I may not look like a Muslim woman, I don’t speak Arabic or Punjabi, and I don’t wear a niqab, hijab or burka. But I do have the surname Chaudhri, and when it comes to travelling, these 8 letters define me.
I’m extremely proud to be associated with a Muslim heritage, and despite not being a strict Muslim, I’ve been brought up to understand the culture and religious ways. However, having a Muslim surname has also exposed me to just some of discrimination Muslims are facing in today’s world, an issue particularly apparent when it comes to travelling. I’ve travelled for work and pleasure throughout my entire life, which has enabled me to create some of the most incredible memories, shaping me into the person I am today. However, travelling with a Muslim surname has also resulted in me encountering issues and experiences which have occurred solely down to those 8 letters that make up my surname.
If you’re an unexperienced Muslim traveller, I beg you to not let stereotypes deter you from travelling, as the benefits far outweigh any negatives. However, I feel it’s important for you to know the truth and some of the issues you may come up against before you set foot on your wanderlusting adventures.
Be Aware of the Visa Process
The one thing that is likely to hold you up when travelling is getting your visa. Not all countries require a visa, however if they do you need to allow yourself plenty of time for this process. It’s likely that in some countries such as America, your visa will take a lot longer to be authorised then it would for other people as there will likely be extensive checks into your background. I recently had an issue travelling to India with work, as my Dad was born in Pakistan, which resulted in me not getting my visa in time to travel.
Keep calm through airport security
Whenever I travel with my family we have an ongoing joke that my Dad will get searched or questioned through security, and 9/10 times he does. The ‘random searches’ really aren’t that random, but it’s important to try and not let this effect you, and keep yourself level headed throughout the process. Any irritation or loss of temper will most likely lead to further interrogation. Yes, this isn’t fair, but unfortunately, it’s reality. I’d also advise giving yourself plenty of time at the airport for any holdups.
Expect immigration questions
And once you’re out of one country, the next hurdle is getting into the next. The immigration process is likely to be a little longer when a surname like Chaudhri flags up on your passport. Expect a few more questions than normal about your career, background, your parents background, why you’re travelling etc. Again, the best thing here is to keep relaxed and just get through the process so you can enjoy your trip.
Carry ID on you at all times
Once on your travels, it’s a good idea to have some kind of ID on you, in case you come up against any issues. Be it your driver’s licence or a copy of your passport, having a form of identify on you comes in handy.
Stay away from certain areas
Just as some parts of the world are not safe for anyone to travel to, certain places are not safe to travel as a Muslim. So, I strongly advise that it’s best to avoid travelling to countries where relationships with Muslims are particularly hostile. If you’re unsure, do some research on where and where not to go.
And don’t disclose your religious background
As much as I encourage all Muslims to travel and be proud of their roots, it’s sometimes wise to not share your surname or your religious background. My brother recently travelled to the deep south of America where some communities have fairly narrow-minded opinions and views on certain backgrounds. He has a British accent and like myself, he can get mistaken for being from various non-Muslim backgrounds. However, it was apparent whilst he was in conversation with some locals, that he would not have been as welcome if they knew his background.
Other cultures may not know that pork is a no go
This one is no biggie, but worth knowing. Like any culture or religion, unless your immersed into it, you may well be ignorant to certain traditions or beliefs, such as knowing that Muslims don’t eat pork. European counties such as Spain, Portugal, Germany and France use pork as a key ingredient in many of their foods so it’s worth triple checking what you’re eating. People often don’t associate ham, bacon, pepperoni etc. with pork, so be sure to clarify.