As a Muslim, I think being culturally aware as travellers is super important.
As we go about our day, we are constantly surrounded by people from all walks of life.
In a world that is becoming increasingly globalised, it is more important than ever to be culturally aware and understanding. We must respect one another’s differences and learn to appreciate each culture’s beauty.
As any seasoned traveller knows, there is nothing worse than being a culturally insensitive tourist. Not only are you likely to annoy the locals, but you also risk offending religious or cultural sensibilities.
Muslims are travelling increasingly, and even Muslim countries are becoming welcoming places for tourists. The Halal travel industry is the fastest growing worldwide, worth over $220billions.
That’s why, before you embark on your next adventure, it’s worth keeping in mind the etiquette of the place you’ll be visiting.
What Is Cultural Sensitivity in Tourism?
Cultural sensitivity is the ability to be aware of and understand the differences in culture, customs, values, beliefs and traditions of people from other countries.
It is also the ability to show respect for these differences.
We as Muslims are well aware that sometimes we feel unease when we visit a place, and we don’t want to be on the receiving or giving end of that to others.
Why Is It Important to Be Culturally Aware as Muslims?
In our increasingly connected world, being culturally aware and sensitive is more crucial than ever.
With people from all corners of the globe interacting daily, it is easy for misunderstandings to occur.
Understanding and respecting the cultures of those around us can help create a more harmonious world.
It offers a bridge of understanding and acceptance that, in reality, we have more similarities than differences as humans, no matter our religion or background.
Learning about other cultures can help us see our traditions in a new light and appreciate them differently.
Ways to Be More Culturally Aware Traveller
1. Get to know the place you’re visiting.
As a culturally aware traveller, it is essential to learn about your destination.
Not only will this help you to avoid culturally insensitive blunders, but it will also give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the place.
There are many ways to learn about a destination, including reading books, articles and blog posts, watching videos and documentaries, and speaking to people who have lived there or visited before.
Facebook groups are also a great way to ask questions about other people’s experiences in the place you are visiting.
2. Learn some basic phrases.
Just think how happy we become as Muslims when someone tells us, “Assalamu Alaikum”, because they have recognised us as Muslims and made an effort with us.
Learning some of the local phrases shows people that you care about getting to know them and that you have a genuine interest in their culture.
It doesn’t matter if you visit for a day or a week; trying to learn a basic phrase is about making the other person happy.
The locals will appreciate your efforts, and you may even find yourself being able to connect with them on a deeper level.
This also leaves the person with a positive example of a Muslim encounter which is so important in order to break stereotypes.
Don’t forget as Muslims, we are representatives of Islam, and we should always be proud, happy and open with others.
3. Try new dishes and learn the local table manners.
One thing that saddens me with some Muslim travellers is the fact that they stick to countries with easy-to-find halal food.
I always say that Halal food and its pursuit of it ruins the traveller experience for many Muslims.
When travelling to a new country, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the culture is to try the local cuisine.
Yes, they might not have halal meat, but every culture and cuisine has various vegetarian dishes you can try that you are bound to enjoy.
One of the reasons we travel is to open ourselves to new experiences; one sure way to do that is by trying new dishes out of our comfort zone.
Even if you don’t like it, at least you tried it.
4. Respect the etiquette for holy and cultural sites.
Holy and cultural sites often have specific dress codes, behaviours, and protocols that should be followed to show respect. The same way we have when people visit mosques.
For example, many holy sites require visitors to dress modestly, and some forbid photography altogether.
By familiarising yourself with the etiquette before you visit, you can help ensure everyone has a positive and respectful experience.
In addition, as a general rule, it is always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to cultural customs.
If you are unsure about something, it is better to ask for help than to risk offending someone.
5. Be Kind & Pay it Forward.
Smiling is Sunnah!
When I travel and visit local attractions and restaurants or talk to locals, I always try to be polite and smile. Without my hijab, you wouldn’t know I am Muslim. However, with my hijab, I am a visible representative of our religion.
It is very important to leave a good impression not only because of the religion but because it makes others feel good.
Give way to others, help them take photos if they are on their own, smile at them and say good morning. Small gestures that don’t cost anything but make a big difference.
It also means being open to new experiences and looking for opportunities to help out where we can.
By paying it forward, we help to create a more positive travel experience for everyone involved.
And who knows – maybe our act of kindness will be reciprocated in some way, making the world a little bit brighter for everyone.
6. Pay attention to non-verbal behaviours.
Most of our communication is with non-verbal behaviour, so it is essential to keep this in mind when travelling.
While travelling to new places is always exciting, it’s important to remember that different cultures have different customs and ways of behaving.
One way to show respect for the culture you visit is to pay attention to non-verbal behaviours.
For example, in some cultures, it is considered rude to make direct eye contact, while in others, it is viewed as a sign of respect.
As Muslims, many women don’t shake hands with non-Mahram, which is also important to keep in mind when travelling. If you don’t feel comfortable, it is important to express yourself politely and decline an activity or an event if it makes you uncomfortable.
By being aware of these differences, you can avoid offending others and mix more easily into the culture.
7. Ask permission before taking photos.
For me, this is very important because we post our life and travel experiences on social media.
When I travel and take photos for social media, I always try to visit the places I want when there are not many tourists around.
If I cannot avoid them, I either wait for my turn to take photos or ensure I angle my camera in a certain way to avoid other people in the image.
This is important, especially if there are children involved.
I don’t post photos of my child online and don’t want others to do either.
If some cultures, like the Arabs, love kids, and I have been asked several times if it is OK to take photos of my daughter, and many have just taken them without permission.
Even if you don’t think the person you’re taking a photo of will mind, it’s always best to err on caution and ask first.
Not only will this help you avoid potential problems, but it will also show that you respect the customs and culture of the place you’re visiting.
So next time you’re reaching for your camera, make sure you remember to ask permission first.
This post has been written in collaboration with Muslim Pro and Qalbox. Muslim Pro App is now more than just a service app. Beyond the adhan notifications, it also provides you with an array of content in a form of articles, infographics and more. Check out their articles here on www.connect.muslimpro.com! Plus, with the Muslim Pro App, you can now access Qalbox, their new streaming service for various shows that celebrate our Muslim identity and culture. They are offering our readers a 1-Week FREE Trial to their service, so sign up here and start watching.