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7 Lessons I've Learned as a Hijabi Traveler

by Nerissa Rahadian Jan 11, 2017

Traveling solo as a Muslim girl with hijab can be a little scary and daunting these days. When the word “Islamophobia” is getting more fame for the last couple of years, I can totally relate to the fear all female travelers with hijab face when they’re abroad.

It can be very uncomfortable to have someone staring at you from head to toe when you’re just eating your lunch at the local park. But we all Muslim women with hijab are just like every other traveler in the world. We have the same right to explore every corner of the world and all those fears shouldn’t stop us from traveling.

1. The world is still filled with many, many beautiful souls.

I kept thinking about how many rude stares and comments I would get in public places along the journey, I kept playing scenarios in my head about how people wouldn’t talk to me because of the thing on my head. I was totally wrong. I spent Christmas Eve 2008 in a church in Arroyo Grande, California, because my host-dad is a senior pastor there. I was beyond surprised when everyone welcomed me with warm hugs and asked many curious questions because I am “the Girl who comes from Indonesia”, not “the Muslim Girl who wears Hijab and Went to Church Celebrating Christmas Complete with Hijab On”.

I still remember that time I just got out from the church library to meet up with my host-parents and a few people came to my direction with smiles on their faces, “Are you Nerissa? Welcome to California!” or “Do you like America? It must be a little different from Indonesia, but please enjoy your first Christmas here!”

This is one thing I always try to remember — that everything in this world is already set up in pairs. Black and white. Up and down. Left and right. So are good and bad.

2. The way people treat me depends on the way I treat them.

Traveling solo means there’s nobody you can depend on besides yourself. I have no choice but to ask people around me. But the thing is, if I don’t make my hijab is an issue, neither will they.

In Paris, when I was looking for Shakespeare & Co, I politely asked a woman how to get there. What did I have back? A friendly smile and a lovely conversation! She even took me to the bookstore!

Fear is only inside our heads. There are still so many kind, beautiful people along the way. We just need start nicely and we might be surprised how strangers on the street could become one of our best friends.

3. Some of them only knew our religion from what they’ve seen on tv and they’re just genuinely curious about it.

Yes, it’s only us Muslims who can give them the answers.

“Why are you wearing that? Is that an obligation? Why the other Muslim girls aren’t wearing that too?”

This is a simple question but if you can’t answer it correctly and wisely, it could lead you to a misunderstanding.

I always think that I only need to be a good ‘Muslim Agent’ here.

I’ll tell them why I’m wearing that weird clothing on my head; I’ll tell them I’m doing this because it’s so much more than the symbol of my religion and faith; that it’s part of my identity; that I’m wearing it because I know I have a responsibility about it; that nobody should look down on me just because of it.

4. The warm and familiar feeling I got when encountering fellow Muslim travelers or locals.

Being called out, “Salam, sister!” in the middle of busy market in the city or getting a warm smile from another hijabi stranger along the street are two of my favorite things to encounter when abroad.

It’s like He reminds me that no matter how far I go, I’ll never be alone and there will always be kind sisters or brothers along the way.

5. As we’re all in the same path, travelers are the most open-minded people I know.

Travelers see things non-travelers can’t see. Travelers see beyond their own bubbles. Travelers see how diverse the world out there is. Because travelers meet so many people along their ways, they know the world isn’t filled with just one specific race and religion.

Most travelers know that our religion is not what the media portrays.

No matter how scared I am of going to the hostel’s common room and meeting other travelers because of my hijab; it never stops them from asking what my story is.

6. Good things will just pop out everywhere.

Literally everywhere.

In Singapore, when I asked for a bowl of jjangmyeon, the chef himself came out from the kitchen and said, “No, Miss. You’re wearing.. (gesturing my hijab) and this contains pork. You can’t eat that.” Or my first pub experience in London back in 2012 — when all my friends were ordering tequila, one of the bartenders asked me whether I wanted to have a coke or a glass of sparkling water. It was really nice of him.

7. The world isn’t as scary as you think it is.

This point sums up what I’ve written above. All travelers know we are in this together, so they believe in the power of “Pay It Forward”. There’s nothing wrong with helping one another, as they know sooner or later they will need someone’s help too.

During all my journeys, I’ve received countless acts of kindness from other beautiful souls out there. It always surprised me how I could feel at home when I’m not even home. It surprised me how I could feel so welcome when I’m not where I grew up.

Nothing will stop me from being curious about the outside world. Being always thirsty for more adventures, more stories, meeting more and more beautiful souls. Nothing at all. Especially not my hijab.

This article originally appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

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