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I became Muslim in August 2020 after 5 months of looking into Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. Like many people, the pandemic and being in lockdown gave me a lot of free time to learn and I spent 4 months of this time in Indonesia learning about Islam before doing my shahada back in the UK in August, alhamdulillah.
Nearly 2 years on, I’m still amazed by my journey. Allah really does have a wonderful plan for us all, and as time goes I’m even more amazed by the positions I was in and the places I visited just before the pandemic which had a huge influence on me wanting to learn more about Islam.
It feels like I was set on a path to visit amazing places on my travels like Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi and Indonesia all before the pandemic and when it hit I could then just sit, learn and take it all in. And to top it off I did all of this in Indonesia, on a small island full of Muslims and with a mosque just meters away from where I was living.
I haven’t spoken about becoming Muslim on my blog before but I do like to use my blog as a way to journal my life as well as travels. Becoming a Muslim was hugely influenced by my travels so I want to share this story with you about how travelling inspired me to become a Muslim and how I now use travel as a way to connect with being Muslim.
I’m also collaborating with the Muslim Pro app which I have used for over 2 years for the prayer times, for learning and for listening to the Quran, and to promote the launch of Qalbox which features travel documentaries and socio-documentaries that display the diverse lives of Muslims around the world.
I guess you are reading this post as you are Muslim, or are looking into Islam and love to travel so I really recommend heading over to Qalbox to subscribe and watch their documentaries once they have launched this July!
My Journey to Islam through my travels
I had definitely heard the call to prayer before in my travels around Indonesia in 2014, but I remember the first time I heard it, paid attention to it, and was so happy to hear it… I had just arrived in the pretty town of Cappadocia in Turkey and checked into my room when I heard it coming from the mosque really close by and so loud.
Turkey was the first stop on my 4-month backpacking trip around the Middle East and Asia in 2015 and I remember the sound making me feel like I was back in the Middle East and back in a faraway land which I loved the feeling of. I’ve been back to Cappadocia a few times since this trip and the last time I went which was as a new Muslim, I walked past this hotel and noticed just how close it was to the mosque out of all the hotels I booked I stayed there and got to fully embrace the adhan.
A few years and a few backpacking trips later, I visited Pakistan in 2019, a country I had wanted to visit for so long and I felt so drawn to going although I could never quite put my finger on why. As soon as it became easier to get a tourist visa for Pakistan, I went, and I had the most amazing 3 weeks mainly in the mountains on one adventure after the other.
Pakistan really stands out to me because I had to think of a lot more things before going that related to Islam and being Muslim as it was the most Islamic country I had ever visited with a low number of tourists. For example, I thought I might have to cover my hair, I knew I wanted to wear more covered clothing and travelling with a male friend I thought people might ask if we were married a lot.
When I think back to what I thought of Muslims then, I did have negative impressions that Muslim women weren’t allowed to work or go out as much and that they had to cover. However, this trip really helped show me this wasn’t true. I happened to meet an amazing woman called Humna who really dispelled all those negative beliefs I had because just from meeting her for a few days and working with her on a project I saw that she was a working, empowered woman with a great supportive husband, and she was Muslim and very proud of it.
As well as this, in Pakistan, I got to experience the hospitality and kindness of Muslims first-hand and visit some beautiful mosques!
On 1st January 2020, I landed in Riyad, Saudi Arabia. Like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia was a country I had been so keen to visit whereas a lot of people wondered why do I want to go to Saudi??
With the tourist visa being introduced in 2019 making it possible for tourists to visit Saudi and on the back of my high of visiting Pakistan and having such an adventure there meeting great people and learning a lot, I booked a one-way flight to Riyadh, with a hotel booked for only one night too and no real plans.
I ended up staying in Saudi Arabia for 3 weeks, I left for 2 weeks and then returned for another 2 weeks, and it was here that I got to see what it meant to be in a Muslim family for the first time.
I got this experience because I was couch surfing in Saudi, tourism was still a new thing there and I heard it was hard to get around without a local and hotels are either expensive or not that great, which I can certainly vouch for.
I stayed with 2 amazing families in Riyadh who took me under their wing, showed me the city, showed me their family life and what it meant to be a Muslim. ‘Inshallah’ quickly became part of my sentences and waiting for them to pray before we went out or when out became part of my day.
This is where my intrigue for prayer came from. I thought how amazing it was that Muslims had set times to pray each day, times of the day where they could escape the busyness of life and connect with God.
On my second trip to Saudi, I wanted to see more of the country and go to Jeddah. Looking at a map I realised that Madinah was close to Jeddah and after looking on YouTube I saw that some non-Muslims had recently visited Madinah and were allowed. I looked into it whilst in Jeddah, booked a bus to Madinah, a hotel in Madinah and a flight from Madinah back to Riyadh all last minute and really spontaneously, and to some people perhaps, quite crazily but looking back now I can see it was all part of a divine plan.
Being in Madinah was amazing. My Saudi friends told me how special the city was and how I will be looked after as this is the city of their Prophet (PBUH)and I certainly felt it.
I spent a day on a hop-on hop-off bus going to places like Uhud Mountain and on the bus is where I got to listen to some history of Islam for the first time and later back at my hotel I felt so inspired to research more too.
It was the people in Saudi Arabia and the obvious practices of Islam like the call to prayer which can be heard everywhere, the shops and cafes shutting at prayer time, the sheer number of mosques and the modest dress that really impacted me and showed me a world I had not seen or thought about before but I wanted to learn and know more…
Fast forward another few weeks and I was on the island of Gili Trawangan in Indonesia just as the world shut down due to the pandemic. I had decided to travel here from India as the pandemic started and decided to go here rather than going back home to the UK. Again, Allah is the best of planners as this was the best place to be with some close friends around me, on a beautiful quiet paradise island with a mosque close by and the approach of Ramadan.
Here, I decided to start looking into all those questions I had thought of about Islam like why don’t Muslims eat pork and why pray 5 times a day? I downloaded the Muslim Pro app and I started watching videos on the history of Islam and particularly about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and it only takes a bit of research to fall in love with his character and also to realise from his wife Khadija that Muslim women are very empowered and can have many roles.
I also decided to give prayer a go and slowly learnt alongside some YouTube videos for children starting with 1 prayer a day and slowly building up to 2-3.
Ramadan came around quite quickly and I decided to attempt fasting for Ramadan, starting with no food and a bit of water first before going into a full fast for the last 10 days. Being on an Islamic island knowing that most of the locals around me were fasting too and hearing Taraweeh prayers all night was so special. So was the time I had to learn, read the Quran, connect with Muslims back at home and around the world online as we were all in lockdown and fasting, and feel just what a special month Ramadan is.
After Ramadan, I continued with my learning and a few months later did my shahada in London after returning to the UK.
After becoming Muslim, I travelled back to Turkey and lived in Istanbul for 3 months. In a way, this was like a whole new life for me, now I was travelling as a Muslim, and even better, to a Muslim-majority country with mosques, halal food, women wearing hijab and plenty of people to meet and talk to.
I took my journey with praying slowly, building it up to 5 prayers a day over a few months and I took my modest dress and hijab-wearing slowly too which meant that living in Istanbul and the travels I did the following year didn’t provide me with any sudden struggles of travelling as a Muslim woman.
And because I was well travelled and confident in visiting new places, I was happy to visit the far ends of Istanbul to see different mosques and learn more which was a great experience and from visiting places like Topkapi Palace and Eyup Mosque I learned a lot about the Ottoman Empire and how Islam spread here and beyond which I found so interesting.
That takes me to the present day, being Muslim for nearly 2 years, doing multiple trips to Europe being Muslim and having just finished running 2 retreats for Muslim women in Spain which were founded through the online connection I have built with so many Muslim women and women looking into Islam around the world.
We chose Spain for our first 2 retreats because of the lengthy Muslim rule in Spain and the amazing places you can still visit in Spain like the Alhambra in Granada and Cordoba Mosque-Cathedral. I think many European Muslims struggle with their connection to Islam sometimes, we are the minority, there’s no call to prayer, a lack of mosques and halal facilities and what feels like a lack of history, but visiting Spain really shows just what a presence Muslims had here and helps European Muslims connect to the history of Islam.
This history is well worth learning about if you are limited in knowledge and that’s why I really recommend checking out Qalbox. For Spain, you can watch the documentary The Story History of Moors and for Turkey, you can watch Turkey – Beautiful Diversity.
It really has been a whirlwind adventure over the last 2.5 years made up of visiting different countries, meeting people from all backgrounds and learning so much.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my story and how my travels really led me to Islam and becoming Muslim Alhamdulillah. It shows just how important travel and meeting people from around the world is.
This post is in collaboration with Muslim Pro and Qalbox. All tips, thoughts and opinions are my own.