutes during a road trip to pray by the side of the road are things that your non-Muslim friends would be curious about and here's where you can explain more about why we do certain things in Islam. In turn, when we open up about our own religion to others, we'd also get to learn more about their faith as they'd be willing to share more.
Besides compromise, communication is another thing that is really important. What most of our readers have told us is not to be afraid to communicate your preferences especially if you don't feel comfortable dining at a non-halal place or even when you need to stop and pray. Most of the time, your non-Muslim travel buddies will be more okay than you think!
Respect, patience and tolerance
Needless to say, travelling with friends of different faiths require lots of respect, patience and tolerance. In fact, this can be applied to anyone you travel with. For instance, our readers mentioned that if their friends want to eat at a non-halal place or go to a bar, they would respect their decision even though they might not agree to follow them. What matters is that we don't impose our beliefs on them. At the end of the day, being more patient and tolerant will do everyone some good and not dampen the holiday mood ☺️
Compromising also means being flexible and easy-going about the plan and schedule for the day. Some of our readers told us that if their friends want to eat at a non-halal restaurant, they would spend some time apart and meet back afterwards. As much as meals are a time to bond with friends, it's not a must to spend every minute together.
Set expectations before the trip
When you're already at the stage where you travel with non-Muslim friends, it's most likely that your friends are aware of your dietary restrictions and prayer needs. But as our readers have told us, it's always good to set expectations before the trip and inform them of your religious needs beforehand so they won't get a shock. It's also important to discuss the itinerary and see if the eateries you're going to visit have halal options, or whether the kind of activities are Muslim-friendly. By setting expectations before the trip, you'll lessen the misunderstanding that will arise when you're already on the trip.
Plan itinerary around prayer times
Last but not least is to plan your itinerary around prayer times, especially if the place you're going does not have that many prayer spaces around. As we mentioned earlier, let your friends know when you need to do your prayers and schedule your trip around it. Perhaps if you're going around a city, you can make a stop at the hotel or somewhere with prayer facilities. Or if you're on a road trip, do let your friends know that you need to stop somewhere and pray and that this might affect the schedule.
Experiences from the HHWT community
Now that we've summed up the tips on travelling with non-Muslims, here are some stories that we've gathered from our HHWT community which we hope will be an inspiration to you ?
1. Syazana, Malaysia
I went with 3 friends to Perth in September last year. Of the four, 2 of us are Muslims, 1 of them a Christian, and the other girl a Buddhist. We’ve been friends for about 7 years. It's a norm for us to hang out and do stuff together for a few hours each time but this trip was the first time that we spent so many days (6) actually living together. Thankfully, we got through it successfully and are now thinking of going someplace else ☺️
I think the two biggest concerns Muslims have when it comes to travelling is Halal food and prayer time/space. I also think coming from a multicultural and multi-faith background as we do sort of automatically makes us more aware that people may have customs and practices that are different from ours (given that you're raised in an environment that values these differences and teaches you to be open minded and accepting of differences).
So when we were discussing our accommodation options and rough itinerary, it was easy to decide to take an Airbnb instead of a hotel room because that would enable us to buy groceries and cook as a way to eat halal food (and also save in terms of budget) as well as to arrange the itinerary for each day in such a way that we would be home before Maghrib. In terms of rooming, the Airbnb we took was a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom setup. After some discussion, we agreed that the Muslims will share the bigger room so there is space for prayers while the other two shared the smaller room. We also got into the routine where the two Muslims would prepare the food each time (mostly breakfast as we have to be up early for Subuh/Fajr prayers anyway) and the other two would do the cleanup.
Because we're used to eating together, our non-Muslim friends are aware of things like cross-contamination and what halal is (more than just no pork/no lard). They also know that the food we consume can't contain alcohol and they understand the need to read the ingredients list when buying food. One night, we went to McDonald's and my Muslim friend got the apple pie caramel sundae while the other friend tried this burger that had bacon. When asked if she wanted to try the sundae, she went "How? I'm eating something with bacon in it." The solution was easy in that we just had to get another spoon to avoid cross-contamination. It's a simple thing but it shows how when you understand each other's needs, you can make accommodations to ensure everyone has fun on the trip.
We went to this place called The Cheese Barrel in Swan Valley. Upon seeing that our group had Muslims (my friend and I wear a headscarf), one of the staff directed us to try cheese made with non-animal rennet and recommended this non-alcoholic grape juice to go along with it. So, it wasn't just among us that there were understanding and tolerance, but also from people we met while we were there. Of course in terms of our own group, since we opted for this cheese platter, the 2 non-Muslims in our group could have asked to try cheeses that were made with animal rennet but they were happy to go along and chose from the ones that were made from non-animal rennet so that we could all share and enjoy the same thing ❤️
We also did the road trip up to Cervantes for the lobsters, the Pinnacles, and Lancelin sand dunes. Because it's a long drive to do in one day, we were worried that we would not make it back in time before Maghrib prayers. So on the way back, we stopped at this rest area for camper vans to do our Zohor and Asar prayers. Our non-Muslim friends respectfully waited in silence until we were done and we were on our way again.
For this trip, the values of understanding, tolerance, and teamwork stood out for me because they were the underlying factors that enabled us to share. Living together is about sharing in each others' lives and since there are individual differences among people, a little compromise is needed on everyone's part to ensure that it goes well and that you maintain peace and harmony in any group setting. If you regularly practice being understanding and tolerant of each others' faiths and practices in your day-to-day friendship, then it's not so difficult to take it with you when you go on trips together.
[P.S. If you're heading to Perth with your friends, check out our 5D4N Muslim-friendly itinerary!]
2. Natasa, Jakarta
A little background - I'm an Indonesian who has been living in Singapore since university, so my friends are pretty diverse and mostly non-Muslim. My friends and I had a trip to Medan last Nov 2018, with me being the only Muslim. It was a farewell trip as we had to go different ways after that. My friends are generally understanding of my halal diet so they were constantly trying to find halal restaurants in Medan for us to have a meal. One of my friends cannot eat spicy food too, so we always communicate and decide on a suitable restaurant that's comfortable for all of us ?
Medan is famous for various non-halal food, and there were some occasions where I was okay to let my friends eat non-halal food. They had been very understanding and accommodated to my diet, so it was only fair for me to tolerate their preferences too. One of the things we did was to take away our meal and bring it back to the hotel - this way, I could take away my halal food while my friends could choose whatever they want to eat. Another way is by taking away my halal meal and joining them in a non-halal restaurant.
Travelling with friends of different faiths takes constant communication and an extent of tolerance. Since our common goal was to have a memorable trip and enjoy our food, we made sure that we didn't let any of our differences come in the way ?
3. Atiqah, Singapore/Malaysia
Travelling with non-Muslims has taught me three key things, the first being the understanding that not everyone grew up from the same background I did and that's okay. I grew up in Malaysia in a predominantly Malay-Muslim environment, which meant that it was somewhat easy to take for granted that everyone around me either practised the same things that I did or would accommodate them.
It was only when I went to college then university overseas, where I met and travelled with non-Muslim friends did I experience what it was like to not only be a minority but to also meet people who didn’t know much about my religion or practices. Getting questions about what I could eat or how I prayed made me realise that I was part of shaping a person’s impression of Islam and Muslims, which is a pretty big responsibility if you think about it! I appreciated their curiosity and it was a reminder to have that same sort of open-mindedness to learn about other people’s cultural and religious practices in turn ❤️
The second thing I learnt is that travelling with non-Muslims requires respect and tolerance on both sides. On a recent work trip to Busan, I travelled as part of a media trip with other people (most of whom were non-Muslims), and I was grateful not only for their tolerance for my eating requirements (we ate at mostly seafood and vegetarian restaurants throughout the trip), but also because we could be pragmatic about it - on one occasion, we split ways so I could go eat at a halal Indian restaurant, while they went for a meal at a Korean place.
The third thing I learnt is to not be afraid about speaking up for my needs. I’ve learnt that if I travel with non-Muslims who may not be familiar with halal food or prayer timings, then I shouldn’t be afraid to communicate these things, and more often than not, they are usually more than happy to accommodate me (just ask nicely!). At the end of the day, it’s about being considerate of others, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how considerate other people are towards you too ?
4. Nasiha, Jaipur, India
My friends and I travelled to Mumbai and Lonavla in India and out of the whole group, I was the only Muslim.
During the trip, I had the opportunity of sharing more about Islam and introducing to my travel buddies what a namaz (prayer) mat is as I kept it with me all the time. I also brought a compass which I used to find the qibla direction in the hotels we stayed in, and I got to share more about that with my friends as well. I even got to show them how to do the wudhu' and told them to keep the room clean so that I could do my prayers in a clean environment, and they gladly obliged ?
With regards to food, I had the chance to explain to my friends the difference between halal and jhatka food (jhatka is the method of slaughter permissible by the Hindus, Sikhs and some Christians). While my friends have been very accommodating to me, I've also learnt to be more tolerant as most of my friends are vegetarian and I'd ask for their permission first before eating something non-vegetarian.
5. Sitarai, Singapore
My mom and I travelled with my non-Muslim friends to Korea. There were times when my friends wanted to eat some food that was non-halal and we'd go separate ways. But on those days that we want to eat together for lunch after visiting a particular place, we'd plan ahead. If we stayed in an accommodation that has a kitchen to cook and a microwave, we'd buy separate sponge, split the utensils and clean the dishes respectively ?
6. Aida, Singapore
I've been to Korea 4 times and only once did I go with a Muslim friend (I'm actually planning another trip in September, InsyaAllah). Before going on any trip, I'd let my friends know that I need to set aside time to pray and will need a clean location if there are no prayer rooms available. If we are staying in the same room, I’ll remind them nicely to turn down the volume or wear headphones if they are watching videos.
When it comes to food, I'd try to compromise. If halal/seafood/vegetarian food is not available, I don’t mind eating in places that sell meat, as long as it’s not pork. Also, I won’t stop them from eating pork or drinking alcohol during our trip as long as we use different cutlery.
Alhamdulillah, I haven't had any misunderstandings with non-Muslim friends. I’ve had one friend who even checked with me if I’ve already done Zuhr and Asar. There’s another one who is my pork/alcohol checker when we look at menus ?
[P.S. Not sure what is halal or not when you travel? We've got just the guide you need to determine the halal status of food when you travel!]
7. Ifah Damay, Jakarta
In my circle of friends, we’ve known each other for a long time, so we’re familiar with each other’s habits - what we like and don’t like. So, we know that mutual respect is important. One of my travel buddies, who is non-Muslim, knows that I can’t eat haram food but she has been with me on trips to Malacca, KL and Bandung. Even though she likes to drink alcohol, she doesn’t do it when she’s with me. It's a blessing to have a non-Muslim friend who is respectful of my needs as Muslims ❤️
8. Hudabs (@nhudabs), Singapore
I’m blessed to have open-minded travelling partners, so most of them now already know when I will do my prayers and how I'd do it, even on planes,trains or even beside the road. When travelling with non-Muslim friends, the main concern is usually food and prayers.
When rooming with non-Muslim friends/colleagues, I'd usually find a designated place in the room to perform my solat and inform them when and where I'll be doing your prayers, so that they won’t find themselves in an awkward position where they speak to me and I don’t reply or when I'm dressed in my praying garb early in the morning (it might scare them ?)
In terms of food, when I travelled to Taiwan, I informed my travel partner about my food preferences (since in parts beyond Taipei, halal food was hard to find then ?). It made it easier for all because we knew that we needed to zoom in on vegetarian/purely seafood places.
9. Uswah, Singapore
Alhamdulillah, my non-Muslim friends have been understanding when I raised my concerns for prayers and so we made that a priority when my friends and I visited Scotland in the winter of 2017.
Given that during the winter season, prayer times are relatively near to one another and places of interest open and close pretty early, we couldn't start the day too late, and that means we couldn't pray Zuhr and Asar at the apartment. So keeping that in mind, we would either visit the local masjid for me to pray (and others to explore) or hang around “open space” like parks or hilly areas. Most of the time we’d stop by the malls along the way when we're sightseeing in the city, where it would be easy for me to pray Zuhr and Asar. Alhamdulillah, Maghrib and Isya has never been a problem for me.
We travelled a lot by bus too. So we would travel during the night but not deep in the night as I could miss Subh! Not to mention that night buses are cheaper. Talk about living the student life!?
10. Zum, Singapore
My circle of good friends from poly and work are all non-Muslim so I'm usually the only Muslim ? I do have my best friends that are Muslim and I travel with them too. With my non-Muslim friends, we've been to Korea, JB and Batam together.
I think it was really eye-opening for both my non-Muslim friends and me as they could see how we Muslims eat and pray and at the same time, I get to see how they socialise and their priorities. In a way, when travelling with someone, you'd also get to learn a bit about their culture at the same time.
During our trips, most of my friends understood that I needed to eat halal so they would always ask if I could eat this or that. If I say no, then we'd go on a search for halal options. For street food, they would usually buy what they want and ask if I'm okay with it which is really considerate ?
[P.S. If you love these stories, check out what this non-Muslim traveller learnt from going on trips with her Muslim best friend.]
We hope this collection of 10 stories have inspired you in one way or another. And if you've always hesitated about going on a trip with a non-Muslim friend, we'd encourage you to do so ☺️ After all, travelling with non-Muslims teaches us a lot about respect, tolerance and above all, it gives us the opportunity to spread the beauty of Islam.