Travelling in Muslim Countries
Getting It Right
In many parts of the Muslim World is it unusual for native women to travel independently (without their families) so we suggest that you acknowledge the need to be sensitive to local customs and manners. The place of the female in the country you are visiting will depend on the degree to which Muslim Sharia Law operates. For example, in some countries such as Saudi Arabia women do not drive cars and are covered up most of the time, whereas in some North African and Asian countries attitudes are more relaxed. However, in all Muslim countries women are held in high esteem, though their place in society is often conservative and regimented. Finally, it isn't just about 'getting it right'; if you blend into the society you will discover so much more about the culture and people of the country.
Aside from the religious and society issues, if you are blonde you might also like to take precautions so as not to warrant increased attention. This is purely because native females will generally be dark-haired: wearing a hat or perhaps dying your hair are measures to lower your profile.
On a sexual note, you need to be careful not to be misinterpreted. A simple 'western' gesture such fixing the gaze of a man and smiling could be seen as a sexual advancement.
- Carefully research the country you are visiting to understand the appropriate dress and behaviour code, so as not to offend those in your host country. If the country or region adheres strictly to Sharia Law we suggest you are extra vigilant with your research.
- If you are travelling alone or as a female pair you may have to take further precautions. Take the appropriate clothing so that you can 'cover up' quickly - that is, hide flesh from your ankles to head. It may be necessary for your head to be covered as well. Loose, light-weight cotton dresses and shawls are generally very useful.
- Avoid public displays of affection.
- Research the dress and entry code when visiting mosques: females are likely to have to completely cover up and in some cases will have a separate mosque or section of the mosque for their use.
- Where dress codes are conservative assume you must cover your arms and chest and don't wear shorts.
- Avoid long eye-contact with men so as not to be misinterpreted as giving off a sexual advancement.
- If travelling on public transport with a man, the girl should sit in the window seat. Women travelling alone should try and sit where a group of women are sitting together.
- If travelling with a man, women should accept that they will often be spoken to through the man.
- If entering a house the women will usually sit and eat separately from the men. Do not try to go and join the men!
- In taxis, like our general advice worldwide, sit in the back behind the driver.
- You might consider wearing a wedding ring, perhaps if you are going out with your travelling partner but are not married. Females travelling together may find wearing a wedding ring will indicate they are unavailable and this can be a simple method to lower your profile.
As a general rule avoid showing the soles of your feet and don't eat with your left hand in public: the latter is reserved for wiping your bum!
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