Halal Tourism: A Guide for Muslim Travellers

BY Hajar

Halal tourism guide to muslim and travel
Photo by Jameela Elfaki


Halal tourism is one of the travel industry’s fastest growing sectors, with companies and communities around the world developing new tools to facilitate this form of travel for Muslims.

An increasingly lucrative market, halal travel is designed with Muslims in mind, primarily taking into consideration a five-a-day prayer schedule, specific dietary requirements and the need for segregated facilities.

Travel has always been at the heart of Islam. Hajj, a major pillar of Islam, is an obligatory (terms and conditions apply) pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia conducted over five days in the final month of the Islamic Hijri (‘migratory’) lunar calendar. Annually, almost 2.5 million people perform Hajj, and according to Arab News more than 19 million Muslims performed Umrah (also known as ‘minor pilgrimage’) in 2017. Although the pilgrimage travel sector is firmly established and well-placed when it comes to catering for Muslims as they fulfill their spiritual and religious duties, the broader world of travel often falls short.

For practising and non-practising Muslims alike, traversing borders can present challenging experiences. While the securitisation of Muslims remains well-documented, the abundance of resources that exist are lacking when it comes to what follows, such as guidance on the logistics of pilgrimage travel once a destination has been reached.

Amongst my family and friends there’s a commonly discussed gap in accessible guidance which has regularly discouraged them from travelling beyond Muslim or certain European countries, for fear of facing the unknown. However, our religious identity shouldn’t limit the way we travel the world. Simply put, the best preparation for a journey abroad, no matter the religious background of the traveller, is to research. For each Islamic requirement, there’s a way to tackle it.

Halal Tourism: A Guide for Muslim Travellers
Photo by Hassan Raja


Eating right: halal food

First and foremost, I strongly recommend taking the time to figure out what the cuisine of the country you’re visiting looks like. Make sure to specifically focus on regional cuisines and not just national ones. Navigating meat-heavy cuisines can be more difficult and may require preparation. I recommend learning all the terms for pork, meat and chicken because ‘meat’ as a category doesn’t have the same definition around the world. While travelling in Spain, I quickly realised that when I asked for meals that are sin carne (without meat), I was often still recommended meals with chorizo or chicken in them.

If it seems impossible to avoid meat or cross-contamination, it might be worth adopting a vegetarian or pescatarian diet in certain locations. Some cuisines, such as Indian fare, lend themselves well to vegetarianism. As meat-free diets are becoming increasingly popular and adopted more around the world, there is a wealth of resources available for vegetarian and vegan travel. This, in turn, can be repurposed to make the consumption of halal easier to navigate.

Where possible, I recommend finding the destinations where Muslims and foreigners are most concentrated to get better access to halal food. For example, a friend recently travelled to Tokyo and visited the Asakusa district, where she was able to try halal Japanese dishes.

If you’re observing Ramadan, find out when everything closes. Shops and restaurants in Switzerland often close early, while stores in Germany don’t open at all on a Sunday. Stock up and work around commercial schedules to make sure your suhoor (the pre-dawn meal before the fast begins) and iftar (the sunset meal that breaks the fast) both go smoothly.


Teetotalism: avoiding alcohol

While avoiding alcohol may seem straightforward for the most part, it can be included in ingredients featured in desserts, sauces and seemingly inoffensive drinks. I recommend learning the names of regional and national drinks, and understanding their composition, as alcohol may appear without being highlighted on the menu.


On time: praying your salah

It’s good practice to know the locations you’re visiting, and to be aware of where the mosques, and even some non-denominational prayer spaces, are. If these aren’t immediately accessible, carrying a portable and washable prayer mat along with a small bottle of water for wudhu (ablutions) can allow you to pray your salat (prayer) everywhere. Some members of my family and friends prefer to pray in parks, where you’re less likely to be in anyone’s way. I also suggest downloading a prayer app, so you can work out the local prayer times and where the qibla (direction to Mecca) is.

Halal Tourism: A Guide for Muslim Travellers
Photo by Hassan Raja


Feeling at home: where to stay

Accommodation is one of the most important things to consider. Although segregated hostel dorm rooms seem Muslim and Hijabi-friendly, many hostels have shared facilities or showers located at a distance from the room, making it more difficult to navigate.

Some spaces can offer segregated facilities, such as women-only beaches and spas, allowing Muslim women who observe the hijab the same experiences as others. It is also worth remembering that accommodation in Muslim countries may also not be the most accommodating. In hotels across Morocco, women are occasionally not permitted to swim in burkinis or modest swimwear. Websites such as Halal Booking or Book Halal Beds can make the search easier.


Staying safe: Islamophobia

Unfortunately, Islamophobia appears to be a growing phenomenon globally, from attacks on Muslims in India to suffocating neocolonial secularism in France. It may be the most frightening obstacle when travelling as a Muslim and one that seems the most insurmountable as no amount of preparation can prevent discrimination from happening.

While I don’t agree that Muslims should avoid travelling somewhere due to Islamophobia, it’s important to understand the racist and prejudiced attitudes that exist in order to make a more informed decision. Those who are visibly Muslim – as is the case for hijab-wearing women – often experience higher levels of discrimination. While there is no solution to travelling through areas where Islamophobic attitudes are prevalent, you can mitigate the risk by travelling in groups as part of guided tours or sticking to the well-worn tourist tracks.

On the other hand, it’d be easy to think that some locations aren’t compatible with halal travel. Assia Hamdi, a travel writer for Halal Booking and Halal Trip, says that she has strived to counteract stereotypical depictions of popular destinations. For example, the Balearic Islands seem like notorious party hotspots, but in fact, have rich spiritual and cultural histories that are often overlooked.

Certainly, approaching travel to new countries can be daunting for every kind of traveller but for Muslims who have to consider a plethora of logistics, it can seem almost impossible. However, by seeking out Islam wherever you go, looking for the ummah (the name for the global Muslim community) can be a source of guidance and comfort. As a global diaspora, Muslim communities exist around the world, and taking the time to meet these groups can deepen your insight to the country whilst travelling. Earlier this year, I travelled alone to Mexico where I encountered a Moroccan tourist who recommended some beautiful restaurants in Playa del Carmen. I’m echoing Assia’s advice here, which is to tap into local communities, channelling Islamic qualities of charity and warmth to get the most out of your trip.

In addition Halal Booking and Book Halal Beds, another resource is Muslim Travel Girl – a well-known travel catering to Muslim travel, predominantly across Europe and Asia. Founded by Elena, the blog offers Muslim-friendly and budget-friendly travel content. Furthermore, Halal Travel Guide provides free online advice and organise group trips internationally. For more research, Serendipity is an exhaustive online resource and booking site.

The Muslim travel experience is certainly not universal; the complexity and specificity of the process is a sliding scale dependent on several factors including how visibly Muslim you are, racial politics in a destination country and the way you practise. As Assia suggests, adequate preparation and a flexible mindset are the best tools to create an enlightening trip – for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Halal Tourism: A Guide for Muslim Travellers
Photo by Jameela Elfaki

Photography by Jameela Elfaki and Hassan Raja