The Tour Groups Empowering Muslim Women Travelers—and Fostering Community

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For many practicing Muslim women, finding the right hotel and booking excursions is just one part of planning a vacation. There’s also the search for halal or vegetarian restaurants, pinning mosques with a women’s prayer space to Google Maps, and researching whether a destination is safe for them not just as women, but oftentimes as visibly Muslim women if they wear a hijab or niqab, or want to don a burkini.

For years, Muslim women wanting to travel have done this all themselves, without the help of travel and tour companies that cater to their non-Muslim peers. That despite there being a huge demand: According to the Mastercard-Crescentrating Global Muslim Travel Index 2023, Muslim women “make up a substantial portion of the global Muslim travel market,” citing a growing trend for “solo and women group travel” in particular.

“Muslim women are looking to travel with a group of like-minded women where they can feel catered to in terms of having time to pray, eat halal food, feel comfortable wearing hijab if they do, and visit local mosques when traveling,” says Ellie Quinn Belhaj, a travel blogger based in Manchester, England.

But while some Muslim women may have additional requirements while on vacation, notes Belhaj, they are also after all the same things as other travelers: “Muslim women want to hike, dive, and explore cities like everyone else.”

In recent years, a number of independent travel companies founded by Muslim women have sprung up to fill this gap in the market, all seeking to make travel easier—especially for those who grew up in cultures where women traveling alone may not be the norm or might not have the confidence to start off solo immediately. Tour operator The Muslim Women’s Travel Group offers exciting trips while also making sure religious needs don’t have to be cast aside. Founder Sadia Ramzan says she wants to “enable women to explore the world safely [while] respecting their beliefs and values.”

Later this year The Muslim Women’s Travel Group will head to Japan, where temples, a kimono-dressing and dance experience, and a tea ceremony are on the itinerary. Another trip planner, Sisters Getaway, offers retreats complete with yoga and creative writing sessions that are interspersed with excursions. Muslim hiking and adventure group The Wanderlust Women’s summer 2024 Pakistan trip will include seeing the Batura Glacier and a community day in the mountains. In Uzbekistan later this year, tour operator Halal Travel Guide has programmed activities including Islamic calligraphy and walking tours.

Sisters Getaway founder Abdiya Meddings
Sisters Getaway founder Abdiya Meddings
Sara Garcia Sarigraphy

Regardless of what the itinerary may have in store, travelers pause what they’re doing five times a day so whoever wants to can pray. They don’t have to worry about accidentally eating non-halal food, either, or navigating experiences centered around alcohol. Still, these trips are not “religious retreats,” says Sisters Getaway founder Abdiya Meddings, although religion does permeate the ethos these companies operate by. Halal Travel Guide founder Soumaya T. Hamdi uses the term “halal tourism” to describe what her company does—halal refers to the food Muslims can eat, but is widely used as an adjective to mean “permissible” when it comes to Islam.

Hamdi says the culture of halal is “also about being fair, conducting business in a way that is responsible, that takes into account the local people, the local destination, and the impact that our visits have on the destination.” Principles that should be applied to all scopes of travel. Ramzan is also focused on responsible tourism, and likes to use women-owned companies and women guides where possible, supporting women like her who have set up their own businesses.

Most of these groups attract travelers based in the UK, North America and Europe, with a small number of customers coming from further afield, including the Middle East and even Australia. But core to all of them is enabling travelers to feel connected to each other, the places they visit, and even their own histories. Depending on the destination, Halal Travel Guide also helps travelers learn stories about their Islamic heritage. “We connect people with their Islamic heritage because a lot of us are very disconnected from our stories,” says Hamdi. “What shapes your identity more than the stories that you listen to?” Folk tales and history are not easily found in books published in the West, TV shows that are aired, or even in school curriculums.

“We've been working really hard to share these stories about figures from Islamic history, about countries that have fantastic Islamic heritage,” says Hamdi. During Halal Travel Guide’s Jordan trip, for example, the itinerary includes a day at Al-Salt outside of Amman, an ancient city where a number of Islamic prophets are believed to have once lived, worked, or passed away; the day trip includes visiting burial grounds and hearing more about the lives and stories of these prophets.

In other cases, the focus on fostering community stems from the companies’ origin stories: Sisters Getaway started life with Meddings wondering how other Muslim women found people they related to, particularly if they recently converted to Islam and felt they didn’t fit into already established Muslim spaces like mosques. The Muslim Women’s Travel Group began on Facebook when Ramzan had questions about traveling alone after years of doing so with her five sisters, and didn’t find the community she was looking for.

Meddings’ first Granada retreat sold out in three days and 27 retreats later, the company is her full-time job. A big part of its success, she says, is that it appeals to “a lot of women who find themselves at a time in their lives where their friends are in completely different stages and they [are] alone for various reasons. Making friends in your twenties, thirties, forties, sixties, [is] not as easy as at school or university.”

Hamdi, meanwhile, says Halal Travel Guide attracts a lot of people in their 30s who are unmarried, don’t have children, and are “very successful, have money to spend, and want to invest in themselves by meeting new people, going on unforgettable trips, and sharing those trips with other people.”

The five-time surf champion founded Tamraght's Dihya Surf School to get more women riding the waves.

Of course, all the women that go on these trips carry stories back with them, as well as friendships. Ramzan, Meddings and Hamdi have all had women bonding on their trips and going on to book vacations of their own together—or returning to their companies as a group.

But it’s the diversity of women the companies host that allows travelers to feel welcome, whatever their background. Attendees of Meddings’ retreats have included three generations of women from the same family, a widow who hadn’t traveled since her husband had passed away, and non-Muslim women who are simply searching for a women-only space in which to relax. The Muslim Women’s Travel Group’s oldest guest was 74, and the group has had “the burkini babes laying next to the bikini babes” on its trips, says Ramzan.

For Muslim women, being accepted for who they are, with no expectations and no stereotypes, is freeing. Says Meddings: “Everyone can come exactly how they are. Hijab, no hijab, praying, not praying, it doesn’t matter [to] us. Everybody is welcome. And I feel like that really speaks to a lot of people.”

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler