The Travelling Hijabi; Turkey

Turkey hadn’t really been on my list of places I wanted to go. There was a whole bunch of other places I had dreamed of exploring far before Turkey. I guess that comes from the little interest I have in exploring much of Europe. I’ve always been more interested in countries like India, anywhere in Asia, South America and the Caribbean. The only places in Europe that struck me as great travel destinations where Italy, Spain and Greece. That was then. Now, after spending 2 weeks in Istanbul I realize Turkey is where I belong. I left my heart there somewhere between Sultanahmet Square and Taksim Square.

What happened so that we would end up in Istanbul if it wasn’t one of the places I was dying to visit? The revolution in Egypt happened. In 2013, we were supposed to take our newly born daughter to Egypt to meet her relatives. The political unrest made me uncomfortable to go to a place I considered my second home. I had spent a month of my life every year since I was born there and now 27 years later I felt unsafe to step foot into my own country. Had it been just my husband and I, we would have gone. No problem. But the presence of a baby changed everything. Our compromise with my in-laws was to meet them in a neighboring country. We choose Turkey for its location and my in-laws had been there before and loved it. I had no doubt this was a great choice. It wasn’t. It was the BEST choice. It did not take long for me to fall head over heels in love with Istanbul. Instantly I told my husband I wanted to live there.

Turkey (Istanbul, as spent the whole time there) is so rich in culture and tradition. They do not speak much English. Although it makes getting around harder, I can respect their desire to keep their language untouched. God forbid you ask them a question in Arabic! They ARE NOT ARABS! I love this pride they have. I think it is deep in their blood from the time of the Ottoman Empire, Sultans and Sultanas.

You may not know this about me but both my maternal and paternal great-grandmothers were Turkish. I think they could sense it while I was there because everyone would speak to me in Turkish. I guess it doesn’t help that I look a bit Turkish and when I tie my hijab Turkish style (well because you just have to when in Turkey) I am a local.

Can we just talk about Turkish people and how they dress for a moment?! They are some of the classiest, most chic, beautiful people I have ever seen in my life. Everyone always looks put together. Hijabs are on point! The way they dress is the perfect fusion of fashion and faith. With Istanbul being half in Europe and half in Asia it is an amazing balance of East and West, Modern and Tradition. Their unique style makes them stand out. It’s so fabulous!

I think the thing that struck me the most while being in Istanbul was how safe I felt. I’ve never in my life felt so safe. I felt incredibly safe as a foreigner. We walked at night in the streets and never did we fear anything. I felt so safe as a women. There was no peering or cat calling or stares like I had experienced in other Eastern countries. And of course I felt so safe as a Muslim. Turkey is made for everyone but mostly Muslims. Everything about it screams Islam. When we talk about Islam as a Deen (way of life), you can see that in Istanbul. There are Mosques on every corner. The mosques are not ordinary mosques. They are beautifully decorated. Like they want to make a statement. Wearing hijab is the norm but at the same time, those who do not wear hijab are not looked down upon or viewed as immodest. Simple respect for every person’s journey. The food is halal and so much more. It’s simply who they are. They are kind, friendly, conscientious and respectful people.

I definitely left my heart in Istanbul and I look forward to returning soon.

Have any of you been to Istanbul? How was your experience? I love to hear your stories.