Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture – Solo Travel

Travelling as a woman alone in Muslim culture, especially in the Middle East. I don’t have much experience with it…. I have been travelling in Jordan since early October and have been back in Dubai since a day. And I have previously travelled around in predominantly Muslim countries alone such as Malaysia / Indonesia, Morocco, The Gambia and was also previously in the Emirates and Oman but I have to admit for myself now that I don’t find it super nice.

And I also have to admit that it makes me pretty bummed to admit that….

The countries are great, the nature and also the cultural backgrounds are super interesting
but I don’t like being alone in public.

Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture
Solo Travel – Meaningful Travel

After a month in Jordan:

Don’t feel free to be who I am

I feel looked at

As if I am misbehaving, as if by definition I am behaving wrongly.

I feel like with everything I have to be careful not to accidentally, inadvertently give men the wrong cause. So I should not be too nice, a smile can already trigger wrong intentions in a man. Indeed, the blame always seems to lie on the woman’s side. However unlikely, the man can’t do anything about it. The woman should have known better, behaved differently so that no trigger could have been seen.

The fact that it is thus sought outside the men and the women have to walk between 2 thin lines like this makes me very irritated.

  • There are a whole number of men who do it differently and find it different I am happy to know too.

I was walking down the street in Madaba – Jordan and was looked at from head to toe by a man sitting on the pavement wasting his time doing nothing…. I was really like, oh boy…could that be done with a little more tact? If you want to look then do it a bit more veiled…. There was a man passing me just then who made a comment. This caught me completely off guard and I looked around irritated. When the man said something again, in Arabic, I couldn’t resist saying something in Dutch, this wasn’t really nice….

Then the man said in poor English, Old man, he a fool…

Needless to say, I was ashamed of my thoughts at that moment. The man who said something stood by me instead of condemning me…. He condemned the man who was wasting his time on the pavement.

Madaba - Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture - Solo Travel

Travelling as a woman alone in the muslimculture

I’m glad I also encounter many situations like this.

Situations where the other side is highlighted again. In which I am briefly reminded that there are also ‘good’ men who do get it. But still, the street scene is largely men looking at me where I feel judged on the spot.

The image many men have of the West is the distorted image of soaps, music videoclips and advertising…. So that is the image of scantily clad women eager to jump into bed with you. Everyone knows, of course, that these are the things men like to remember …

So then I feel that as a solo traveller and a woman, I have to keep pointing out that this is not the case. I stress again that there are plenty of men who do think and are realistic. They don’t feel and act this way but on the streets I encounter precisely those men who do not know the ‘modern’ thinking of the Western world. They really think that what they see on TV is really how women behave.

Also I know that this is something that largely takes place in my head and that what I give attention to grows….

I see this because I am focused on it. I don’t always manage to look past it and see the rest of the Middle East and the Muslim world. And I know it is there and it is beautiful. I enjoy these countries but I don’t feel completely comfortable there. And I find that so unfortunate.

Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture – Solo Travel

Visiting a nomad lady in Morocco
Visiting a nomad lady in Morocco

Indeed, the street scene in the Middle East, in Muslim culture consists largely of men.

When you do see women, it is mostly accompanied or with several other women.

When I asked a Western woman who has lived in Jordan for more than 15 years why women did not go out on the streets alone, I was given the following explanation. They go accompanied by a brother/father because then they can protect their female relative from their peers viz other men. As if a woman alone is prey on the streets…. I know I am charging but that is how it feels to me.

I then immediately wonder why their female relative should be treated with respect and any other girl/woman should not. As if they can’t imagine how it feels for the other family then and if another family is disrespectful.

But yes, of course that applies in all sorts of areas…. Why is war being waged when everyone would like to live in peace with each other, no one wants to hurt another … Starting point for a nice life for everyone will be safety for your surroundings, for your family, for your loved ones. And yet even these people sometimes hurt another so much.

Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture

In addition, women should be monitored to make sure they behave and thus do not cause other men to behave inappropriately. So again, as if it is down to the woman when something happens between a man and a woman. Men can hardly get it wrong it seems. This really makes me so irritated.

All responsibility lies with the woman. The woman should be the wisest. She must be protected from herself and the other. Women are weak, women etc.

This while it is the men who apparently cannot behave. Men are not mature and man enough to behave with respect towards other women. I know there is a change going on. I also know that at the moment, I only see the downside for a while. And I don’t want to be negative, I don’t want to be charitable but I just can’t see it differently right now.

Beautiful sight! This shopping couple in Dubai Mall - UAE
Beautiful sight! This shopping couple in Dubai Mall – UAE

And I attribute it largely to traditional Muslim culture, and that is what I am most annoyed about.

I don’t want this but I don’t see any other way at the moment. Also, there are lots of good points and good places where this no longer happens but I don’t feel free in my movement. I took into account the fact that I did not have bare shoulders during my trip, I did not wear shorts, I tried to wear loose-fitting clothes as much as possible so as not to ‘stand out’. Apart from that, of course, I am a western woman and always stand out no matter what. No matter how much my best I try.

I get a different approach than local women.

To stand out less and draw attention I am going to behave differently….

After all, I like to give another person a smile and thus get a smile back and exchange a good day. Nothing more. This does not mean that I am happy to share a bed with you. That I start avoiding men bugs me, that I don’t seek eye contact and that I try to give as little reason as possible to start a conversation. I am alert to cut off this kind of conversation as soon as possible so I don’t have to say no every time. That I haven’t given rise to anything.

Exchange smiles from under your mouth cap or from behind your nikap

So I have tried to only exchange smiles with women. It is nice to see that under the mouth caps but also under the nikap you can see each other smiles by the eyes. So thankfully, I was still able to exchange plenty of smiles with women. Nice that they also enjoy having eye contact with me anyway and can appreciate it with a smile.

Travelling as a woman alone in Muslim culture

It is not at all that I am afraid of being attacked, I really am not. But I don’t feel like constantly seeing eyes of men that are already in a fantasy world. And that I have to brutally remove those men from their fantasy world because sweet words don’t work. No thanks with a smile doesn’t work after all. People listen less to your words and more to your body language.

I find this so sad to notice about myself.

I want to be able to travel as a woman alone in Muslim culture. And then I walk down the street again and see predominantly men….

In Asia, and then I think of India for a moment, it is different. But also Malaysia and Indonesia. There, women do have more freedom of movement in public.

There, the rules of being Muslim are expressed differently. I liked hearing from my guide An in the Harua Valley in Sumatra (Indonesia) that he went to pray if he could but was fine otherwise. I feel, because religion there has changed more often through outside influences admittedly, that it is more easily handled by most people. It’s not that if you don’t do everything as described in the book you are an apostate. Of course, you have other forms there too, extreme religious forms. You can find this everywhere and forms of extremism in any faith is not recommended and fine, I think we all know that.

But in Asia, I do see women walking the streets alone and they do lead ‘normal’ lives. It is a very different culture and I find that I can deal with it better.

In India, like in the Emirates, a part of the metro is for women only. If men hang out there, there is a fine. It is unfortunate that there have to be such rules but nice that they do pay attention to it and thus give women more space to move freely.

( the Emirates is also home to a lot of people from all over the world so society here is also much freer )

Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture - Solo Travel

I know that when I mention India, I get a lot thrown at me precisely because so many women are raped there. That is true, but it also happens in NL and, unfortunately, in the rest of the world. Fortunately, there is a lot of attention for this in India, they are actually working in public to change things. That’s super positive. They are taking it out of anonymity, people are now allowed and able to come out with it if something has happened. It is always super difficult for victims to tell about such an incident, in the Netherlands and also in the rest of the world. Something sticks to the fact that the woman is considered responsible…. Shame is often great no matter where you are in the world. It is also almost always a 1-to-1 story which makes it so also so hard to prove.

Did you really not give a reason? Did you really say no? Did you properly and clearly indicate that you really didn’t want to? It remains difficult, painful … and for many traumatic…

Fortunately, nothing has ever happened to me that has caused me similar trauma and yet I feel so irritated….

I am a woman and so I am supposed to deal tactfully with the man’s feelings…. What about the woman’s feelings I then wonder? What about the feelings of that man’s mother? That’s also that woman who sees another man walking down the street and mistakes him for…

Fortunately, in my world I live in, things are not as black/white as I sometimes think/feel

In the Netherlands, in Europe, I can move freely. I can pay attention to everyone. There, I can interact and have fun and make fun together. There, I don’t have to fear right away that it will be perceived as if I want more…. As if I want to share everything right away 🤣

It seems so silly when I write it down like that but it really feels like that. You don’t want to know what messages and pictures you can find in my dm’s or FB and Insta from men from this part of the world…. What they suggest to do because they think this is normal for me or something!?

Travelling alone as a woman in Muslim culture

What experience do you have of travelling as a woman alone in Muslim culture?

I love to hear it!
Happy to shift my perspective and see and feel things differently.
Give me your opinion and your vision on this!

Finally, I would like to stress again that I have nothing against any religion. I have nothing against any religion. I only have a lot against it if we are not treated equally on the basis of it. Because this is still so prevalent in traditional Muslim culture in many countries, this irritates me greatly.

Muslim as religion

There is nothing wrong with religion in general if it brings about that you want to live with each other with respect for everyone. In my opinion, that is also the message in every religion. So I really do not understand why this cannot be expressed in this way … even in the middle east and thus in the traditional Muslim culture that I have seen in recent weeks.

And then I have to give Jordan credit for the fact that they are quite free and accepting of other faiths across the board. I have, of course, been to places that are rooted in Christianity. So I can definitely recommend travelling in these countries, I just cannot recommend travelling as a woman alone in Muslim culture.

Safe Travelling in the Middle East?

I did not feel unsafe for a moment. Yes, I felt watched but not unsafe. There was no running after me, shouting or anything. In terms of travelling safely, I have no comment. I felt safe on the streets even when it was dark, in the early evening. Nowhere did I feel that I was being followed or anything like that.

Yes… I did feel that following, by the way. This was at a busy Friday market in Amman. When I surprised him twice by not having walked on but waiting for him he chose to run away….. This man was lurking on my bag and not on my person …. Being alert to your surroundings is always good, especially in busy markets and in the big city, there are always people lurking on your wallet or other valuables.

Want to read more about beautiful trips in Muslim countries? 😊

Having dinner at the locals in The Gambia

Discover Kuala Lumpur – Capitol of Malaysia

Visit Jerash – Once a prosperous city in Jordan

Adventurous Trip in the Sultunate of Oman

Discover Morocco in 4 days

Also read my Tips for Women – Safe Travel in India

Tips for Women – Safe Travel in India

I hope you enjoy this beautiful world as much as I do.