For many people the thought of visiting an Islamic country is met with fear and apprehension. If you’ve never been before you might be unsure how to dress or act. You may be fearful based on news reports. It can seem overwhelming and intimidating. But, one of the best ways to get past these feelings is to simply GO! I write regularly about Morocco so I asked some other blogging friends to provide their insight on travel in other Islamic countries. You might be surprised to discover these countries and why they make excellent destinations to visit.
One of the best ways to conquer stereotypes and fears is to experience through travel. This is the best reason why you should visit an Islamic country this year. Get out there, explore the unknown, and discover there’s much more to these places than the media would have you believe.
Top 5 Reasons to Visit an Islamic Country
- Centuries of history to discover.
- Some of the most breathtaking landscapes at your fingertips.
- You’ll be welcomed as a revered guest almost anywhere. Hospitality is key feature of these societies.
- You won’t have to deal with hordes of tourists, many of these places are largely untraveled.
- Food! Each of these places has their own unique cuisine that is out of this world.
Where Will You Go?
I’m starting with Iran, as it’s at the top of my “must visit” Islamic countries. I can hear your gasping that an American woman would want to visit this country. But, for all it’s political pandering I know the Iranian people are wonderful. We’ve had many friends over the years from this country and it’s left me itching to go. Not to mention Persian food is some of my absolute favorite. If you’re a woman you’ll have to don a headscarf and men and women will need to wear conservative clothing while visiting but it’s a small trade off.
“Iran is so many things rolled into one, but there’s one thing it’s not. It’s not a country of gun-toting or American-hating extremists. It’s not a land of war-loving, flag-burning terrorists. And it’s definitely not how the world perceives it to be.” Nellie of Wild Junket in Traveling Iran – What It’s Like
Qatar is mostly known around the world as the home of the Al Jazeera news channel but there’s much more to this small country. Many Islamic countries have a long and celebrated history though unfortunately not many of them have the economic ability to protect and promote their art and history. Qatar however is doing so in a major way.
“Doha, however, has culture. And by culture, I mean the government understands the importance of investing in the arts. These investments have made Doha a great destination for those interested in Middle Eastern art (and contemporary architecture!). While Doha is not yet the type of place you’d spend your whole vacation, it is a great city for a 24-36 hour layover.” (MarocMama note: Qatar Airways flies many routes through Europe and Asia with a layover in Doha) Ashley of NOXP in An Art Day in Doha, Qatar
United Arab Emirates
Of all the Muslim countries people have familiarity with the UAE tops the list. This is a country made up of several emirates including Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While there are remnants of traditional culture the area has been largely modernized and provides everything you would find in North America or Europe.
“The children and I had a fabulous time in Abu Dhabi! I found it safe, clean and family-friendly. The harsh punishments for disobedience meted out by the rulers really do ensure compliance. I thought of it in many ways as ‘Singapore in the Middle East.’ The flight time is 7 hours from London which makes it closer than lots of other places as a winter sun destination.” Shobha of Just Go Places Blog in Visiting Abu Dhabi with Children
Bahrain is separated from Saudi Arabia by simply a long bridge jutting to the island in the Persian Gulf (the country is made up on archipelago of 33 islands). It became known in recent years due to protests held and put down by the king of the country. But this small nation is a unique spot to visit. Whether you like museums, history or wildlife you can find a bit of everything in Bahrain.
“Along with delicious Arabic coffee. I jotted down the recipe, spilling a bit as I went. After making sure I wrote it down properly, one of the women went into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a jar containing some coffee and a bag of accompanying spices: cloves, cardamom and saffron. “Take this home with you,” she said. “Of course, with Arabic coffee you must have this,” she continued – and produced a large bag of ripe dates…Arab hospitality is legendary. Where else would a wandering stranger be invited into people’s homes like that?” from Anne-Sophie of Sophie’s World in The Kindness of Strangers
“It’s been five months since my trip to Bahrain, but so many memories still linger on. Every time I’m at an airport and hear of a flight leaving for Bahrain, I am overcome by the urge to run and catch it. The warmth of its people was the kind that could get me through a cold night. I remember it as the land of a thousand friends.” Shivya of The Shooting Star in Land of a Thousand Friends
Another one of my most desired countries to visit is the west African nation of Gambia. It’s the smallest country in mainland Africa but also one of the most politically stable with an extremely friendly population. The nation borders the Atlantic Ocean and has beautiful beaches along with wonderful wildlife viewing. The population is largely Muslim with a small percentage practicing Christianity as well as plenty of traditional tribal beliefs mixed in.
“The country has so much to offer including a vibrant culture and wonderful wildlife. With some 560 bird species it is a twitchers paradise, being popular with the likes of wildlife and bird watching expert, Chris Packham. It is also great for river and sea fishing. There is no big game here but there a number of species of monkeys including green vervets, baboons and the endangered red colobus monkeys. You may also see monitor lizards, bats, crocodiles and marine mammals including dolphins.” Kat of Travels with Kat in Guide to the Gambia
Nestled into the Middle East is the country of Jordan. Many travelers dream of visiting this country to see the ruins of Petra but there’s so much more than just this site. The country is large with varied landscapes including gorgeous deserts. You can swim in the Red Sea, float in the Dead Sea and hike across Martian like landscapes. For a city feel head to Amman and be sure to eat some amazing Jordanian cuisine. The country is home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring countries so along with experience Jordan there’s a good chance you’ll also meet people from all over the Middle East who now call Jordan home.
“Everywhere we went, Jordanians were eager to extend a hand of welcome and peace, providing a stark contrast to the culture of fear propagated by the mass media and the corporations/politicians who stand to benefit most from continued military action in the region (war, after all, is EXTREMELY profitable). Much like sharks, wolves and any other number of species that have been demonized by Western mythology over the centuries, the Middle Easterners we met exhibited absolutely no animosity or aggression towards us; only curiosity and a willingness to engage where mutual respect was on offer.” Bret of Green Global Travel in The Country of Jordan, the Middle East & Our Culture of Fear
“I stepped out of the hotel and reached the Roman Theatre, and was welcomed by a group of kids who repeatedly asked me to take pictures of them, asked me ‘what’s your name’ and all. Their beautiful smiles warmed up my heart. I just don’t get how people can dislike/be afraid of traveling to the Middle East. People are so helpful, welcoming and friendly in the area!” from Giulia of Travel Reportage in Travel Solo and You’ll Never be Alone
Arab and Muslim tend to be synonymous in a western context but the largest Muslim population is in fact Indonesian. There are more Indonesian Muslims in the world than Arab – amazing isn’t it? This country is known for beautiful landscapes, beaches, and the tropical sun. Bali is arguably the most visited part of Indonesia but it’s also home to the island of Java (hello coffee!), and 17,000 other islands, as well as volcanos, Buddhist temples, and out of this world spa treatments.
“Given Z, as a pre-pubescent child, would be excused fasting even were he Muslim, we’ve trampled on no sensitivities…Bad temper? Not a jot. Quite the reverse, in fact. Folk have been implausibly helpful and positively jolly. From the folk at the mangrove forest who gave us a masterclass in Bahasa Indonesia, through to the five chaps at the Pelni ferry office who painstakingly located a (largely fictional) schedule, smiling, bowing and welcoming me to the country all the time.” from Theodora of Escape Artists in Ramadan in Tarakan
“While Indonesia is over 87% Muslim, it is by no means a theocracy. With six official religions, over 700 languages spoken, and thousands of islands, Indonesia is immensely diverse. Through CouchSurfing, my experiences ranged from riding on the back of a motorcycle to get to Ubud in majority-Hindu Bali to staying with a devout Muslim student in Yogyakarta who got up early for morning prayers and would peel off briefly while showing me around due to his devotion. History, nature, and amazing people to share it and show it; it’s easy for me to recommend a visit to Indonesia.” from Roni of Roni Weiss check out his trip to the Sacred Monkey Forest too!
The official slogan of Bangladesh tourism is Land of Stories and it’s no coincidence. The first page of their website proclaims, “Here everyone has a story – story to celebrate the life, story to survive, story to come to the help of others, story to become and hospitable and smiling – which might be your life-time experience.” This country only became independent in the 1970’s and is unique in many ways. You can’t escape the water in Bangladesh, you can even fish with otters! If you prefer hiking, the Sundarbans is a UNESCO world heritage site and the home of the Bengal tiger. Don’t stop there, you’ve just begun!
“Bangladeshi cities may be bustling, crowded, and jammed with activity, but the soul of Bangladesh is in its villages and along its rivers. Villages that surprise with their calm, their order and their relative peace. Sure there’s activity — in the fields, homes, schools, mosques and temples, but there’s a different pace to it all than you’ll find in a Bangladeshi city. In the words of a friend working in development, “When I go to the Bangladesh countryside, it gives me a sense of hope.” from Audrey and Scott of Uncornered Market in Bangladesh Village Homestay: Becoming One of the Family
“I truly loved the brief stay I had in Dhaka. Everyone I interacted with was incredibly warm and friendly. They all truly love their country and wanted to show off the best face of it to me and other visitors. I’m genuinely looking forward to getting back over there and exploring more. It seems to me there is so much variety to see and places which deserve a proper wandering.” from Seth of Boarding Area in A day(ish) in Dhaka
You may be thinking, there’s not a snowball’s chance in h*ll you’ll get me to visit Iraq and for that no one will judge, but it’s not to say completely impossible. Northern Iraq is largely autonomous (though with recent uprisings spurred by ISIS it may be advisable to hold off planning). There isn’t a tourism sector so to speak but you’re sure to find dozens of citizen ambassadors ready to make you feel at home. One thing is for certain, if you’re able to visit, you’ll be in for a treat.
“This first impression stuck with me, as it was a taste of the kindness I’d experience throughout my 10 days of traveling in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region. And when people ask me what it was like, I can honestly say that the people I met in Iraq are by far the warmest folks I have ever encountered! From the soldier at customs who took it upon himself to teach me Kurdish, to the young man in Dohuk who had worked as a translator for US troops in nearby Mosul, to the group of college students in sublime Amadiya who “adopted me” for the day and to the Arab young man from Baghdad who invited me to his home in Sulaymaniyah, the people are what absolutely stood out to me most.” from Aaron of Aaron’s Worldwide Travels in So What’s it Like to Travel in Iraq?
Turkey sits at a crossroads of culture and this is reflected when you visit. From metropolitan Istanbul to the villages of Anatolia, the coastal beaches to mountain cities this is a country of many contrasts. This is the only country in the world that my parents can say they have visited and I haven’t! My mom had nothing but amazing things to say about their albeit short stay in Istanbul. While I feared they would face issues with unscrupulous taxi drivers and the madness that is driving in this part of the world, she loved it and waxed affectionately about the kindness they experienced. Why should you go? A million reasons including amazing airfare deals from Turkish Air from destinations around the world!
“A year and a half ago I booked a ticket to Istanbul. I had no clue what to expect. All I knew was what I had heard from trusted friends, travel bloggers, and my brother. Each insisted it was a must-visit destination. I was anxious. It was my first Muslim country. I was nervous about what to expect and torn about booking the ticket even after I locked in my flight. Boy oh boy did I have Turkey pegged wrong! Not only did I enjoy Istanbul, but I fell in love with it.” from Alex of Virtual Wayfarer in 8 Ways Turkey is Nothing Like You Expect
“You need to visit Istanbul! In fact, it’s a great intro to the Muslim world, I find, as it is very European, yet it has deep roots and so much culture! Istanbul’s mix of communities really surprised me and I was impressed at how people went about their daily business in total harmony. I was also stunned at how fashionable Muslim women were, I know, it sounds funny, but I had never expected women to be so fashion-forward with their scarves and dresses, all adorning beautiful colours, patterns and silks. Let’s just say it’s not what is portrayed here in Canada and not what I had seen in other countries.” Jennifer of Moi, mes souliers
I would love to visit Palestine (and Israel) one day. Early this year I spoke to a representative from the Israeli Tourism board and expressed our interest in possibly visiting Israel and Palestine, how we are interested in sharing a different kind of story, focused on diversity and an interfaith appeal. She looked back at me without blinking and told me, “we’re not interested in working with Muslims.” Well, that’s that. I hope that it becomes more of a possibility down the road. We’ll see. For those of you who can visit, please do it for me.
“In addition to the international efforts to end the difficult situation in Hebron, there are local movements that try to make awareness about the problems that Palestinians face in this place. Such as the group Youth Against Settlements, that organizes a yearly march with international activists presence to open Shuhada Street, known in Hebron asthe Ghost Town. Following this example, and with the aim to build international understanding between Palestinian community and show the true picture of the place, Hebron Peace Center organizes tours to the city and the refugee camps around conducted by a local guide.” from Giulia of Travel Reportage in Shuhada Street in Hebron, the ghost city of Palestine
“On a backpacking stint that also took me along the Jesus Trail and into holy places like Nazareth, Jericho and Jerusalem, it was probably Bethlehem that endeared me the most…This is just to get you thinking about Bethlehem. I really recommend a visit to Bethlehem, and even more so places like Hebron, Jericho and Ramallah. I was simply inspired and from a personal point of view – I class this entire area as a separate country. It was a pleasant and enjoyable welcome to Palestine.” from Jonny of Don’t Stop Living in O Little Town of Bethlehem, Palestine: 10 Things to See and Do
My guess is your first question is Brunei? What is it and where is it? This Islamic sultanate is located on the northern edge of Malaysia. It’s arguably one of the richest nations in the world (thanks to oil riches) and often under the radar for tourists. You likely won’t be spending a week here but visit if you’re in the area. The country has some of the world’s most beautiful mosques and is incredibly safe. Just remember there’s no nightlife here, it’s a strictly dry country which may not appeal to some.
“When you are in Bandar Seri Begawan, there isn’t an abundance of things to see and do unlike a lot of world capitals.. Partying, drinking and dancing simply are not options here – it’s a strict Muslim state and while you can take alcohol into Brunei if you are a non-Muslim, at night time, the capital Bandar Seri Begawan tones down to a halt…However, I liked Brunei and I admired Bandar Seri Begawan for this. It’s not a fast paced capital – it’s a slow moving, tranquil and relaxed place…” from Jonny Blair of Don’t Stop Living in Backpacking in Brunei
Could it be that someone would actually suggest visiting Yemen? The thought never crossed my mind until this year when I started talking to other travelers who had nothing but simply amazing things to say about this country. When all you seem to hear is how awful this country is I admit it was refreshing to hear positive things. It made me curious, and most of all it makes me want to go. Now. Like in Iran you’ll have to adhere to a dress code, ladies especially. You also may want to consider hiring a booked tour instead of going alone (citizens of some countries can not go alone), and avoid remote rural areas unless accompanied. Ah…just to see Sann’a!
“I don’t think there are too many places left in the world that would make God smile, but Yemen is one of them. Yemen has been inhabited forever and in many ways it is the birthplace of all our lives. In the days of yore, Noah’s sons knew it as the land of milk and honey, Gilgamesh came here to search for the secret of eternal life and most famously, a woman simply known as Sheba called this land of Yemen her home. However, since the book of mythology has closed, Yemen had been locked away in a hidden corner of the peninsula-until now.” from Lee Abbamonte of Lee Abbamonte in Sann’a Yemen
A few years ago there was a couple who sang in the Eurovision content and almost won, they were from Azerbaijan and before that time I really knew very little about this country. But then I got curious. Azeri’s are Persian and while the inhabitants of the country are mostly Muslim, their roots trace to Zoroastrianism. You’ll find loads of really interesting history as well as amazing landscapes. Unlike many Muslim countries where people can shy away from photographs, you’ll have few problems with them here. Most people love having their picture taken!
Egypt gets mixed reviews from travelers, with some falling instantly in love and other running the other way. With flare ups happening in Cairo from time to time you might think, not now. But, with few tourists visiting you can find great travel deals and if you’re outside Cairo you will discover life has gone on largely unchanged. Keep update with news, stay away from any potential hot spots (Tahrir Square being a good example), and enjoy!
“It has been widely reported regarding the recent troubles in Egypt. It is true, it has been an uncertain time over the past 2 years but we would like to assure you all, that the Red Sea Resorts, including Sharm El Sheikh, are very safe and operating as normal. Since the beginning of the revolution 2 years ago there has been no trouble within the resorts and this remains the case today. We are more than 500km from Cairo. There is so much Sharm El Sheikh has to offer its visitors and there is no reason they shouldn’t come and enjoy it!” from Emma Soliman of Aquarius Diving Club on Travel with Kat Snorkeling in the Red Sea
I have several personal friends who are married to Tunisians and regularly visit the country. They always have wonderful things to say about their experiences. While Tunisia is the country that sparked the Arab Spring, life has largely gone back to normal. This small country is full of history, great food, and generous people. Many Mediterranean cruises include a stop in Tunisia. Even if you can go for just a day – go and be sure to eat some harissa, Tunisia is its home!
“Much of the highway we’ve driven along, particularly on the way back to Tunis, is lined with the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct. You can tell that parts of it have been rebuilt over the centuries and other parts were very, very old and decayed. But it felt rather grand, almost odd, to be so casually driving beside the remains of such legendary engineering and historic importance. But this is so much of Tunisia … phenomenal ancient ruins strewn everywhere with the casualness that little late-1800s/early-1900s mining cabins lie in ruins in the area around my home. But these here are architectural masterpieces centuries and millennia old.” from SKJtravel in The Bridges are Washed Out in Tunisia
The number one destination in the world I’m dreaming of visiting is the Maldives. These islands off of India are truly paradise. But, I bet you didn’t know it was a Muslim country! There are some ultra lux resorts here, scattered amongst the islands. If you want to visit an island or village where everyday people live you’ll need to get special permission from the village chief. While you might opt for an all inclusive resort you can also book a cruise that takes you around the islands. This is the ultimate way to disconnect and relax.
“The further north we went, the less touristy the islands became and I loved it. Fewer and fewer resort islands, more and more traditional islands where they still built wood boats, fished for a living and everyone owned their own patch of coconut trees. This was the real Maldives, not the Maldives found in glossy honeymoon magazines. Probably the most relaxing trip I’ve taken anywhere in the world.” from Red of Red Hunt Travel in Maldives Cruising Safari
Several of the -stan countries are Islamic countries. During the Soviet era when religion was largely a taboo many people became more secular however with independence and the ability to practice their faith openly it has re-emerged. Did you know Kazakhstan is the largest land locked country? Or that the length across is roughly the same as the distance from London to Istanbul? You’ll find lots of variety in this huge country and if you’re a horse lover than this is a must visit destination.
“All my friends from Almaty told me its not worth it. Just a trade city. Booming with oil exploration and unbearable heat. They couldn’t be more mistaken. It is all that and so much more. The city and the region met all my expectations I have had about Kazakhstan. Everything what I have came to see in this country. Authentic Kazakh culture, people and landscape, Shymkent has.” from Marysia of My Travel Affairs in Shymkent – Breathing Central Asia
The west African country of Senegal is a stop for many people making a trip to this part of the world. The capital Dakar sits on the Atlantic coast and is a mixture of traditional and modern. There are several interesting museums and historical sites in the capital. Further south you will find tropical forests and secluded beaches. Senegal has faced little violence in recent years though it’s always wise to check with local sources before venturing outside of inhabited areas. Be sure to visit the traditional markets, taste some spicy Senegalese tea, and enjoy a typical meal eaten family style.
“Would you follow a total stranger who you casually met at a market in an African city? It was exactly what we did here in Dakar and we got a great experience in the private home of a typical African family in a typical African neighborhood in Dakar, Senegal…Mustafa says that both Christians and Muslims live together in the village and there are no problems with that. What people believe in is a private matter, says Mustafa.” from Bente of Travel with all senses in Local Tourism in Dakar
The Balkans are still in the process of recovering from a brutal civil war that rocked the region in the early 1990’s. Some areas are still a bit off limits but overall things are back to normal. But, because there are so few tourists visiting the area you can find some really amazing deals. While you might visit other regions of Europe for history of decades past, a trip to Bosnia-Herzgovina is a reminder of the not so distant past. You’ll find great cities but also beautiful natural environments, delicious food, and people ready to greet you with their arms wide open.
“A trip to Sarajevo changes your life, makes you think . It seems impossible that this city was the scene of a terrible war only a few years ago. A war of the worst: an internal war between brothers… Yet, Sarajevo does not seem a city with a Muslim majority. Or, at least, does not seem an Islamic city as we Westerners imagine the Islamic cities.” from Silvia of Trippando in Viaggo a Sarajevo: Dove Convivono Popoli e Religioni (translated to English)
You didn’t really think I’d leave off my home, Morocco did you? I’ve got a post in the works with all the reasons you should visit Morocco but to tempt you I’ll share some early. Morocco is a moderate/liberal Islamic country. When I first came 11 years ago what lured me was the promise of a country somewhat exotic yet European enough not to be overwhelming (well that’s up for debate!) With gorgeous beaches for sunbathing or surfing, rugged mountains to hike in summer and ski in winter, and the expansive Sahara desert there’s no shortage of scenery. Urban Morocco is very different from rural Morocco so be sure to include a mix of both. Most of all enjoy some Moroccan hospitality – there’s nothing like it.
“Dear Maroc, May I just start by saying how much you confuse and amaze me? I’m pretty adept at picking up on cultures and things, and well, every time I think I’ve got you nailed down you laugh a little and surprise me. Good for you! I already had a pretty open mind, but you’ve opened it further. We humans tend to see things as they appear rather than as they are. I’m so grateful for the people who have been willing to open up and share with me so I can see things from a different angle. Your country and your people are so alive. Maroc, you humble me. You truly do. And, I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but, well, I’m in love with you.” from Talon of 1 Dad 1 Kid in A Letter to Morocco
I haven’t hit every Islamic country this post (there’s about 12 missing), but I hope this has given you some inspiration to explore some of these beautiful places that in many cases get a bad rap. Sure you’ll be challenged and you’ll face lots of stereotypes and misconceptions square in the eye but that’s what travel is about; exploring the unknown and going outside your comfort zone. I have a feeling you’ll walk away with a new perspective.
**One of our hopes when moving to Morocco is to explore more Islamic countries. We haven’t been yet but are hoping in 2015 we will!**Read more
The first time we arrived in Ifrane was on a whim. We had gone to Fez for a long weekend with the kids and were visiting a cheese farm in Immouzer, a city between Fez and Ifrane. A quick search told me we weren’t too far away so why not go? Along with writing this blog I also do the social media and blog editing for Journey Beyond Travel, a really great Moroccan travel company that is based in Ifrane. We called ahead and planned to meet up with them for lunch. When we arrived, all of our jaws dropped. It was so unlike anywhere else in Morocco that we had ever been!
This shouldn’t have been a complete surprise. Ifrane was built during the French protectorate by the French as a hill station or “home away from home”. Not only were buildings designed in a similar style to French Alpine villages but plants and trees were also imported to give the city a European feel. The name however is taken from the local Amazigh language Tamazight and means caves. We visited during the spring but I’m certain with snow the contrasts are even more stark.
Not only are the styles of the houses different but we immediately saw the city was nearly spotless. No floating plastic bags or garbage strewn around. When we sat down for lunch we could hear plenty of English around us, another thing that is uncommon in Morocco. Ifrane is the home of Al Akhwayn University, Morocco’s only English language university making it as common to hear as French.
But what makes this place really special is the ability to be outdoors. The Cedre Gouraud Forest is just outside of the city and this is where you will find my boys!
There are countless walking paths that are very easy to walk. As soon as we set foot in the forest I felt at home. M and K were thrilled at the prospect of running through the woods and even put together a game of stick + rock baseball (make do with what you have!) The cedar forests are really beautiful and you can spot wildlife such as Barbary Apes and wild boars – though I advise walking the other way if you see the later.
Of course if you decide to visit in winter you can hit the Michlifen “ski” hill. I’ll use the term loosely as your experience may vary. It’s not fancy but you can sled and if there’s enough snow fall you can actually ski down the hill (there’s a ski lift too). Just don’t expect too much! Locals rent out sleds and ski equipment on any snowy hill. You’ll also discover the omnipresent resort by the same name overlooking Ifrane. Trust me it looks completely out of place for Morocco! You’ll find prices to be in line with what you’d pay in Europe, and keep in mind winter is the high season here. For a winter visit also double check before you depart. The road to Ifrane closes in the event of high snowfall.
In the very middle of town is this lion statue. No matter what time of day you pass you will see people lined up to take their picture with it. I wondered what the significance of the statue was but can find absolutely nothing about it! There is a rumor that it was carved by an Italian prisoner of war during WWII (Ifrane was home to a POW prison), but there are other claims that it dates to 1936 and was possibly carved by a French legionaire. If anybody knows the real story, I’d love to know!
If you’re looking for a wild, bustling city Ifrane is not it. But if you want somewhere to get away, experience the beauty of Morocco’s natural environments but still have the comforts of a modern city nearby than Ifrane is a must!Read more
Well what a surprise! I really wasn’t sure how this new thread of conversations on relationships would go but after the response last week I can say I am looking forward to sharing a lot more. Today’s subject is touchy, it might rattle nerves and I’m guessing several of you might disagree with me. It wasn’t until recently that MarocBaba and I have been able to look back at the beginning of our marriage and laugh at some things and apologize to each other for mistakes we know we made.
We were really both kids, just barely adults when we got married. When he landed in the US we literally had about $250 between us. I know what you’re thinking,
“how irresponsible, how could you even think of marriage when you weren’t in a secure financial position…”
Here’s the thing, there’s a million reasons why people will say you should wait to get married, or wait to have a baby, or wait to buy a house, or move overseas. You get my point. The truth is there is no “right time.” We get so stuck waiting for the “right time” that time blows past and before you know it you’re 65 years old looking back at your life and wondering what if you would have taken that chance, what if you would have just gone with it? Would things have been easier if I would have been done with university, in a stable job and he came with a loaded bank account? Of course! Do I wish we would have waited for that point, no way!
I am a just go with it person. I believe if things are meant to work out they will. If they’re not, they won’t and then I’ll figure out a different plan. So we went for it head first and were determined we would figure out a way.
I don’t regret that for a second.
Chances are whether you’re the immigrating spouse or your partner is, one of you won’t be able to work for awhile. This can cause some serious friction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard couples in this situation exclaim in an exasperated tone, “but it’s my money! I’m the one working, I’m not going to buy that for him!” Or vice versa “really why does she need to spend all MY money buying that crap?” If this is your mindset you need to stop right now and put your nuptials on hold.
We made plenty of mistakes but one thing we never did was claim any money was mine or his.
It was ours.
When we were eating lentils for dinner three nights a week because we were broke and had to make our rent payment we were both eating the lentils. When we were literally digging through our pockets and couches for coins to take the bus to work, we were both stuck looking. When we had a bit of extra money it was spent in a way that was most beneficial to both of us (and if I’m being honest most of the time that meant him getting me something I wanted or needed). This was the case when I was the one working, or when he was the one working – because we’ve been in both scenarios.
If you’re marrying a Moroccan man, or a Middle Eastern man he’s going to face an extreme amount of shame when he comes to the US and is legally unable to work until he receives the proper documents. There’s no need for you to make him feel even worse by rubbing it in his face that it’s “your” money. Depending on how much experience he has either at home or elsewhere it’s going to be a shock to understand how finances work in his new home. You should sit down as soon as possible after arrival to go over what your monthly expenses are and what income is coming in. This is also the time when you need to talk about sending money home to his family.
I know you’re shrugging that off saying, “no way we’re stretched as thin as possible, I refuse to send MY money there!” (see there it is again!) Whether you like it or not this is going to be a part of your relationship forever unless you’ve managed to snag a Saudi prince. You’re not marrying the man, you’re marrying the family. I’m not saying to automatically agree to whatever sum comes up, but what I am saying is you need to figure out a way to help him meet his obligations to the family he was born to as well as the family he chooses to create. Maybe it’s sending a little bit monthly, or saving to send a lump sum at holidays but 9.5 out of 10 times some money will be expected to be sent home.
Do not shy away from these conversations because it will help avoid a lot of misunderstanding and stress down the line.
Money is a very sensitive subject in every relationship. Couple that with cultural differences, possibly limited language abilities and the challenges that come with adjusting to a new country and there are bound to be even more challenges. But, if you know what to expect it can make things easier. If you’re thinking this is just all too much, then you should step back and consider your relationship because there isn’t enough love in the world to make these issues disappear.Read more
This week another tragedy happened in the world. This time in Paris. The offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were attacked by two men claiming to be avenging those who drew cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) in a negative way. Whenever something like this happens I hold my breathe and say, “please don’t let them say they’re Muslim,” sadly too often I’m wrong. We were gone all day Wednesday but when I flipped on CNN after seeing multiple references on Facebook the first thing I heard reported was along the lines of, “the men were heard speaking in perfect French and shouting Allah’u Akbar as they entered the building.” I heaved a heavy sigh.
Further coverage focused on those two words that have come to mean something sinister. It left me wondering just how far apart we (as people) are based on hearing these words. So I started to ask people what they thought.
What these words evoke is terrorists. I know it is not what they mean and it saddens me greatly for the Islamic religion and its sincere followers. But we are in a state of shock and mourning and to know the terrorists uttered these words during their bloody attack, makes it difficult for me to think of anything else…..
For me I have two main associations. I associate it with hearing it over and over in media and Hollywood movies of terrorists who say it before they commit some vile act (sad but true) and I associate it with prayer and spirituality, in going to mosque and hearing the imam go through prayers or hearing Azan in Muslim countries. Luckily unlike the average non-Muslim who sees a Hollywood movie, I know enough about Islam to know that association is not just unfair, it’s flat out wrong….
For me it is very positive. The Baha’i Faith originated in a Muslim country so growing up I was more familiar with Islamic culture than your average white American kid. We have a similar expression (“Allah-u-Abha” = God is most Glorious) that we use all the time – as a greeting, as a prayer – so for me Allah’u’Akbar is similar. I think it is tragic that such a beautiful expression has been associated with terror..
I must admit that it could sound scary to me as well at first, but it means God is Great, no? Christians have many more sayings like this (thank God, for example, so it shouldn’t be that different).
But, it’s very clear that to many people those words automatically mean something awful. I readily admit I was one of those people. Even after becoming Muslim I struggled when I would hear someone proclaim Allah’u Akbar. I cringed. I was so programmed to see it as something negative that I couldn’t see past the bias I had learned. One day, when we were visiting Fez, I was sitting by myself on top of the riad where we were staying. The adhan (call to prayer) began. This was nothing new, living in Morocco we hear it 5 times a day everyday but what was new was that I realized for the first time I relaxed when it began. The muzzein declaring God is Great, come to pray filled me with happiness and not fear. For Muslims the relationship with those words is something completely different.
I have grown up hearing it so lots of associations came to mind. One of the strongest is of my grandmother saying it when she used to move around because of her rheumatoid arthritis causing her pain, it’s something I often hear older people such as my mum-in-law saying for this reason. Another one is exasperated mums to their children, including me. Another example comes to mind from a few years ago is from a television report about a bombing in Iraq during the Iraq war and people trying to rescue loved ones from under rubble all yelling Allah’u Akbar. The reporter was struck enough by this to mention it and it made me realise the extent to which people resort to these words in times of difficulty. So sad that negative associations have come to be attached to it.
When I hear the words I feel relieved and humbled. I feel a sense of flawless protection.
When I hear the words Allah’u Akbar I remember Allah is greater than any problem or issue that is happening at that time and I feel relief.
When I hear Allah’u Akbar, I understand that for God nothing is impossible. He cures… He softens the hearts… He is the only One who has miracles. He is the only One who answers prayers.
Whenever I hear Allah’u Akbar or recite it myself, I feel as if I have submitted myself completely to Him and I am now in total protection of The Greatest and The Most Merciful… I feel contented and relaxed at heart and that feeling is beautiful!
When I hear Allahu Akbar, I know Allah is the greatest and feel humbled that I am a Muslim. I get goosebumps when the entire masjid says Allah’u Akbar at the same time, love the feeling, alhamdulillah!
It’s quite the contrast isn’t it? I haven’t been able to wrap my mind around how two words can have such completely different meanings. But this response is one of my favorites in trying to understand.
It reminds me of the crazies that call themselves “ISIS” In ancient Egypt, Isis was a benevolent and very respected Goddess (all the opposite of what these men are). When you use a symbol (such as a swastika) or a name to take away from the true origin or a word or symbol, to make it have an “evil connotation”, you lower the spirituality, you twist the mind of people to react to these things with fear and in doing so, make life difficult for the ones who see the Love and divine Guidance in them. You associate attributes, symbols and names of Love and Goodness, with Darkness, Fear and Murder. You cut the link between God and us.
My hope in sharing this is that you think twice about how you associate words, any two words but especially those that people hold sacred. Remember those that would use these words negatively not only create fear of them in you but take something from those of us who seek comfort and peace in them.Read more
Two weeks ago I shared some of the best food tours in the world (and I love food tours!). Today we’ll get more hands on and talk about cooking classes. If you have more time and really love food than taking a cooking class is an excellent way to learn much more about a culture. Not only do you learn to make something new but you also can learn about the history of a place, why foods are important and likely you’ll hear plenty of great stories from your teacher. The one on one interaction is what makes cooking classes such a great part of travel. I think the best cooking classes are small in size, offer you the opportunity to actually do something – not just watch the instructor, and use traditional cooking techniques.
Over the years I’ve done my fair share of cooking classes and just like my best food tours of the world post, I asked others to share their best recommendations for cooking classes around the world.
- Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin – Osthoff Resort from Wisconsin Parent
- Burlington, Vermont – Essex Culinary Resort Spa from Go Girlfriend
- Ottawa, Canada – C’est bon Cooking from Moi, mes souliers
- Leon, Nicaragua – NicAsi Tours from Vagrants of the World “It was held in the home of a local indigenous family cooking traditional food after we shopped the ingredients in both markets and some places we didn’t expect.”
- Paute, Ecuador – Cooking Class at Restaurant Corvel from Nomadic Texan
- Valparaiso, Chile – Casa Kultour from Ever in Transit
- Buenos Aires, Argentina – The Argentine Experience from Moi, mes souliers “This Buenos Aires food class was also fun, although it was more of a wine and dine experience where we learned how to make most elements of our meal, yet they were cooked for us so we had time to chat, talk about the culture and learn a lot of stuff about Argentinian food!”
- Budapest, Hungary – Chefparade Cooking Class from Wagoners Abroad
- Rome, Italy – Eating Italy Kid’s Pizza Making Class from We 3 Travel “What I loved about this kid’s pizza making class that we did in Rome was that the kids were occupied for a couple of hours while the adults got to sit and eat and drink wine while we watched! Fun for all.”
- Rome, Italy – Nonna Lina’s Private Cooking Class from Holiday Nomad
- Rome, Italy – Walks of Italy from Calculated Traveler
- near Florence, Italy – Max&Me: Tuscany Cooking from Curry Strumpet “I’m useless in the kitchen, but I gifted my husband (our household’s resident cook) with a one-on-one Tuscan cooking class in the kitchen of a formidable Italian mama. He loved it! What made the day was sitting down to lunch with her family and simply feeling very much at home with some real locals. No fuss and glamour.“
- Venice, Italy – Enrica Rocca Cooking School – Venice, Italy from Laura at The Culinary Travel Guide
- Istanbul, Turkey – Istanbul Culinary Walks from Women on the Road
- Istanbul, Turkey – Istanbul Cooking School from The Kay Days
- Bangkok, Thailand – Anita Thai from Nomadic Texan
- Bangkok, Thailand – Somphong Thai Cooking Class from Around the World L
- Penang, Malaysia – Penang Cooking School from Malaysian Meanders
- Penang, Malaysia – Pearly’s Cooking Class from Travels4Yum “The instructor was absolutely incredible. Learned a ton about culture and even picked up some handy cooking technique tips!”
- Uji, Japan – Nakamura Tokichi Honten from Ever in Transit
- Chiang Mai, Thailand - Thai Farm Cooking School from Travel ‘n Lass “Though there isn’t exactly a dearth of cooking classes in Chiang Mai, the thing that sets the Thai Farm Cooking School apart is that the classes are a full day out in the country at their organic farm. And the classes are so well orchestrated, that we each had a choice of *15* different dishes (plus 3 curry pastes we pounded from scratch). We each got to make 5 different dishes, and I opted to make Green Curry with Chicken plus Tom Yam with Shrimp, Chicken with Cashew Nuts, Stir-fried Noodles, and for dessert: Mango with Sticky Rice!”
- Ubud Bali, Indonesia – Paon Bali Cooking Class from World Wide Adventurers
- Petra, Jordan – Petra Kitchen from Lumemare
- Hanoi, Vietnam – Hanoi Cooking Center from The Culture Mom
- Marrakech, Morocco – Amal Women’s Training Center and Restaurant from MarocMama
- Marrakech, Morocco – Faim d’Epices from Wagoner’s Abroad
- Brufut, Gambia – Home Cooking Course with Ida from Travels with Kat “I’ve done this cooking course with a very colourful lady, Ida in The Gambia a couple of times. Visiting the fish market with her is an exciting experience in itself but its her character and interesting anecdotes that make it such a brilliant day.“
There’s still plenty of room to add more! If you’ve taken a great cooking class, leave a comment or send me an email. I would love to include your suggestions!Read more
Maybe you’ve heard of it, and maybe not. The Moroccan hammam is one of the most widely loved and yet puzzling experiences for people who have never visited or Morocco nor had the opportunity to try a hammam. Many “must do in Morocco” lists include take a hammam but just what does that mean and why is it such a revered tradition?
It’s hard to imagine but not so long ago it was very uncommon for people to have their own shower or bath in their homes. I can remember my grandparents telling stories about taking a bath in a metal tub once a week. Water, and especially hot water was a precious commodity before the era of hot water heaters. In Morocco a practical solution was created to get around this difficulty. The hammam.
Today you’ll find a wide range of hammams in Moroccan cities. The most traditional variety are found in neighborhoods everywhere. You also will find luxury hammams in major cities. A third variety are a step up from traditional hammams but more affordable than luxury style. Depending on which you will visit, your experience will vary.
Visiting a Luxury Hammam
If you opt for a more upscale hammam your experience will be similar to that of a spa. While each is slightly different you’ll be asked to undress (leave on your underwear), and given a robe. You’ll be escorted to a warm/hot room and asked to sit and relax. Next, savon beldi is used and rubbed all over then rinsed off. Now comes the interesting part. Using a kess, an exfoliated hand mit, a woman will scrub your entire body. Yes, it may feel rough but this is what removes the dead skin. If it’s too hard, let her know! Bshwiya means slow down or soften up. You may be asked to turn over, move around or lay down. Once she’s satisfied then she’ll either continue bathing you by washing off with your soap, and shampooing and rinsing your hair as well or she’ll leave you to do this alone. The entire process takes 30-45 minutes.
Visiting a Neighborhood Hammam
What you’ll need to bring;
- a full change of clothing
- savon beldi (a blackish looking soap made with olive oil)
- a kess
- your own regular soap and shampoo
- water bucket and small cup or bucket for scooping water
- a small foldable mat for the floor
- razor, facewash and any other toiletries you use when bathing
- a towel and/or robe
- plastic flip flops or other shoes that can get wet
- brush and any other products you use after a bath
Going to a neighborhood hammam is a completely different experience. One of the biggest differences is that the screen of privacy is removed. A local hammam reminds me of a three part locker room shower house. On entering you will pay someone, usually a woman at the entrance. If you want to bathe yourself it’s 10-20 dirham (depending on the hammam), if you want to be scrubbed it’s about 50 dirham. The next room you enter has long benches. This is where you change your clothing. Take off everything, wrap up in your towel and wear your flip flops. You’ll then give your bag of clothing to another woman who monitors the cubbies of belongings. Take with you the items you need for bathing (soap/shampoo etc).
You’ll then be greeted by the woman who does the scrubbing. For someone who has never been to a hammam it may be a shock to discover not only will your attendant likely be naked aside from underwear, the hammam is full of other women of all ages in a similar state. Most people are caught off guard as they assume the conservatively dressed women outside would be more guarded. Not so.
Your attendant will bring you into the bathing area and set aside your towel. Once inside you’ll notice three different rooms. They start with a warm room, than a warmer room and finally the hottest room. Let her lead the way! Find a spot and get yourself set up. She’ll use your water bucket and possibly others that are there to use. You’ll want to remember only to use your water buckets. They’re filled by spigots in each room and that can mean a wait at times if the hammam is busy. Don’t steal someone else’s bucket!
After rinsing off you start by using savon beldi and rubbing it all over. Leave it on for 5-10 minutes, sit back and relax. Moroccan women go to the hammam as much for a bath as they do to catch up on gossip! When it’s time your lady will come back and rinse you off. She’ll ask for your kess and will start scrubbing. This isn’t a delicate procedure! Remember bshwiya means go softer. You may feel like a toddler again being flipped over and handled while she ensures you’re cleaned top to bottom. When she’s satisfied she’ll start rinsing away all the skin that’s been removed.
Then you’re on your own to soap up and rinse off, wash your hair, shave your legs whatever it is you typically do in the bath. She’ll continue to bring you water to use as needed. When you’re done, gather up everything and make your way back to the changing room to get dressed. Voila! Expect to spend at least 45 minutes at the hammam but take your time. Many Moroccan women spend several hours!
Hammams in Morocco are very unique and can be a wonderful way of experiencing local culture. Leave your modesty at the door and let the experience speak for itself. Trust me, you’ve never felt as clean as you will after a hammam!
Have you used a hammam before? What other tips would you share?Read more
I get asked a lot of questions about cross cultural relationships, specifically having to do with Moroccan/American relationships. Often I end up sending back an email and thinking, “gee I should really just write a blog post about this.” I won’t promise a new topic each week but I’ll do my best to be consistent. I’m going to be very honest in my posts and chances are you might disagree with things that I have to say. No two relationships or people are the same so of course each person’s experience will be different. Because our dynamic is that of an American wife and a Moroccan husband, that’s the dynamic I’ll be using. After 10 years of marriage I feel I do have some legs to stand on.
Today’s topic is on personal space and boundaries.
It’s safe to say that the American sense of personal space and the Moroccan sense of personal space are two completely different things. This is a lesson I learned hard and fast not long after knowing MarocBaba. Few people in Morocco have the amount of actual physical space the typical American family has. The way I grew up was with my sister and I each having our own bedrooms and my parents having their own room – which was somewhat off limits to us. We had our own bedrooms at my grandparents houses and learned early that you give people privacy. In a typical Moroccan home there may be a bedroom for the parents but it’s not out of the ordinary for children to sleep on couches made up as beds each night. The concepts of a communal life are developed from a young age. This idea was completely lost on me.
MarocBaba on the other hand thought it was completely absurd that my mom would call me before she stopped by the house. In Morocco it’s normal to have someone show up at any time of the day without calling ahead. They may even show up with luggage and expect to stay a few days. Never mind if you have any other plans, the assumption is whatever you may have had planned will be put on hold for your guests. You’ll also be serving them at least tea if it’s a short visit, or providing meals for them if it’s a longer stay. This took a long time for me to understand. In my mind (and I still feel this way) it’s completely selfish and presumptuous. I realize it’s just a different way of doing things and it has merits however I doubt my bias against this will ever go away!
If you live in a large home or multi-family home in Morocco unless your belongings are under lock and key (literally) people will see them as “community property” unless you’ve drawn some strong boundaries. In many cases people won’t even ask to use something they’ll simply take it. One example, I had a favorite knife that I couldn’t find for weeks. Then one day it showed up on the table at lunch. I had served something using the knife weeks earlier and my sister in law liked it so she kept it downstairs, without any mention to me.
If you’re not planning to live in Morocco you probably think why does this matter to me? But, if you’ve got an immigrating spouse than this is important for you to know.
- Have a discussion with your partner or spouse about the American notion of personal space and privacy. This should include expectations when you’re visiting other family members and what is or isn’t appropriate.
- A confusing paradox may be when permission is given. For example, my parents or grandparents would tell him to “help himself” to drinks in the refrigerator. They really meant it however, you would never ever do this in a Moroccan home. I had to explain that while you shouldn’t go raiding someone’s things, when they’ve told you it’s ok to do so, they really mean it.
- Understand where they are coming from. It used to drive me crazy when I would ask MarocBaba if he would like something to drink, he’d say no, and then proceed to drink my drink. Drinking from a shared glass is normal in Moroccan homes but I wanted MY OWN cup and for the longest time this would cause us to bicker! Once I realized why this was happening it was easier for me to make peace with it.
- When friendships are developed some discussion should happen on showing up at someone’s home unannounced and that this is generally not done. It could lead to an awkward situation and leave the immigrating spouse feeling offended that they possibly were not warmly welcomed.
- I have learned that Americans hug a lot. It’s common for friends or family members of opposite genders to say hello or goodbye with a big hug. This puzzles Europeans too but for Moroccans it can lead to anger. This is a touchy subject because you don’t want to upset your friends by rejecting their embrace but you want to respect your spouse.
If you’re the immigrant and moving to or living in Morocco some helpful things to keep in mind;
- While it’s fine to call ahead and see if someone is home, it’s equally acceptable to show up unannounced.
- People are generally more candid and can ask questions that seemly highly personal and offensive to an American; such as “you look fat, you’ve gained weight!” It’s not meant as an insult in most cases.
- If you live in a family home or are staying in a family home you should put away, and even lock into a cabinet anything you don’t want other people to see or use. If you have special food items or things you’ve purchased for yourself keep them in your room and put away.
- People tend to sit much closer to each other than is the case in the US and are more affectionate (same gender).
- If you’re staying with family you should greet each person in the room when you enter by kissing, shaking hands or acknowledging each person individually. Every time. If you’ve gone out of the house and come back, you should do the greetings again.
- If you buy food or something from outside it’s rude to not buy enough for everyone, or to share what you have purchased.
I’ve got a list of ideas in mind for future posts but I’d also love to know what you would like me to talk about! Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to include them in future posts or write a post specifically on your topic or questions.Read more