I get asked many times what is the difference between a Muslim traveler and a non-Muslim traveler because, in the end, we are all tourists. Well, this is totally true and I agree with the fundamentals that we don’t have that many differences but rather we share more common passions for travel, exploring the world and meeting new people and cultures. That is my favorite part of traveling.
However, we are different than the other travelers and we do have some different needs that are actually quite important for a Muslim. Of course, everyone practices their religion on different levels but I will cover the basic differences that we have compared to other travelers.
4 fundamental things I need to plan my travels around in order to be able to observe my religion and have fun around the world.
This is the biggest difference we have from any other traveler. You can’t imagine how many hours I have spent thinking about when is the best time and place to pray. I have prayed in so many “weird” and wonderful public places, airport lounges, train station corners, and my all time classic, changing rooms! The first time I prayed in public I was so scared and embarrassed especially as I didn’t know the reaction of people. Thank God so far all have been very polite and nice.
Islam is an easy religion and it doesn’t put undue pressure on people, contrary to what we might think or what the media shows. Muslims are required to pray five times a day during specific times that cannot be missed however when we travel we can combine and shorten these prayers. So when I am traveling to a place I have to think about what time I will leave and what time I have left to pray my prayers. As travelers, we are allowed to combine our lunch and afternoon prayers together as well as our evening and night prayers. This does give us enough time to be able to explore the areas we are visiting.
Though I always schedule my prayer times and estimate what time I will need to be back in my hotel or if there will be a place to pray. Usually, I prefer to go out early morning so then I will have until the afternoon to be back relax and pray. I know for some people it can seem extremely strange to accommodate your travels or schedule with regards to prayers but for Muslims, it is a joy. Kind of goes through the same process when you have a child and you have to schedule around them. I really don’t want to miss my prayers because I was out there exploring and I owe this exploration to my Lord for giving me the means and ability to do so. The prayers are a form of Gratitude or Rent you have to pay. 🙂
Many religions eat a particular food that is allowed for them. For example Kosher for Jews and Halal for Muslims. Availability of Halal food is one of the most important aspects for Muslim tourists and affects the destinations they will choose. I know many people who will only visit Muslim countries as Halal meat is easily available. Personally, I am not a fussy person and I can eat vegetarian food for weeks especially if it takes me around the world exploring places. However, it is important and a different aspect of our travel requirements and many hotels and destinations are starting to happily provide such options. This of course has seen an increase in Muslim travelers and Japan is currently at the forefront of such an example.
As Muslims, we do choose different types of activities. We won’t be able to spend the nights in clubs drinking and dancing. I know this is the same with many other people and there are personal preferences however in Islam it is not permissible. I am not much fond of the nightlife as I think I had an overdose in my teen years. When Muslims travel we choose places where we can relax and enjoy ‘other’ fun activities that don’t involve drinking and nightclubs. Movies, entertainment centers, and recreational activities are on top of our lists because it gives us the opportunity to have fun in a permissible way. Me as a woman I like places where I can enjoy a private beach or a spa to relax. I searched for this even in Vegas though the price was sky-high. Because Muslim women cover we do take into account the weather and the conditions. I don’t visit the Middle East in the summer as the heat is unbearable and actually most of the Arabs move to the UK for the same reason. There are many hotels starting to take into account the Muslim travelers and their needs providing services to cater for them, such as segregated pools and spas. I think this is an awesome idea and I am planning to visit and review some of them.
Time of the Year
Another important aspect is the time that we travel. For example during Ramadan when we are fasting it is very hard to be out and about traveling and exploring the world. We don’t drink or eat for up to 20 hours, which is a great detox but your energy levels are also low.
So usually we do not travel during this month of the year. We can travel before or after or even during if we visit family but i think the majority of Muslims will not plan holidays during this month. That would defeat the whole purpose of Ramadan which is to reflect and connect with God rather than sightsee all day.
The majority of Muslims will actually practice this even those who are not practicing during the whole year which is why the month of Ramadan is a very slow month for most of the Muslim countries.
I love being Muslim and I love traveling, I don’t see anything that can stop me to explore the beauty of this world. On the contrary, I see that I am extremely blessed to be able to do so and I don’t even see all of the above as a burden rather I see them as adventures.
I am happy to pray around airports, streets, hotel rooms and circle around myself to find my prayer direction, because it is not enough to just turn my compass on. As Muslims, we believe that on the day of Judgment the earth and the places you have prayed will be witnesses for you that you have been there and prayed to your Lord.
For me, this is actually the sort of motivation to keep exploring to keep praying, and to have the earth as my witness.