A girl’s guide for visiting Muslim countries

 

Venturing to other parts of the world has always fascinated me. We are all human and yet our way of life differs so dramatically depending on our place of birth. Traveling overseas to countries that are incredibly different to the western world have a way of opening up our minds and teaching us things that we could never learn without experiencing it ourselves.

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While I was traveling throughout Europe there was always a certain sense of familiarity.  While each country differs slightly, it was fairly easy for me to get around and to understand the intricacies of the cultures. I did not stand out too much because for the most part, I looked like just like everyone else (minus the turtle-like backpack which symbolised my status as a foreigner).

Exploring Asia is a whole different ball game. The fascinating thing about this continent is the vast differences in the local cultures compared to my own. Every country in Asia is incredibly diverse and beautiful in its own way.

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The place I found most culturally different to my own was when I travelled to the island of Java in Indonesia. While it was an incredibly beautiful and fascinating place that is rich with culture, I found it to be one of the most challenging places to travel on my own as a solo, female, foreigner. I discovered a whole new way of existing in a space that was unfamiliar to me.

It was a rather peculiar feeling being the only white, female foreigner in a Muslim majority country. The hauntingly beautiful call to prayer echoed from the local mosque five times a day and nearly every female strictly wore a hijab in public. I quickly learned to cover up any exposed flesh so that the attention from the locals could be slightly alleviated. Indonesians are incredibly curious about bule (foreigners) and most feel no shame about staring at you, initiating conversations and asking for photos with you.

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This article by Stephanie Pelser outlines the things every solo female traveler need to know when traveling to Muslim countries so that she may be culturally aware and can experience the local culture in a way that is most rewarding.

2 thoughts on “A girl’s guide for visiting Muslim countries

  1. Hi Jasmine,

    Thank you for this article, it was a great read! Though I do not have any trips currently planned, I can very much relate to what you were saying from my previous travel experiences. I was fortunate to have travelled to Israel last year and while it was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had, it certainly was quite the culture shock. I stayed in Jerusalem, which is home to the Jewish faith. While it was a bit of a last minute trip, I do regret that I had not done more research on the culture and its customs. As it is a very multicultural city, I never once felt judged by my dress or appearance but that is not to say that I did not feel uncomfortable at times either.

    Those adhering to the strict Jewish faith are very conservative in their dress, particularly the women. I ventured into one of the holiest sites in the world, The Old City, and I was oblivious at first to the conservative attire the women were wearing. Had I taken the time and done some research, I would have been able to dress appropriately in a manner that I believe would have shown greater respect. I am grateful for all that I learnt during my time there and as you said, it certainly did open by mind up to a whole other world.

  2. Hi Jasmine,
    Great Article! I really admired how you were able to draw from your own overseas trips and out of which you were able to reflect on your personal experiences when faced with cultural diversity. You seem to have a great respect and admiration for the people of the Asian countries you visited.
    I think you touched on a really interesting point when discussing how travelling in Europe versus travelling in Java were different, particularly in regards to cultural dress. It’s important to think about that this is one way in which cultural diversity and specifically religious diversity, is manifested publicly, as opposed to privately. When visually presented with something so different to our western culture such as the hijab, we find it easier to identify and adapt respectfully to cultural sensitivities.
    However, it’s interesting to consider that some muslims don’t necessarily choose to wear the hijab to express their faith and sometimes this can create difficulties when considering cultural sensitivities. Therefore, I think it’s always a good idea for people travelling, especially women to thoroughly research area’s or learn about the cultures of the countries they are travelling to before they go, and for people to always be curious and respectful towards other people’s cultural traditions.

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