With the halal travel industry growing at a rapid pace, Glory Ali launched Muslim Travel Rocks, a blog which shares Muslim family-friendly destinations, services and accommodation. In this episode, Glory also shares the misconceptions surrounding Muslims and travel.
00:30 About Muslim Travel Rocks
02:13 The stats
06:05 Traveling with children
07:56 The effects of discrimination
09:08 The USA’s Muslim travel ban
11:54 Italy is going to become what?
13:48 Why a smile is an act of charity
16:13 What TSA means
“I created Muslim Travel Rocks where Muslims can get information on where they can go. Any destinations they want to go to, where they pray, where they can have a good halal meal and just enjoy Muslim friendly activities at any destination.” – Glory Ali
“We know we all want our children to grow up in a world free from bias and discriminations and we want them to reach their dreams and feel that whatever they want to accomplish in life is possible. We want them to feel loved and included and never experienced the pain of rejection, exclusion.” - Glory Ali
“Unfortunately, Muslims are being profiled more today than in the past. One of my advice always is to other Muslims, is don't get offended if you get singled out, especially if you look like a Muslim, you have the Muslim name.” – Glory Ali
Glory Ali is the founder of Muslim Travel Rocks a blog, sharing Muslim family-friendly destinations with Muslim-friendly services and accommodation. Glory launched her site when she fell short in her search for Muslim friendly holiday locations. “That’s when I realized that I must not be alone in my pursuit of halal vacations.”
Read this article on the rise of Halal travel.
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Kim: Thanks for tuning in. Kim and Phil with you and our amazing nomad. It's Glory Ali, and she's with us to explore Muslim travel. Now, Glory, as you will hear, says the halal travel industry is growing at a rapid pace, Phil, with the travel industry generally taking notice now and making huge strides in appealing to the halal market.
Phil: Glory runs Muslim Travel Rocks, which is the name we stole for the title of this episode. Thanks, Glory. It's a site that among other things, shares Muslim family-friendly destinations with Muslim-friendly services and accommodation. Glory says you don't have to compromise your faith when you're exploring the world.
Kim: Let's find out what inspired her to launch the site.
Glory Ali: Muslim Travel Rocks is a blog that I created to encourage and motivate Muslims to travel the world. Some people ask me, "Well, why do Muslims need to be encouraged or inspired to travel the world?" What I always say to them was, "Muslims, we have specific faith-based needs that need to be met so that we can travel and still follow our faith, and at the same time it can be challenging when it comes to traveling."
Glory Ali: I created this website in this space where Muslims can get information on where they can go. Any destinations they want to go to, where they pray, where they can have a good halal meal and just enjoy Muslim friendly activities at any destination. It's possible to show up on a non-Muslim destination and be greeted with Muslim-friendly services and accommodations throughout the world.
Kim: Is that increasing, do you think, Glory?
Glory Ali: Absolutely, 100%. I'll give you an example. Muslim travelers ... A lot of people ask, "Well, what's the difference between Muslim travelers?" Muslim travelers, for the same reason as any other tourists, more than 50% of the Muslim travelers travel with their families. They stay longer and spend more. There's also a rise of the solo female traveler, which is becoming very popular. Muslim women have a strong influence when planning a trip.
Glory Ali: Muslim travelers are one of the largest visiting markets in the United States, but few brands market to them. And just to give you an idea of how big this travel sector is, in 2016, it was estimated there were 121 million Muslim travelers that spent $145 billion. It's expected to grow to 156 million travelers spending $220 billion.
Kim: So there's real confidence, then, in that sector?
Glory Ali: Absolutely, and it's grown. A lot of non-Muslims destinations are starting to market to Muslim travelers. For some of those reasons that I stated before were a lot of Muslims' family travel within families.
Kim: But I'm not dumping this question on you, because I sent it to you earlier to consider. But I was recently contacted by an Indonesian woman who wanted to travel, but there was no precedent within her family. She's scared. She didn't know where to start. I sent her a link to your site, obviously. She wants to be an inspiration to her children so that they can go off and see the world, and she wants to do it on her own. As you said, solo women travel and solo Muslim female travel is on the rise. What advice would you offer her?
Glory Ali: Well, this can be a little controversy in Islam. I know some friends that I have will not travel without a husband or a brother because in Islam, it's said that you should not travel without a male guardian. However, that was back in the time of Jesus and the prophets. Of course, the women didn't work, and the men were the main supporter of the household, so if anything happens, who would support them?
Glory Ali: But that's all changed, and it's pretty safe now to travel anywhere that you want to go. But it's also within the family. It's up to each individual. Luckily for me, I tell my husband, "Hey, I'm going traveling over here." He's like, "All right, just as long as I can contact you, we're good. There are no issues."
Glory Ali: But I also do have younger friends in their twenties who want to travel, and their parents give them a hard time because in Islam women aren't supposed to travel by themselves. They're like, "Mom, but it's a new era. It's a new time. We can travel. We're safe." Sometimes they'll come to me and ask me for advice, and usually, my advice to them is to let your parents know. Tell them this is what I'm going to do. Have a plan ahead of time. Make them feel comfortable. "I'm going to be at this hotel, or I'm going to be at this friend's house. I'm going to call you in such and such time." Just make them feel comfortable, and the more comfortable they feel and see that you are a responsible young woman, then the less that they're going to hesitate.
Kim: There are lots of challenges. You've got to convince your family. You've got to be true to your faith. What are some of the misconceptions both on part of Muslims and on the part of non-Muslims in the travel industry?
Glory Ali: One of the things like we were talking about was women cannot travel alone, which is not true. A lot of women travel alone. I travel alone. I'm married, but I do a lot of solo traveling. It's like I was saying, it's just up to each individual person.
Glory Ali: If you want to travel, if you're a woman, you want to travel with your children, I think it's a wonderful idea. Because I did the same with my children. I made sure that my kids went on vacation every year, even if it was a road trip. One of the major reasons why I did that is because, to me, traveling allows children to learn much more than a school can potentially offer them. Traveling abroad, particularly, helps improve positive character developments and individual identity as a child are able to immerse themselves in other cultures, unlike their familiar surroundings.
Glory Ali: One of the audience members that you had mentioned before that wants to inspire her children, I would say my tips to her is, travel with the kids. Offer that [inaudible] opportunity for them to experience the different cultures and societies and foods. Maybe they can pick up a different language. Also, I would set them up with play dates with children from different backgrounds. That's a good start. Even if you're just at home, set up different play dates with different children from different backgrounds. Then when you're able to travel to any ... Even if you travel within the United States, the United States is huge, and even if you go to a different state, it's a different culture. Even our language is a little bit different. The view is different. We can go to the desert. We can go to the beach. We can go to the mountains. It's very diverse over here. So I would always say that you want to set up playdates, interact with other children from different cultures, give your children books that they can read regarding the ... cultural books. Right?
Glory Ali: I would also try different foods. I used to do that with my kids. I'd take them out to eat different foods. Because I realized early on with my children that every time we went out, they wanted chicken nuggets and French fries. And I was like, "You have got to be kidding me. I'm not taking you to this restaurant and you're going to have chicken nuggets and French fries." I was like, "Just try this." They're like, "Mom. Ew, that's green. I don't want to try." I'm like, "No, no, no. Tell me you don't like it after you've tasted it." That's how they started tasting different foods. And now they love different varieties of food, which is great.
Glory Ali: We know we all want our children to grow up in a world free from bias and discriminations and we want them to reach their dreams and feel that whatever they want to accomplish in life is possible. We want them to feel loved and included and never experienced the pain of rejection, exclusion. But the reality is that we do live in a world in which racism and other forms of bias continue to affect us. Discrimination hurts and leaves scars that can last a lifetime, affecting goals, ambitions, life choices and feelings of self-worth. How can we best prepare our children to meet their challenges and reap the benefits an increasingly diverse world? Raise these children to celebrate the value of diversity and to be proud of their culture.
Kim: As the Muslim travel sector grows and you're very excited about that, are you noticing that there is less kind of attitude toward Muslims as individuals?
Glory Ali: Yes, there is. I'll tell you one thing when I first started the travel blog, I started it during the presidential election here in the United States. I don't know if you know about me... My background story is when I started the travel blog, I actually wanted to do something because I realized that this whole election was trying to separate our nation. And so, I started the travel blog. Said, "I don't know what it could do. I want to do a travel blog. But I want to combat Islamophobia at the same time." What I realized after the presidential election and the Muslim travel ban was that instead of our country being divided and just what you hear in the news all the time, we actually came together. I mean, I have never been more proud to be an American as the day that we had our Muslim travel bans went into effect, because everyone, it didn't matter what race, so many people came out to the airports to support the Muslims that were in the air that we're going to be sent back to another country that wasn't theirs.
Glory Ali: One of the challenges that I face myself is when I recently just came from Puerto Rico. I spent a week and a half in Puerto Rico, but I have to be very cautious. So when I travel, I always have my passport. I actually have my birth certificate. Not many people travel with their birth certificate, but I have to travel with my birth certificate to prove that I'm an American citizen. Because I don't know if I leave the country if I'm going to be allowed to come back in.
Kim: That passport should be all you need.
Glory Ali: It should be, but it's not. Because during the travel ban, Trump was saying that they want any Muslims to go back to their country. And I kept saying, "I am an American. I was born. Just because I wear a headscarf doesn't mean that I'm from a different country. I am an American." And so the only way that I feel that I can prove something is if I have my birth certificate with me, because my passport, at this time, doesn't really mean much.
Kim: Well, how would you like to see the travel sector grow and why, also, I know you mentioned why it's important for children, but why is it important for people to travel?
Glory Ali: Well, as I said before, with the facts that the Muslim travel sector is growing and it's increasingly, it's really, really growing. One of the things that I do on my blog is I encourage Muslims to travel to the United States because America is a Muslim-friendly country and a lot of what I was hearing overseas was just like, "Oh, we're not going to America. It's not friendly." And I'm like, "No, no, no. Don't listen to the news. We're very friendly here. We want you to come here. We want you to visit our country. Don't listen to what the media is saying all the time."
Glory Ali: Now, as far as the Muslim travel sector, a lot of non-Muslim countries are catering to the Muslim, because they see that it's such a large ... We're talking about billions of dollars. Why wouldn't you want a part of that billions of dollars that the Muslims are going out and spending? Some countries, in Canada, in Toronto, they're a big hub for Muslim travelers, and they cater, they have Muslim halal food and Muslim activities. They'll tell you where the mosques are at so that you can go see where the mosque is at and go pray.
Glory Ali: Now, another thing that some people, a lot of people, don't know is that Italy is going to become the Muslim hub for travel. They're on their way. They are on their way. They're catering to a lot of Muslim travelers in Italy.
Kim: Wow. What are they doing, specifically?
Glory Ali: The hotels in Italy, and other places, like New Zealand, as well, as soon as a Muslim traveler comes into their hotel, they'll give them a list of where there is halal food, which is the food that we're permitted to eat. As well, we can also eat seafood or vegetarian food. I also eat kosher food, so it doesn't really matter to me if it's halal or not halal, as long as I have seafood. That's one of the misconceptions, as well, is that, oh, if there's no halal food, Muslims aren't going to eat or go travel to a specific destination. That's just a big myth. That's not true. We'll eat anywhere if there's food.
Glory Ali: The other thing is that Muslims are incredibly diverse and span across the world. There's this misconception that Muslims are Arabic and that can't be further from the truth. Take me, for example. I don't know if you know, but I'm a Puerto Rican Muslim, and most people don't know that about me. A lot of people assume that I'm Arabic because I wear the hijab, which is the Muslim headscarf. The truth is, I was born in the United States. My parents are from Puerto Rico. I joke around with my friends when we're at different events, and I tell them, "Man, I feel like the United Nations." Because when we sit at a table with my friends, and I have Guyanese friends, Egyptian friends, Mexican friends, Cuban friends, Somalian friends, and I'm like, "Wow, this is like the United Nations here. This is awesome." We're very diverse, and like I was saying, one of those misconceptions is that Muslims are Arab and that cannot be further from the truth.
Kim: Do you have travel saying that you live by?
Glory Ali: Yes. A smile is an act of charity, and I will tell you why I always say this. One of the challenges that I deal with specifically as a Muslim is maybe a day or two before I have to travel, and I have to go to the airport to see a TSA, my anxiety will start to kick in, like, "Oh, I have to go to TSA." Do you know?
Glory Ali: As I stand in the TSA line, those lines are long. Nobody looks at me. Most of the people will not look at me. They won't make direct eye contact. They'll look. They'll glance down. They'll take their phones out. They'll look at their phones, look at me, and they'll put the phones down. And there are a few people, not often, that will just stare at me and won't stop looking at me. So, I'm very uncomfortable. I'm like, "Oh my God, please, can this line just get any longer? Let me just get through TSA." I don't mind going through the body scanner. I don't mind being searched and them checking my hair. I don't mind any of that. It's really the stares or the pretending not to look that just makes me feel so uncomfortable.
Glory Ali: But that all changes as soon as I pass the TSA line. Once I get to the gate, everybody starts talking to me, and I have had more conversations wearing a headscarf than I've ever had when I didn't wear a headscarf.
Glory Ali: I just want people to know that if ... Just smile. It doesn't matter who it is. Just that smile is considered an act of charity, and that would make me, personally, feel a little bit better than knowing that I have all these eyes on me for no particular reason. Like, what am I going to do? Just because there's one bad apple in the group doesn't even mean that the whole bunch of apples is bad.
Kim: Sorry that you have to go through that. That's not on, really.
Glory Ali: It is. Unfortunately, Muslims are being profiled more today than in the past. One of my advice always is to other Muslims, is don't get offended if you get singled out, especially if you look like a Muslim, you have the Muslim name. Just give yourself that extra time to go through security, or you can opt-out for a pat-down instead of going through the body scanner. And to the onlookers, a kind word or just a simple smile goes a long way.
Kim: So very well said, Glory. We went on to chat about other things, and we both ended up very teary. It was quite emotional. For those of you unfamiliar with TSA, it is a U.S. government program that allows travelers deemed low risk by the Transportation Security Administration or as we said, TSA, which is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security agency to pass through an expedited security screening at certain U.S. airports.
Phil: The TSA. Not everybody's most favorite government agency, are they?
Kim: No. No. Not at all.
Phil: Okay. Look, data from the Pew Research Center shows that if current trends continue, Muslims will make up 26.4% of the world's total projected population of 8.3 billion in 2030. That's up from 23.4% of the estimated 2010 world population of 6.9 billion. There's a lot of us.
Kim: Get amongst it. Any questions or to get in touch with your experiences, email [email protected] There will be links and information on Muslim travel and to Glory, obviously, in show notes. Now, next week, we return to our destination episodes in the African Island nation of-
Phil: São Tomé and Príncipe.
Kim: Beautiful. Bye.
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