Despite strict rules and an “unsafe” branding, the rich culture and heritage of Muslim countries draws tourists in. But the degree of how wary you need to be depends on how strict the Muslim Sharia law operates. In moderate Muslim countries like Malaysia, people are more relaxed, women are allowed to show a bit more skin and alcohol is easily available. But if you’re travelling to strict countries like Saudi Arabia, it will come as a culture shock at how women aren’t allowed to drive, for instance.
Did you know? Rihanna once visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi and despite covering up (for once), was kicked out for inappropriately posing for pictures. So if you think you know what to expect, think again:
#1 Should You Go?
A great piece of advice we were once given is to look up local newspapers online. Suss out the current political state, what kind of stories make headlines, crime happenings and you’ll be able to make safe, well-informed decisions. If you’re travelling alone, or as a solo female traveller, which to some Muslim communities is quite strange, you could also ask friends and family to connect you to a mutual local.
#2 Shoes Off, Everything Else On
Always take your shoes off before entering a mosque or someone’s home. Your host might try to appease you by allowing you to keep your shoes on, but it’s a sign of respect to take one’s shoes off regardless. The bottom of shoes is literally and figuratively considered “unclean” — you’re probably already familiar with this custom when travelling to Bali or Thailand.
#3 How to Greet Someone The Right Way
Huggers, stay back. Men typically do not shake a woman’s hand unless she extends her hand first. In fact, most men choose to speak to a woman through her male companion. Women can greet others with a simple and polite nod. Don’t be too friendly though, as even a smile can be seen as a sexual advance in strict countries.
#4 Know The Dress Code
One sure way to blend in is to dress the way other women you see dress. Yes it’s mostly hot, but as a general rule, tourists should dress respectively and proper. In countries like Iran and Dubai, swimwear is only acceptable at the pool itself. Women should carry a shawl or poncho with them to throw on when need be. It definitely comes in handy!
#5 The Deal with Drinks
The most important thing to remember is that Muslims are prohibited from consuming alcohol and pork, so never, ever, consume near or invite them over for a night of ‘pigs in a blanket’ and beer. While Muslims do drink alcohol in some places, it’s not always flaunted and still safer to assume that they don’t. Countries like Turkey and Dubai even have some amazing clubs.
#6 When Taking Pictures…
Snap away, but be careful of what you photograph. Make sure there are no women and children in your frame photographed without their consent. It is innocent, but considered offensive in some countries. Good thing most great snaps come from looking up, especially in Turkey’s gorgeous Blue Mosque.
#7 Travelling During Ramadhan
The month of fasting leading up to the Eid celebration takes place annually. This year, it takes up the month of June. Travelling to a Muslim country lets you experience the religious side of culture better than ever, but if you’re a foodie, do note that it’s not very respectable to eat before sundown. Half the restaurants won’t even be open till then, but once it’s okay to break fast for the day, you’ll have a feast before you.