For as long as I can remember, my identity as a Black woman, a Muslim, and a Muslim woman has come with labels of caution. These labels were about how I would be regarded in the world, and in most cases, it was negative. However, I decided to push past these labels and search for a place where I could live without fear. I started my journey with a one-way ticket to Cairo, Egypt, in 2015.
As a Black Muslim woman, I was tired of the narratives around my identity in the US. I stepped into the mindset that the world was just going to deal with it and accept me as I was. Unfortunately, colorism, misogynoir, and sexism are still prevalent in cultures and societies globally. But I believed that embracing new experiences would allow me to overcome these challenges.
My travels took me to China, where many people have spoken about feeling like sideshows because locals would take pictures of them or even try to touch them. Some questioned how I could travel to China, knowing about the human rights crimes against Uyghur Muslims. But I knew that every individual’s experience is unique, and a culture is never painted with one brush.
My time in China taught me that unfamiliar cultural elements don’t make them wrong. When people reached out to touch me or wanted an unwarranted photo, I chose to educate them about my culture and the importance of permission and boundaries. I found that some actions or attitudes that seemed mocking were actually admiration and wonder. I could be OK with that, allowing myself and others to be more compassionate and understanding.
China has one of the oldest Islamic histories in the world and around 20 million Muslims currently live there. My experiences at masjids and halal restaurants across the country made me feel connected through a thread of humanity. I knew that whatever experience these people had with me, they’d tell someone about it and probably dispel a myth, similar to the myth I am dispelling in my writing: that a woman like me can’t successfully travel across the world and find peace.
During my travels, a group of high school students in Cairo asked me about coming there alone. They were surprised that I left with no family or male relatives. I explained to them that in life, it’s essential to identify who you want to be in the world and take every step toward that. My greatest goal was to live without fear and be a strong representation for women like myself.
Regarding my personal safety, I have consistent habits and behaviors. I don’t venture off too far from where I’m staying at night, and I make sure to be where I need to be by the time the sun goes down. I plan my journeys ahead of time and never geotag my location in real time on social media. I don’t stay in the same accommodations for more than 72 hours to avoid becoming an easy target.
Throughout my travels, I have realized that my trepidation doesn’t exist because I allow people to get up close and ask uncomfortable questions. I offer insight into who I am and the intersections I present to the world. The concept of people “fearing what they don’t understand” is real. So, I lean into learning and teaching because once people know, they have a responsibility to do better and expect better from the people around them.
My journey has shown me that there is a place for me in this world, despite the challenges that come with my identity. By embracing my identity and engaging with others, I have been able to find solace and connection in the most unexpected places.