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The idea of being able to travel abroad is thrilling for me – there is a new culture to be immersed in, new people to meet, and new memories to be made. This excitement has been true for Vietnam, but so has been my worry about being Muslim abroad once again in a country or area that is not predominantly Muslim. Whether it be during college in Ann Arbor or across the world while studying in Tokyo, I’ve struggled with being able to do certain activities with the group because they don’t align with my religion and how I practice Islam. My main worries for this trip were not knowing to what extent I’d have to do things alone in Vietnam, if it would be safe going on my own, and if it would isolate me from my group.
Although I am always cognizant of my faith, there’s always an adjustment in finding my comfort level when places and people don’t share my religion or practice similarly – having to make time for daily prayers, being in alcohol-free environments, and striving to eat halal food when there isn’t much around. In the past, if I traveled with others I used to hesitate on whether I should speak up about my restrictions, which could possibly cause friction if it meant the group would have to change plans, or just go about dealing with it all silently, which could lead to some unwanted resentment within myself.
Being in Vietnam, I had to both step up and step back in terms of voicing what I needed. I can’t say that it hasn’t been frustrating at times, but the struggle has strengthened my resolve to both share with others about how I practice Islam and to be confident in venturing out on my own if that’s what’s best for me. Sharing with the group not only aided in helping those unfamiliar with Islam become more familiarized, but helped provide a support system for me if it was tough to find a place to eat or if there needed to be new venues or activities that were alcohol free. I’m not sure if the members of my group realized how appreciative I was of their accommodations because it was easy to follow just the needs of the majority. Sometimes though it was just easier if we did separate activities or ate at different places. Those moments strengthened my confidence to not compromise what’s important to me and to go exploring on my own (safely of course).
Regarding meals, although not always the case, but a lot of times there can be accommodations and substitutions made to the dish. Sure, the costs were a bit pricier to do so and I ate as if I was a pescatarian on this trip mostly, but I am grateful for all the delicacies and food that I was able to try. Traditional Vietnamese style fish is phenomenal! Aside from the food, my explorations lead me to the Musulman Mosque in Ho Chi Minh City and a few halal restaurants, only a seven-minute drive from where we stayed. On previous trips, I had to travel far to visit a mosque, but being able to see that the mosque was accessible and integrated within the city made me feel more welcomed. I even had the fortune to be able to share the extent of my knowledge about Islam to a local Vietnamese woman who, out of curiosity, happened to stop by the mosque for the first time that day. Even though Islam isn’t predominant in Vietnam, having one of my identities represented made me feel less invisible and more connected.