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Travelling As A Muslimah: Exploring Europe While Wearing The Hijab

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Maliha Abidi  •  Jan 02, 2020

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I started wearing my hijab full time when I was 18. Before that, I had a complicated relationship with it where I had months when I didn’t use to wear it and then months where I did. Finally, I started wearing it full time at 18 because I realised that is what I wanted. It also helped when I learned more about the hijab and its importance and why I should be wearing it. Please keep in mind that when I used to take off my hijab, it wasn’t because I was bullied or someone said something to me. It was my own decision, just like wearing it fulltime now is my decision 🙂 My love for travelling existed way before I used to wear my headscarf. Age 16 to 17, I visited countries like China, Japan, France, Turkey. Even though I didn’t wear a headscarf myself, I saw others who did. When I turned 18, that is when I started travelling extensively. Summer of 2015 when I was 19, my father encouraged me to take a Europe trip. On this trip, I was to visit 7 countries around Europe. As a hijabi, it honestly didn’t cross my mind thatI should be careful BECAUSE I am wearing a hijab. I was careful in general as we all should be while travelling. After that summer, I decided to start my travel website called “Her adventures.” I just shared my trip to trip experiences and posted some photos. Didn’t take the site seriously. In December 2016, when I got married, I changed my website to “Her Adventures with Him”. I had also moved to England by then and discovered the super cheap flights around Europe. We are talking as little as £5.99! Since my husband and I shared the love of travelling and went around a lot, we started sharing our experiences as a couple. When our platform grew a bit, a few common questions kept getting asked: “Is it safe to travel around Europe while wearing the hijab?”.“Do you get treated differently because you wear a headscarf?”. “ Do people stare at you a lot?”. Since 2016, it has been on my mind to address this and while I have answered it briefly here and there, I wanted to talk about it in detail. Please understand that this is only my experience and doesn’t reflect the experience ofother Muslim women who travel while wearing a Hijab, burqa or any other form of religious clothing. So, the short answer is that no, I have never come across aggressive or bad behaviour because I wear the headscarf (though do note this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen to others - I can only share my own experiences!). What I have come across is a few stares, immigration officers asking me to take off the headscarf and also that super special security check at the airport that makes you feel like royalty. In Denmark, I was asked by an immigration officer to take off my headscarf and I said I won’t do that. Reason being, I know that it is not the rule. It wasn’t a security check area. And it wasn’t a lady asking me to take off my headscarf in a private room to check, it was a male officer asking me to take off my headscarf in front of many others. It was in the area where they check whether you have a valid passport and visa. After I said no, the guy was okay with it and didn’t push.  Many people confuse the Burqa ban asa hijab ban but that isn’t the case. This also feeds the fear many Muslims have which is why they limit their travel plans to only a few places around Europe where they know they will be safe, usually places that have a huge Muslim population and similar activities. Paris:  The key here is to know your rights and the rules. When you wear your hijab especially in countries which have the burqa bans, you may feel a sense of fear. I got the most questions about wearing hijab after my trip to Paris. Paris is a city I have been to three times now. And twice I was wearing my headscarf. I haven’t encountered any problems ever and people have always been really nice but again, this is only my experience. Many may argue that I travel with my husband and travelling with a man may help me a ton. That may be the case but even before I was married and even now, I take many solo trips and never have I come across any racist comments, aggressive behaviour or overall any incident.  On burqa bans: France was the first country in Europe to have a burqa ban.In the later years, Denmark, Netherlands, Austria, Bulgaria and a few others joined in as well. As sad as this ban is, I would like to point out that we should not confuse the burqa (veil covering your face) with the headscarf. While the word 'hijab' means 'modestly covering yourself' it is commonly used as another word for headscarf. These countries have not banned headscarves so it will not be against the law for you to travel with your headscarf on. As far as the stare and racist remarks are concerned, that can happen anywhere until and unless you are in Muslim countries. Only there, I would think, anyone would say, “Why are you wearing a hijab? Take it off.” About the stares -  from my experience, people who stare do so for a moment and then they look away. Something that helps me with my confidence is that I tell myself that these are people I will never see in my life ever again so why should I care if they stare at me or not? The reason I wanted to share all of this is to serve a reminder:  When you look a bit different and you arescared that something bad can happen during your travels because it, please remember that something bad can happen anywhere in the world. This shouldn’t stop us from travelling and exploring new places! I would recommend reading up on the dress code laws about the countries you visit (and this goes for every tourist/traveller because every place is different). That being said, feel confident in travelling and take the usual precautions you would take while travelling - things like not walking around in isolated neighbourhoods too late at night. Make sure your bag is zipped up so your things don’t fall out. Keep an eye on your belongings. Things like that. With that, I wish my Muslim peeps all the best for your adventures. Do not let the fears hold you back. If you wear a hijab, own it, be confident in it and do not let any immigration officer or random person tell you to take it off because that isn’t the rule. Read more about Maliha's adventures around the world with her husband Askari over at their website Her Adventures With Him and @heradventurewithhimon Instagram. This article represents the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflectthe views of Have Halal, Will Travel.