Apr 1, 2024 7 min read

How to Travel as a Woman in a Muslim Country

If you're a woman and you're thinking of traveling to a Muslim country like Egypt, Morocco, Malaysia, or even Iran and are worried about it, then this article will be more than suitable for you. Read it through to the end, and it will undoubtedly clarify things for you.

Woman travel in muslim country

No matter where you wish to go, the situation is quite similar, with laws being more or less strict. I must mention that although the Quran (the holy book of Muslims) supports gender equality, Sharia (Islamic law) defines the rights and obligations of women differently from men.

It is unusual in a Muslim country for a woman to travel alone, so you will need to carefully research the customs and rules of the country you intend to visit.

No matter where you want to go, you must understand and take into account that you will encounter a completely different culture, people educated differently, and being a white woman, you will attract the stares of many and you do not want to deal with insistent stares, whistling, or even touching.

To feel safe and avoid certain unpleasant situations, here are some tips you might consider if you're planning a vacation in a predominantly Muslim country:

  • Carefully analyze the country you are going to, to know what kind of dresses to pack in your luggage, so as not to offend the locals. People are easily paranoid, and the fact that you do not follow the rules can be taken as a personal insult. You wouldn't want someone yelling at you in the street, in a language you don't understand.

  • Always consider how you dress! Even if no one will comment on how you are dressed, it is better for you when you go out on the street to avoid deep necklines, skirts, and dresses shorter than the knee, tight pants. You will feel all eyes turned towards you. Many times I have had such experiences, which are not exactly easy to digest. If in general, we women like to be admired and for everyone to turn their heads after us, well... too much of it is detrimental. Many times, I did not dress quite appropriately when I went out on the street and felt malicious stares in my direction, whistling, or whispering.

  • Avoid walking alone at night or in areas not frequented by tourists. You will notice that in local markets, around mosques, or in shops where locals do their shopping, Muslim women covered up will give you malicious looks. But not only from women but also from men, especially the older ones.

  • Refuse any invitation to secluded places when you are alone. Try to seem unavailable, firmly refusing any kind of advances (there will be plenty!).

  • Do not show affection in public! Any form of affection is forbidden on the street, whether you are accompanied by your husband or not.

  • Nudism or toplessness are usually forbidden in Islamic countries, so be careful where you sunbathe, you wouldn't want to be reprimanded. Try to limit yourself to the beaches and pools within the resorts, which are meant for tourists, where the rules are more relaxed, or in areas specially designated for tourists. You will see how Muslim women go to the beach and swim in the sea/pool dressed in a special suit designed to cover their bodies.

  • You may not be allowed to enter all mosques, so it is good to inform yourself beforehand. You need to be dressed appropriately, or if not, usually, there is a booth at the entrance where you will be given a hijab to wear to visit the interior of the mosque. I can only say that I had such a strange sensation... something I wanted to get out of as soon as possible, I couldn't stand it anymore.

  • Do not smoke or consume alcohol in public! Avoid being the target of unexpected attacks, you wouldn't want to be scolded by the community! When I was a smoker, I often noticed disapproving whispers from the locals. When a friend entered the fish market with a beer in his hand, men began to yell at him, practically kicking him out of the market premises.

  • Avoid insistent eye contact with people, especially men, as this can be taken as a sexual advance, even if that is not your intention.

  • When traveling by public transport and you are unaccompanied, try to join a group of women; or avoid them!

When going out on the streets in Iran, all women are required to cover their entire body (not just the head) with a mantou, regardless of their religion; even as a tourist, you must comply with this rule.

Even if the scarf is more for show on the head, you are obliged to have one. Iran is a more conservative country, and you should expect stricter rules. Here, there is police patrolling the streets to see if you are dressed according to the regulations. In 2023, about 1.5 million women were fined for not wearing a hijab.

In Saudi Arabia, the most traditionalist among Arab countries, women are not allowed to drive a car, nor even to ride a bicycle; in buses, they have reserved seats at the back, separate from other travelers, and interaction with men is considered to lead to promiscuity and must be avoided at all costs.

Houses have two entrances, one for women, another for men. The segregation of the sexes is similar to that in South Africa, between whites and blacks. Until 2006, Saudi women did not even have identity documents: their existence was simply a note in their father's passport.

So if you're planning a trip to Saudi Arabia, consider the above advice if you don't want to deal with the Religious Police.

In countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, India, and the United Arab Emirates, the rules are not as strict, and you can dress however you like, but that does not mean you can walk down the street in a crop top and shorts, or with deep necklines.

Rules and Etiquette When Traveling in Egypt
As we well know, the majority of Egyptians are extremely religious people (about 90% of them are Muslims), and most women cover themselves from head to toe.

Every time I traveled to Egypt, I encountered such barriers. There were no moments when I felt in imminent danger, but I always felt stared at insistently, not only by women but especially by Muslim men, and not necessarily with admiration.

Even the children would look at me askance. There was a moment when I was truly scared for myself, when I went to visit the pyramids and had a conflict with the "camel owner".

When I was in Egypt in March, one evening, returning from a boat trip on the sea, we stopped at a restaurant, dressed only in shorts and a tank top, I saw how all the Muslim women looked at me with disdain, while the men ogled me. It's pleasant to be admired, but when it's too much...believe me, it's harmful! I simply felt exposed, embarrassed, bothered by everyone's stares.

If you are unaccompanied by a man and want to avoid indecent invitations from men and to show that you are not available, simply wear a wedding ring. This way they will see that you are married and will leave you alone.

You will find that Muslim men can be quite insistent and cheeky when they talk to you. Regardless of the topic, they will steer the conversation in an erotic direction. In a Muslim country, you will get so much attention from men... that when you return home to your daily routine, you might miss all those glances from those around you.

You have to understand the big difference between Islamic culture and European culture. The status of women in Islam is one of the most controversial and sensitive subjects.

We all know about the condition of women in Muslim society, that they have to marry the one chosen by their family, to give birth to many children and to be homemakers for life.

They are severely punished if they do not obey their husband, are humiliated in public in front of everyone if they err against society. Also, it is a supreme sin for a woman to have sexual relations with a man to whom she is not married.

Of course, it cannot be generalized; these rules and customs differ from one country to another, from one family to another, depending a lot on the man of the family's religiosity.

Women are considered much less intelligent than men, so do not be surprised at all when men do not take you seriously! You probably know the famous case of Malala, the story of the Pakistani girl who fought for education and was stabbed by the Taliban.

Or the more recent case of the young Pakistani star Qandeel Baloch who was killed by her brother apparently for reasons related to the "honor" of the family.

Maybe we often pity them, but most of them do nothing to change their condition. Sometimes, Muslim women are content to stay at home, and the husband brings everything necessary for her and the children's wellbeing.

In such a society, everything becomes habit and it is almost impossible for people to change their mentality. Once asking a local about Muslim women, he told me that usually, they are very mean, often taking revenge on their husbands, complaining to the imam – their spiritual father about any shortcomings or problems in the family.

It is a real problem for a husband not to be able to support his family, which is often large, to not be able to please his wife or wives in some cases.

In the end, wherever you go in the world, whether it's a Muslim country or not, you still have to comply with the local rules, and for a few days, you won't suffer anything if you dress appropriately enough, or wear something on your head, so as to avoid reprimands on vacation, when you're supposed to feel relaxed.

You shouldn't be afraid of these rules, just that you need to make an effort and respect their traditions.

Thank you for reading and make sure to subscribe. We're constantly exploring new destinations and share our stories, tips, and the beauty we discover along the way.

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