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Blue Mosque in Turkey | © archer10 / Flickr
Blue Mosque in Turkey | © archer10 / Flickr

13 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to a Muslim Country

Picture of Jessica Harn
Updated: 23 November 2017

Traveling to a Muslim country is a lot more common than one might think given the surge of tourists visiting places such as Indonesia and Iran. Although there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding Muslim countries, for those who make the journey there is the realization that the cultures and history of these places are both beautiful and diverse. To truly enjoy your experience while being respectful, here are 13 things you should know before traveling to a Muslim country.

When choosing outfits to wear, cover as much skin as feels comfortable

Because most Muslim countries will generally be more conservative in terms of clothing, when packing for your trip keep in mind that if you want to stay respectful, it is always better to cover more than less. As a tourist, you are not required to dress conservatively—however, you will feel more comfortable when walking around if you are not drawing attention to the amount of skin you are showing.

Do some research on the hijab

Understand that unless you are traveling to Saudi Arabia or Iran, the hijab is not a requirement and that the women who wear it are doing it by choice and are proud to wear the hijab. Understand that the hijab does not equate to oppression, and that the women who wear the hijab are regular students, professionals, doctors, and lawyers. Feel free to ask why they choose to wear it, but do so with respect and with an understanding that it is not forced upon them.

Research hotels—some hotels will not let unmarried couples stay together

While not a rule, many hotels in the more conservative Muslim countries will not let unmarried couples stay in the same room, so be sure to research beforehand.

Understand the relationship between men and women—if traveling as a couple, try not to show too much affection in public

Muslim men and women will generally not touch each other if they are unrelated, so be sure to not initiate a handshake or hug with the opposite gender while you are traveling, unless initiated first by your Muslim friend or acquaintance. Many Muslim couples will not show affection in public in order to stay respectful to other people around them, so if you want to stay extra respectful while you are traveling as a couple, keep the public affection to a minimum.

When entering a mosque, know what to do to stay respectful

When traveling to a Muslim country you will most likely visit at least one mosque; they are beautiful places of worship and the bigger and more historical mosques will even have English tours! However, there are a few things you should know before entering a mosque in order to stay respectful and not cause any trouble. Remember that as a woman entering a mosque you must cover your hair, and cover up as much skin as possible on your body. Men as well should wear long trousers and not wear anything too tight. You also must take off your shoes before entering a mosque, and never walk in front of someone who is in the middle of prayer.

Learn the universal greeting for Muslims: Salamu alaikum

The Islamic greeting that all Muslims say when meeting is Salamu alaikum, which means “peace be upon you.” No matter what language or culture Muslims come from, this is the universal greeting and it may be useful and fun to use when traveling! Using this expression when first meeting a Muslim will always guarantee a huge smile and friendly greeting in return.

Be ready to hear the adhan, the call to prayer, five times a day

Muslims have five daily prayers, and in Muslim countries, the mosque will announce the prayer times through the adhan, or call to prayer. It is almost like the equivalent to church bells, but, in this case, someone is calling out through a loud speakerphone at the mosque. One thing to be aware of is that the first prayer of the day is before dawn so if you end up staying next to a mosque be prepared to hear the call to prayer at around 5:00 a.m.!

The water hose next to the toilets has a purpose

While this may be an embarrassing topic to discuss, Muslims are very strict when it comes to cleaning and washing and believe that after every time a trip to the toilet occurs, instead of just tissue paper you must clean with water as well. That is why, next to every toilet, there will either be a water hose or something like a small bucket of water to clean yourself with after using the toilet. It is an interesting experience to try, but remember to not use this water to wash your hands or to drink!

Halal is the way an animal is slaughtered for meat

Muslims eat halal food, which just means that it was prepared in an Islamically approved way. Halal food isn’t a type of dish or ingredient, it is just the way an animal was killed for the meat. For it to be halal, there are a number of rules, such as giving water to the animal before it is killed, separating it from the herd so the other animals do not see it being killed, and, most importantly, reciting Bismillah, which means “in the name of God” before the actual slaughter.

Finding alcohol may be hard, and you should drink in public discretely

Most Muslims do not drink alcohol, and in some Muslim countries the drinking of alcohol is actually banned. Be sure to research if the country you are traveling to allows tourists to drink or not, and if it is allowed remember to stay respectful and not get drunk in public.

Know that if you travel during Ramadan most restaurants will not be open until the evening

Make sure you research what Islamic month of the year it is when you travel (the Islamic Year is based on the lunar calendar and is called the Hijra), and if you happen to travel during the month of Ramadan remember that almost everyone will be fasting during the day and most restaurants will only open in the evening.

Do not bring up sectarian issues unless the topic is opened by a Muslim friend or acquaintance

Muslims, like Christians and other major religions, have different sects. The main sects of Islam are the Sunni branch, the Shia branch, and the Sufi branch. In many Muslim countries, there are deep, and sometimes violent, sectarian issues, and it is important not to discuss these sectarian issues unless your Muslim friend or acquaintance brings it up first.

Know that Muslim is not an ethnicity or race, and that there are Muslims in all corners of the globe

While there are many similarities between Muslims based on the fact that they follow the Quran and believe in the Prophet Mohammad, in no way do all Muslims follow the same culture or ethnicity. There are Brazilian Muslims, Nigerian Muslims, Russian Muslims, and Chinese Muslims, to name just a few. They all have different customs, languages, and even traditions of practicing Islam, and it is important to research the customs of the specific Muslim country you are traveling to.

Overall, while there are a few things to remember before traveling to a Muslim country in order to stay respectful, it is the same as traveling to any other country: you’ll experience a new culture, history, and people, and come back with an even wider appreciation for the world’s diversity!