I was recently compiling some notes about a story that focused on religious differences for international travelers. Specifically, I planned a story about the stigma and fear sometimes associated with visiting Islamic countries.
In my personal history, I have visited several Islamic countries: Malaysia, the Philippines (in the south), and Thailand. I also have a slew of Islamic countries on my to do list: Oman, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and Syria to name a few.
While I have read the Qur’an (Koran) and a couple of books about the life of Muhammad, I felt it necessary to get a deeper insight about what a traveler should know before buying a plane ticket to the Middle East, Africa or Southeast Asia. After all, my experiences with Muslim people in their own back yard is limited.
However, after sitting in a number of coffee shops and chatting with Muslims certain truths come out. People, regardless of religion, have far more in common than not.
This had become abundantly clear to me when I was chatting with several men in a Muslim village in Thailand. We all have kids and our conversation drifted toward what we want for our families. Here is the short list: we want health and happiness for our children, reasonable shelter, food on the table, and a few bucks in our pocket, but I still needed some help to write my story.
I called my friend from grad school, Ghada, who is a native of Egypt and a practicing Muslim woman for some advice about how to approach the subject of religion and travel. We talked about fear, culture, and being different. We also talked about a lack of religious awareness beyond the scary headlines and the need to get better information out to travelers.
Funny thing, after I spoke with Ghada about fear, Islam and our common plight of being human, she wrote me an article, which included her personal experience and 12 helpful hints aimed toward travelers considering a Middle Eastern adventure. Something that makes me drool just thinking about.
Since I will likely not be able to do it better, I offer Ghada’s story as inspiration to visit a place completely different, 12 Tips to Travel Muslim Countries.
For more about Ghada Bedair
Photo by Robert Romano, public domain
Nice story. I am going to Petra this summer and less worried after your story. Thanks!
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I’m Jealous, Max.
I missed out on Petra a couple of years back and I still regret it. Hopefully one day soon.
.-= Devin Galaudet´s last blog ..Writing about Personal Subjects and Painting the Shit out of the Door =-.
You’ll find Petra, and most of Jordan for that matter, very open and accepting to travelers. All 12 tips are valuable, however you’ll find that a smile and numbers 7 and 12 are the minimum needed. Even though it shares a border with Iraq and is exposed to the violence there, when I was there in ’07 I never once felt unsafe.
Have a great trip…
BTW: Read the story and podcast of Jordan Voluntourism and Petra. The humanitarian side of Jordon worth seeking out:
Good tips, Steve! 🙂
.-= Devin Galaudet´s last blog ..My Inspirational 50 — Books to Live By =-.
I wouldn’t include Thailand or the Philippines as Islamic countries, as only a small minority of each population practices Islam. Thailand has a largely Buddhist and animist history and culture, and in the Philippines you will find a strong Catholic influence. Even Malaysia, while majority Muslim and with some strict anti-conversion laws, has a fairly secular culture compared to countries that have a much deeper and longer Islamic heritage, culture and history. Some travelers have called Malaysia “Muslim world light.”
That said, I think you’re right on that it’s a lack of awareness and understanding that makes many Americans fear anyone who even “looks” Muslim. Unfortunately after the 9/11 attacks hundreds of hate crimes against Arabs and South Asians were reported in the US, and a large percentage of those were against Sikhs – showing that people are really afraid of anyone who looks different (ie turbaned Sikhs from India or Pakistan) from them and fits into the “dangerous Other” category in their minds.
I blame the media.
Put Brunei on your list. It’s ridiculously friendly and completely not the image media is trying to pain about Muslim countries. 🙂