7 Things I Learned As A Non-Muslim Writing For HHWT


Cheng Sim •  Sep 13, 2019

"Why do you write for Have Halal, Will Travel (HHWT)?"

I probably got more questions about working in HHWT than any other companies in my career. As a non-Muslim writing for the largest Muslim travel and lifestyle platform, this may seem strange. More often than not, evokes curiosity from strangers to friends who asked, "So where are you working right now?"

Credit: Giphy

I'm Cheng Sim, one of the HHWT writers who wrote an article you probably liked, replied to your comment on Instagram, and survived skydiving at 16,000 feet to tell you all about it. Working for HHWT has its set of challenges, one that is unique to a non-Muslim writer. For a glimpse of my experience, this is how it all began.

1. I was oblivious to the needs of Muslim travellers

Credit: Stevebidmead on Pixabay

Growing up in Malaysia, halal food is pretty much everywhere. For a long time, I thought it's the same as anywhere else in the world.

One time, I asked my Muslim friend about her travel experience in Cambodia. She said, "Angkor Wat is amazing and all, but it was hard to find halal food there. I had no choice but to eat tuna and bread for the whole week."

Back then, there weren't many sites that catered to Muslim travellers. That means finding halal food was difficult and not to mention, halal local food!

When I heard about my friend's experience, I realised how oblivious I was to the needs of a Muslim traveller. As a traveller myself, it inspired me to join HHWT and help the Muslim community explore the world more easily.

2. As a non-Muslim, I had doubts about writing travel guides for Muslims

Before joining HHWT, I was their freelance writer since 2016. My first article was 10 Halal Restaurants In Ho Chi Minh. When I wrote it, I thought "would anyone trust a halal food guide written by a non-Muslim?"

Credit: Kasman on Pixabay

After publishing the article and reading the positive comments, I realised that it was purely self-doubt and overthinking. At the end of the day, I was really happy that my article helped these readers with their trips!

After learning from my colleagues, friends and the community, I was able to understand the needs of Muslim travellers and write guides that'll help them explore better. Every now and then, we receive questions about our halal stance. It's important to share that we do our research based on halal guidelines and personal experiences shared by our HHWT community, and this post speaks true to our stance.

3. I experienced firsthand how important our mission is

One of the things I admire about HHWT is our mission to inspire Muslims to travel and achieve peace through travel.

"We believe that through travel, Muslims are able to be ambassadors of peace. Travel and show the world that besides holding on to our faith, there's a whole lot of similarities between us and that in our differences lie many things to be learned from one another." - Have Halal, Will Travel

This quote stood out for me, and I experienced it firsthand during our last media trip to New Zealand.

Two Fridays before the Christchurch tragedy at Masjid Al-Noor, we were there meeting and speaking with the Muslim community. Lives were lost and it impacted us because the community at Masjid Al-Noor were kind, warm and welcoming.

Days after the tragedy, we played our part as an ambassador of peace by sharing stories of Muslims and non-Muslims in New Zealand coming together in a time of need. We wrote about Kiwis of all faiths wearing headscarves for a day and the outpour of response from the local community.

Credit: Christchurch City Council on Facebook

It made me realise why it's more important than ever for us to continue to travel. When we meet others and get to know them for who they are, it changes how we see situations or stories that proved otherwise.

4. Wearing a hijab does not go against my personal values

[L-R] That's me, Suzana, Mrs Jumaiyah from Masjid Al-Noor, and Elaine

The first time I wore a hijab was when I visited Masjid Al-Noor in New Zealand. It was a way of respecting a place of worship and does not go against my personal values. If we open our hearts to understanding and respecting other religions and cultures, we can coexist better together. Let's face it, the world needs more peace and humanity than we think.

On a lighter note, I still can't master the art of wearing hijab despite Vivy Yusof and Neelofa making it seem easy. But that's okay, just a bit of practice and video tutorials and I'll get there.

5. I learned the importance of diversity in the workplace

Besides myself, our HHWT co-founder Elaine is also non-Muslim, and you might remember us from our 'non-Muslims fast for the first time' video.

Despite working for a Muslim travel and lifestyle platform, there was never a moment when our faith became an obstacle in performing our best or socialising with our colleagues.

That's because diversity in our workplace is a reflection of our mission where there's a strong understanding between different backgrounds. In the office, my work performance and ethics were more important than which religion I believed in.

The month of Ramadan was a good example. When the editorial team worked hard with our freelance writers and Ustaz to write articles such as the beautiful things to know about Lailtatul Qadr and the blessings of Ramadan, I contributed in other ways like writing my experience fasting for the first time as a non-Muslim.

6. I may not experience the needs of a Muslim traveller, but I'll never stop learning

One time, I went on a media trip with a group of Malaysian journalists. When they found out that I write for HHWT, they were surprised that a non-Muslim writer was assigned to a Muslim-focused media trip.

On our last day, one of the journalists said that I need to learn and embrace Islam to work in a company like HHWT. Honestly, I felt deeply hurt. The first thing that crossed my mind was, "I don't deserve to write for HHWT because I'm a non-Muslim?"

While I won't be able to understand the needs of a Muslim traveller, as much as a Muslim writer does, there's never a day when I stop learning and understanding what the community needs.

The beauty of HHWT is that everyone works together towards the same mission, which is inspiring Muslims to see the world. Believe it or not, that mission has blossomed into a personal passion that keeps me going every day, regardless of my faith.

7. I want to show the world that Islam is a religion of peace - as a non-Muslim

As much as Muslims play their part in showing the world that Islam is a religion of peace, I feel it's important for non-Muslims to do the same.

Growing up in Malaysia and having many Muslim friends, I (and many non-Muslims out there) don't see the community the same way the media portrays them.

Some of my greatest friends and colleagues are Muslims, and it saddens me to see the negative and undeserving portrayal being played out on TV and social media every day. While it's a long stretch to change the views of others, I believe non-Muslims can do their part in spreading the message of peace - one person at a time, one destination as we go, together.

Credit: Giphy

Being a non-Muslim writer in HHWT is not as easy as one might think. While there are times when my passion is being put to the test, other times were spent learning about the needs of Muslim travellers and that has been a rewarding journey so far. If you asked me why I write for HHWT, I'd say, "Why not?"

Please note that this article reflects the personal opinion of the writer and is not a representative view for Have Halal, Will Travel.