Interview with Glory Ali from Muslim Travel Rocks!
Happy New Year, lovelies!
Thank you to my wonderful readers and collaborators who helped make 2017 one of the most amazing years yet! I’ve met some incredible women from all over the world with the same passion for adventure and desire for body acceptance as I have, which is why I started Travel with Curves in the first place. The plus-size travel community is growing at a breakneck pace, and I couldn’t be happier to be along for the ride!
That’s why I’m beyond thrilled to feature one of my favorite influencers as my first interviewee for 2018! Glory Ali from Muslim Travel Rocks has been motivating Muslim families to explore the world one halal-friendly destination at a time. I’ve always looked forward to her Instagram posts because she offers a unique perspective on travel challenges, and she’s simply an amazing human being.
Thanks again, Glory! I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store for you!
Muslim Travel Rocks has become a leading source for Muslim travelers seeking information on Halal-friendly destinations. What inspired you to create the blog and become such a prominent figure in the Muslim travel community?
I started Muslim Travel Rocks to encourage and motivate Muslims to explore the world by connecting them to Muslim Friendly Destinations. As Muslims we have faith-based needs that need to be met while we travel and still follow our faith, which sometimes is challenging.
I wanted to create a website where Muslims can get information on where they can eat, pray and enjoy Muslim Friendly activities at a destination. I want them to know that it’s possible to show up at a non-Muslim destination and be greeted with Muslim-friendly services.
During the 2016 Presidential Election and all the turmoil our country has been faced with, specifically with Islamaphobia, I realized that I wanted to combat Islamaphobia through travel and, at the same time, tackle the misconceptions that America is not a Muslim-friendly destination.
Many travelers overseas are discouraged from traveling to America, as the media does not portray America as a welcoming destination. This cannot be further from the truth. America is a diverse and accepting country, and I want people to know this. I’m on a mission to combat Islamaphobia through travel.
Have you personally struggled with body image issues while traveling and, if so, how have you overcome them?
This is a great question. As a size 14 (and former size 24) I struggled with my body image most of my life. Besides the usual worrying if the seat belt on the airplane will buckle up, I struggled with my inner voice that constantly reminded me that I’m too big to ride a horse or too fat to put on a wetsuit to go scuba diving.
Ever since I can remember I have had the travel bug and I missed out on partaking on many activities due to that stupid inner voice that had nothing better to do than make me feel "less than." It got so bad that I eventually ended up having gastric bypass. Sure, I lost a ton of weight, but what I realized was that only my appearance changed. After wasting a bunch of years struggling with being FAT, I’ve come to embrace it. I’m fat and I like it!!!
Before I book any activity, I do ask if there is a weight restriction, and if I can’t participate I find something else to do or see. I don’t pretend I’m thinner as the restrictions are for safety reasons and I no longer beat myself up over it.
This past January, I gathered enough courage to put on a snow suit and go skiing for the first time in my life, and you know what? It was the best feeling ever. I didn’t worry about how I looked or if people would stare. I was finally doing the things that make me happy. No more passing up opportunities or sitting on the side line watching others do what I yearn to do. [Much of this is] thanks to my husband, who always encourages me to get out of my comfort zone and do things that make me happy. Next summer I’ll be jumping out of a plane and documenting my jump in hopes to encourage people like myself who allow fear and their inner voice to hold us back.
Do you encounter Islamophobia on your travels? How have you challenged this kind of prejudice and what would you say to other Muslim women who may avoid traveling for this reason?
Thankfully I have been blessed and have not encounter any Islamophobia, and pray that I never will. I can tell you that the part I dread the most is going through TSA security as my hijab (Islamic headscarf) always attracts the eyes of the crowd waiting to go through security. Sadly, my anxiety starts to kick in a day or two before going to the airport. Knowing that all eyes will be on me as I stand in line waiting to go through TSA security really does a number on me.
Fortunately, the only inconvenience I have encountered at an airport checkpoint is being patted down every single time. I am all for security, but is it not enough that as Muslims we get selected to go through the body scanner then have to be asked to step aside [to be] patted down. I mean, you can see everything through those scanners, and I mean everything. It’s humiliating to be patted down when all eyes are on you.
Thankfully, I have not been pulled aside for further questioning as other Muslims have. Unfortunately, Muslims are being profiled more today than in the past thanks to Mr. Trump. So, don’t get offended if you get singled out, especially if you look Muslim. Give yourself extra time to go through security and opt for a pat down instead of going through the body scanner.
To the onlookers: a kind word or just a simple smile goes a long way.
Which destination has impacted you the most as a traveler and why?
I’d have to say Malaysia, but not for the reason that typical travelers would expect. I was super excited to be traveling to a Muslim country and couldn’t wait to meet other Muslims. Well, it definitely was not what I was expecting.
Being a typical tourist, I would say hello, “assalamu alaikum,” and smile as people walked by. Much to my surprise, I was not given the same treatment. Muslims would not return my greeting and I was getting stares. I’d hold the door open for someone to walk through and didn’t even get a thank you. After a couple of days, I asked my husband if I was doing something wrong that I had not been aware of. He was buzzed too so he asked a friend who lived in Malaysia. His friend said that most people there do not talk to strangers on the street. I immediately said, “but this is a Muslim country. Back home we greet each other even though we don’t know who you are. We are bonded by the religion.” He replied by saying, “That’s not the norm in Malaysia.”
I’ve been to Malaysia twice and expect to go back again as we really like the country, however I am no longer being overly friendly, though I can’t help but smile. It’s in my nature. This experience taught me to research customs in the countries I am visiting since what is acceptable in our culture may not be for another.
What’s going on in your life right now? Any side projects or upcoming travel plans?
I’m currently working on educating the travel industry on Muslim Tourism Awareness. Tourism is a major economic driver for many destinations across the globe. Muslim-friendly travel is growing at a rapid speed and, based on the Global Muslim Travel Index presented by MasterCard Cresent Rating, by 2020 there will be 156 million Muslim Travelers spending $220 Billion dollars. With this growth comes an increase in demand for products and services that cater to the Muslim Travelers. This untapped Muslim Travel Market has great potential for industry players with a wealth of business opportunities and revenue stream.
I have an upcoming webinar on “How to Attract Muslim Travelers and Generate Revenue.” I have also started working with clients in my 1:1 Coaching in helping them create Muslim-friendly tours as well as consulting with various travel industries on how they can generate revenue by attracting Muslim Travelers to their brand. I’m super excited to have been invited to speaking at the Women In Travel Summit 2018, which will be held in Quebec City, Canada.
This year will be filled with some exciting travel destinations. Follow my social media accounts as I travel to some really cool places, and don’t miss my sky diving adventure this summer!