“The Quran asserts, ‘Say: Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.’ As a Muslim I believe traveling is something Allah wants us to do, in order to learn, grow, experience new things and witness His power,” said Michael Schmidt, a Chicago father of six who makes a point to plan vacations with his family, in an interview with Sound Vision.
Globally, more Muslims seem to be heeding the Quran’s call to travel. According to the Mastercard-Crescentrating’s Global Muslim Travel Rating Index 2018, the Muslim travel market is expected to reach US $220 billion by 2020. In 2017, there were an estimated 131 million Muslim visitor arrivals globally – up from 121 million in 2016 – and this is expected to grow to 156 million visitors by 2020 representing 10 percent of the travel segment.
More locally, according to the report “State of American Vacation 2018”, nearly half (48%) of Americans who are not using a majority of their vacation for travel are missing out on more than sun and fun. Americans taking all or most of their vacation days to travel report dramatically higher rates of happiness than those using little to none of their time for travel.
Forget the skyscrapers and season it with spirituality
But what makes an ideal vacation? For many Muslim families, it involves nature and giving the trip an Islamic flavor.
“As Muslim parents, we like to travel to places where our children can experience Allah’s beauty and magnificence in His creation,” said Naureen Ahmad, a mother of four from Chicago.
“We prefer going to places with natural beauty versus man-made skyrises, which they can see anywhere. We’ve taken our children to Niagara Falls, Florida beaches, Smoky Mountains, etc. They’ve also been to India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, New York City, Los Angeles, etc.
“This year we wanted to take the kids to Yellowstone National Park, to experience the beauty of Allah’s creation, but our plans didn’t pan out. We would also consider Colorado, to enjoy the mountains, and some white water rafting.”
Schmidt said this is also a key factor in his family’s vacation plans.
“I think nature is the best destination. Mountains, caves, rivers, canyons, deserts and other natural environments all offer amazing beauty without some of the problems inherent in beach or city vacations.”
“My family has always been interested in visiting the National Parks, from times before I was Muslim until today,” he added. “I have brought my wife and children to many of the same places I visited as a youth with my parents.
Spots that offer a sense of Islamic history and spirituality are also popular and sought out.
“Last year our family took an Islamic tour of Spain and it was, after Hajj, the trip of a lifetime,” said Fariha Naqvi, editor of CanadianMomEh.com and a columnist for the Montreal Gazette in Canada. “We learnt so much about Islamic history, culture, and traditions.”
Ahmad had a similar experience.
“At our recent trip to Pakistan, our children were pleased that anywhere we went, we were greeted with ‘Salaams’ and we could eat at any restaurant without any concern of whether it was Zabiha or not,” she noted.
This Islamic ambience is also critical for many Muslim families when traveling within the US or in countries that are not Muslim.
“We plan ahead as best as possible to ensure the environment we will be travelling in is as conducive to our Islamic values as possible,” says Naqvi. She related her own experience at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“There were surprisingly a lot of Muslims at Disney. There are many Halal dining options if you plan ahead as well.”
Iram Ahmad, a mother of two and a lawyer in San Francisco, considers Paris one of her favorite travel spots for the same reason.
“It's a walking city and there's Halal food everywhere,” she said. “It's diverse, and it has great food.” She also noted her visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe, a museum showcasing the Arab world, which she described as “moderately inspirational.”
Traveling while Muslim: Islamophobia on the go?
“Other than Disney I cannot vouch for US travel given the current political climate and our own limited experience travelling to the US as a family. I know that I am randomly selected for searches 100% of the time I travel,” said Naqvi, who wears Hijab. “I think that travelling while Muslim brings with it a number of problems. As such, I would avoid the US whenever possible.”
But others feel it should not be a deterrent to traveling, even as they take safety measures.
“I was born and raised in Arkansas, the Bible Belt, and my family still resides in the South, and I don’t really fall for all the hype about Islamophobia,” said Ahmad. “The South is known for their hospitality, and you will find people to be very friendly, which is a stark difference from Chicago, where people keep mostly to themselves.
“We’ve been to Branson, Missouri, Atlanta, Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains, and never experienced any negativity, Alhamdu lillah. As long as you carry yourself as a confident person, like you belong here just as much as the next person, and not like a second-class citizen, then you will be treated as such. If you carry yourself as someone who looks afraid of their surroundings, then you might be easy prey for someone looking to start trouble.
“One of my children’s most favorite vacations was a week in Arkansas, visiting my parents. We went peach picking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, and even let off huge fireworks, which they never would be allowed to do in the city limits of Chicago. I took my kids to a waterpark in Arkansas, and all of us females were wearing long sleeve/pant combos, or burkinis to swim, and no one bothered us, or commented on our attire.
“That all being said, I do take precautions just in case. For example, I sometimes take road trips alone with my children to the South, so I got all my windows tinted on my car, so I don’t face any road rage on the highways if anyone were to notice I’m a Muslimah driving alone. I also try to stop at hotels for washroom breaks, as they are clean, and the staff are friendly and welcoming, as compared to fast food restaurants or gas stations. I also try to drive in mostly daylight hours, and avoid driving late at night as much as possible.”
Schmidt recommended searching for solid information about the potential vacation spot before planning a trip.
“It's hard to say where, when, or how something like Islamophobia might manifest itself,” he said. “I think it would be a good idea to research any area you are planning to visit, to get the lay of the land. Traveling with my wife, who wears Hijab, we have never encountered anything overtly Islamophobic. However at one nearby grocery store, where we go often, my wife was verbally abused on a recent visit. So it's hard to know.”
Nonetheless, Muslim families continue to travel and plan vacations, whether the risk comes from Islamophobia or other safety factors. It’s why Ahmad’s family will be headed to Cancun, Mexico in the coming weeks.
“While we are aware of concern with the cartel in Mexico, we know the resorts are supposed to be safe for tourists,” she said. “We may do some excursions off the resort, but other Muslim friends have told us they had no issues on their visits. Insha Allah khair.”