Formed 10 months ago, Muslim Hikers have gone from an Instagram page to being the biggest organisation active in bridging the gap between Muslims and the countryside.
Whilst they’ve not even celebrated their one year anniversary, the organisation has gone from strength to strength as they’ve filled a much-needed space for Muslims. They connect hundreds of like-minded people across the country via group hiking events, as well as being active in the media sphere to inspire other Muslims to visit green spaces.
I have had the pleasure of attending two organised hikes with Muslim Hikers, the first being Cadair Idris and the second being a trek up Snowdon. It was a great opportunity to get outdoors, meet new people and enjoy the countryside in a way I haven’t been able to for a long time.
Having grown up in a small town near the Peak District trips away to the country were something that was an integral part of my childhood and is something that I’m very grateful for. However, as I’ve grown older, I found it more challenging to escape to the country as my day to day life became confined to the cityscape. Despite my experiences in the country, getting outside was and still is a challenge, and this is not a stand-alone experience.
Atif, a member of the cycling group Brothers on Bikes (BoB), shares his perspective. “I never saw anyone like me when I was cycling. That’s why I enjoy cycling with BoB. You feel more comfortable and more accepted cycling with like-minded people. Instead of going to the pub for a pint after we go and eat, we stop to pray. It makes a difference.” You can read more of Atif’s story here.
In the British Muslim community, there is a lack of access to the Great British Outdoors. A large proportion of ethnic people do not have the means to access green spaces, which could be due to financial and class barriers, to name a few.
I caught up with Haroon Mota, CEO of Muslim Hikers and Active Inclusion, who spoke exclusively to The Invitation.
“I’ve been exploring the outdoors for nearly 20 years now. I’ve been an athlete since my early youth. I studied sport and exercise science at University, so health promotion is very important to me.
“What I found was in my early days adventuring, it was strange not bumping into people that looked like me.
“Why was that? I found it hard to comprehend back then I didn’t understand enough about the history of the outdoors and my own culture and why people weren’t going outdoors.“
“As Muslims, it’s important that we look after our health as our bodies are sacred. It belongs to Allah and it can disappear within an instance, so whilst we’re healthy, we should go out of our way to invest in our health. We invest so much in our material lives but not so much when it comes to our well-being.
“The South Asian community, in particular, suffer from the greatest health inequality, so it’s no surprise that our physical activity is low. The pandemic highlighted the importance of mental well-being, getting outside and exercising.
“It really emphasised the importance of visiting green spaces, not just here in national parks but even green spaces close to home.“
“What started in the pandemic as an Instagram page for an online community has flourished into a massive movement, and we can proudly say we’re the biggest organisation in the world for outdoor Muslim enthusiasts. The fact we’re here on Snowdon today with 200 people speaks for itself.
“There’s such a huge gap in the community. People want to be outside. People want to socialise and connect with like-minded people who have a passion for the great outdoors and Allah’s creation.
“We know under-representation exists. Events like these are meant to create confidence and awareness of the outdoors, empower people and that’s very much what Muslim hikers are about.“
Muslim Hikers was created to encourage more people to get outside and hike. It’s a group that celebrates & welcomes everyone, despite one’s ability level.
Organisations like Muslim Hikers are stirring something within the Muslim community, and we can see things are changing, albeit slowly, but we’re heading in the right direction. Other outdoor orientated groups such as Peaks of colour and Brothers on Bikes are also working towards bridging the gap of exclusivity between ethnic people and the countryside.
We’ve fought to make a place for ourselves in the city during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s when there was a mass influx of immigration to the UK. Now it’s time to extend that to the countryside.
Diversity has unconsciously been defined within inner-city walls, leaving us captive to ideological norms. Photographer Ingrid Pollard was one creative who highlighted this stark contrast between cityscapes and the country for ethnic people. In her photography project, Pastoral Interlude, she photographed black people in the country, which challenged people to think about the racialisation of Black Brits and how green spaces often lack people of colour.
Highlighting these underrepresented narratives, just as Pollard and Mota have done, is what will elevate and inspire our community to get outside and take up space.
“I used charity and fundraising as a vehicle to get people outdoors as part of my full-time profession. We’re having conversations in key places with brands and gov bodies, which will hopefully influence policy and create better change by understanding how best to cater to our needs.“
If you’re interested in joining Muslim Hikers at future events, you can do so here.