By Ayisha Karim

I’m back again with another blog about my travel tips/stories as a Muslim woman travelling without a man. Travelling alone as a Muslim woman can be daunting. I always wonder what it’s going to be like at security by myself, will they treat me any differently? Will they ‘randomly’ search me? This time I was travelling with my 3-year-old daughter, so I had extra worries, such as how am I going to carry everything by myself and how do I help to prevent any tantrums during the airport waiting time?

I was travelling to Istanbul, Turkey so I knew that when I would arrive there, wearing hijab shouldn’t be an issue as it is common to wear it over there. However, I was worried about how pram-friendly it would be and how family-friendly it would be too. One thing I noticed, was that a lot of people do not speak English at all in Istanbul. This is on both the Asian and European side, which although I do understand it, I found that I was using google translate every single day there. I have travelled to Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong and very remote places and have found communicating there was actually easier than in Turkey! Even in the international Istanbul airport, staff did not really understand English very well so I would definitely recommend downloading google translate before travelling there.

Travelling with a 3-year-old

Birmingham airport have a children’s mini play area, where children can play while you wait until you need to go to your gate. This was really handy at keeping her busy- especially because I was 3 hours early. The queues were fine (we went mid-September 2022) so this wasn’t during half term. I checked in one suitcase as I didn’t want to carry too much luggage alone with no one to help. I also took a rucksack for myself on the plane with a spare change of clothes, medicines and essentials just in case we ended up missing our flight or if anything was to happen. I bought a cute penguin themed mini hand luggage for my child and got her excited about pushing it around. She was able to push around her essentials (which was just snacks, a blanket and an ipad), which meant I could have my hands free!

Security alone as a Muslim woman

My experience was interesting but not too bad. I was stopped at security in Birmingham airport -I had gone through the detectors and the alarm went off. I expected to be searched but at the time the security worker was having a chat with her colleague and didn’t realise it had gone off- and then told me it was a “random” search which was obviously not correct as the metal detector went off. This does lead me to think why they say “random” search. I felt like they thought it was probably due to my hijab that they’d randomly search me. I let it slide as I knew I had to get my 3-year-old searched and didn’t want to show I was annoyed in front of my child.

They originally wanted her to stand in a scanner which was actually too big for her to get onto the machine, so in the end they just manually checked her. They asked me to lift her as she was running around and it was hard to stop and search her. It just felt it was not child friendly at all and I would have thought by now there would be easier ways to search children in security. None the less, we were out of security and got through.

Travelling Around Istanbul without a Man

It felt very safe to get around Istanbul with just me and my daughter. We took the metro, boats, busses and nothing made me feel in danger about being a woman alone there. If anything, people were extra friendly with my 3-year-old and would be understanding if she was being loud or if we needed a seat.

Mosques in Turkey all have one main entrance - for both men and women. There are different sections for males and females once in the mosque, but over-all it felt a lot more welcoming than it does in the UK where we have awkward back entrances or no female entrances at all which lead a lot of Muslim men to not use their common sense and tell us we can’t pray there (I know - it’s ridiculous). I think we have a lot to learn about the respect we show to Muslim women. Mosques are welcoming for families and single women in Turkey. Mosques provide coverings for all tourists, male and female, so even if you are not Muslim you can go and visit such beautiful mosques. Again, we need to learn more from this in the UK.

Things To Do

These are the main things to see in Istanbul, along with Topkapi Palace, and other amazing things to do. There are amazing things to do outside of the European side, such as going to Uskudar on the Asian side for some shopping and beautiful water views or going to Princess Island and experiencing the Turkish islands in Istanbul. The blue mosque was under construction at the time so was not wheel chair or pram friendly. If you have elderly parents or very young children that can’t walk properly or climb stairs, it’s probably best to check before hand. Around that area, the roads are cobbled and very hilly so it is hard to walk uphill if you’re not regularly healthy.

The Grand Camlica is Turkey’s largest Mosque. It is based on the Asian side of Istanbul and is definitely worth a visit if you’re in Istanbul. It has gorgeous views of Istanbul, beautiful architecture, family friendly, and also has a museum to check out. After prayer, the main male section is open to everyone, so children were running around, tourists were taking pictures and it was a very female and child friendly environment in the Mosque. This is the case with most mosques in Turkey- again which we in the UK need to adapt to.

Flight Issues

I flew with Turkish airlines. Although they had a great entertainment system for children to keep busy, I had issues. They separated me and my 3-year-old from each other on the plane. She was sat on an aisle seat and I was sat across the aisle from her. When I tried to complain in the airport, due to lack of English, the lady at the counter said to “just swap with someone on the plane”. I felt very uncomfortable and I felt her attitude was rude so I couldn’t even discuss this further. No one on the plane wanted to swap which led to my 3-year-old being scared during take-off and landing.

There was even a time when she tried to undo her belt and I had to try and sort her from across the aisle during landing! Feeding her was so difficult from across the aisle so the experience of taking care of her on the flight was not great. I think this is disgraceful that a child aged 3 years old was seated not with her own mother. I do not even blame the passengers for not wanting to swap their seats, I blame Turkish airlines for putting a 3-year-old child without their parent with them, and saying “just ask someone to swap”.

Having paid for our tickets, I should not have to pay more to ensure my child sits next to me, otherwise I feel that’s discriminatory towards all parents for having to pay more. I understand older children perhaps 8 and above who have an understanding of how to eat and have seat belts on could sit separately, but to separate a 3-year-old is ridiculous.

All In all, I had a great time. I would recommend if you have children that don’t need a pram to visit. It may be worth while waiting until they are old enough to walk everywhere just due to the cobbled streets and hilly walks. I really enjoyed my time there and it was very safe to get around as a Muslim woman alone.

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