I wanted to write about our faith and reflect on our experience traveling as Muslims, especially in a time where religious tolerance seems non-existent and xenophobia running high.
It was amazing for us both to realize just how many Muslims dominate the world from South East Asia to Central Asia to Africa. When we had initially began our trip in Indonesia, we knew we would encounter Muslims but in the town of Cianjur, we had some very warm hospitality. The town of Cianjur is small, kind of place where everyone knows everyone, just a few tourist attraction, so when you show up you draw attention. We were staying with a local family, who lived close to a mosque, so Sabeen and I decided to start praying there while in town. I immediately drew attention when I walked in the mosque with looks and a few whispers. As the prayers ended, few elderly men came over, first hesitatingly then outright questions of where I was from. When they learned that I was from the US and a Muslim on top, they were shocked, had no idea that first Muslims in great numbers existed in America and that second having grown up in the US, I still continued to practice my faith.
Well, lucky for me because from them on, every time I would go to this mosque, some gentlemen or other, would invite me to their home for coffee and sweets. Sabeen would often wonder where I had disappeared only to hear laughter or talk from a neighbors house and see me walking down the street with a huge grin on my face.
These sorts of interactions pretty much continued through out our year long journey, where we would end up in a new town, have some curious bystanders come around inquire about us and as soon as they would learn of our faith we were friends. The best part was seeing mosques and hearing the call of the Azan and listening to the Friday sermon in different languages such as Khmer, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Bahasa, Arabic, and Turkish.
In Central Asia, we had great interactions with locals to dine and to sleep in their homes despite the language difficulties. In Turkey, we again stayed with a few families in Mardin and at other times had a few people befriend us to drive us around and take us to really cheesy tourist sites. I think we also drew attention due to our brown skin and many just hadn't seen people of our background traveling, which again made our travels that much more unique.
We both miss the hospitality of strangers and long to get back on the road.