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6 Dec 2022

Wanderlust Women: Rethinking the Outdoors for Muslim Women

Wanderlust Women: Rethinking the Outdoors for Muslim Women

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Invitation
Zahra Onsori is the editor of The Invitation Magazine. She is an Indian Iranian creative who loves learning. Her particular areas of interest are culture & identity. Outside of researching, writing and collating stories together, she’s an avid reader and traveller.

Wanderlust Women: Rethinking the Outdoors for Muslim Women

Accessing the outdoors can be filled with barriers for people that lay outside of hegemonic norms, particularly Muslim Women. With 82.9% of people living in cityscapes, you may find your daily outdoor activity to start and end at your local park. This may not be due to a lack of wanting to explore green spaces, but rather a deficit of knowledge, guidance and time.

According to the 2011 census, people of colour were more likely to live in urbanised cities, and less likely to live in more rural landscapes in the UK. Slowly, the British countryside has become an unknown place for Brown, Black and Asian communities.

The pandemic was a turning point for many, with the likes of other organisations such as Muslim Hikers and Black Girls Hike bringing their inclusive vision of the outdoors to life.

Luckily, we’re living in an age where more people are working towards bridging the gap between green spaces and accessibility outside of your typical countryside walking groups. Conversations and initiatives are being launched to help people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and disabilities enjoy the outdoors and overcome barriers.

Amira is just one of these pioneers helping make the outdoors more accessible to Muslim women. Starting out as a platform to show her local community the outdoors during lockdown, she has grown her passions from an idea into a reality. She now runs excursions all around the country, such as wild swimming, dirt biking, climbing, and has begun launching retreats outside of the UK.

She talks us through the motivations behind Wanderlust Women.

Growing up, I was introduced to the outdoors through my Mum. We did a lot of travelling and she ran all these hiking trips which I joined. Then I started my own journey through backpacking, and I really enjoyed it.

“I did a lot of hikes and spent a lot of time travelling, but no one in my friendship circle was interested in doing stuff like that. I got married and went through a divorce, which is when I found the outdoors to be a healing space for me. I started walking and got back out, because for the time that I was married I didn’t do anything, I lost myself as a person.

I had this idea that I wanted to create something, but it was just an idea. I wanted to make space for Muslim women to come together when they’re going through things, where they could talk and be in a safe space. But life is busy and you don’t really have time to do anything extra. I just started telling people in my local community that I was going for a walk and if anyone wanted to come, they could.

I had so many people come to me asking ‘How’d you do it in a niqab? How do you do this? How do you do that?’ I didn’t know what I was doing, I just knew that I had this vision. From that, everything followed.

It’s been a full year since we’ve actually run and we’ve done loads of different things. I then left my job, I started doing the Wanderlust Women full time, I’ve become an outdoor leader now and I’m currently getting my qualification to become a mountain leader.

Sometimes you don’t realise how much your ideas have a ripple effect.

Many women come for a hike, but leave with something else more than that, whether that was a spiritual connection, or just getting advice. We’ve become a community where we help women, single moms, divorced women, women who’ve gone through abuse, trauma.

“When I got divorced five years ago, I was quite young, I didn’t really have a community to go to and seek advice. Now Allah has sent me all these women that I can help.

What I’ve realised is this is more than just a walking group. It’s it’s like a sisterhood. It’s a tribe where women have come together, seeking friendships and meaningful connections.

People come here needing a little nudge and once some of the women get started it’s just amazing.

“When I take a step back and see how Wanderlust Women has progressed it’s emotional and beautiful to see. From my point of view, it’s like a personal journey as well, because I know what a lot of these women have gone through, and I know the journey that they’re on, because that was a journey that I was on a few years ago, and I’m still on that journey.

It just shows how important it is to have the sisterhood, especially within our community.

Jzkl so much for starting up the Wanderlust Women Group. I love the outdoors but didn’t have the confidence to step out of my comfort zone alone – this is just perfect. Yesterdays walk was by far a brilliant experience as I’ve never done anything like it and having had time to reflect I know this journey is just the beginning of something beautiful with amazing likeminded ladies. The world is our oyster.

Naffisa – Wanderlust testimonial

Recently, we were the first Muslim Women group from the UK to summit the highest mountain in North Africa, which is one of our biggest achievements this year. It’s about slowly taking that next step to get more women out there and just change the way that adventure is seen.”

What kind of things are you looking forward to in the future?

“Inshallah to have more role models and women who can start leading the way. I want to see a change in how Muslim women are represented and how we’re perceived within our own community. The main thing is always connecting to our faith in whatever we do.

“I think it’s just important for women, Muslim or non Muslim, to realise that they’re more than just a mother, a wife or daughter and to not give up on themselves, because that’s what we usually do. There’s a whole world out there. All it takes is that first step.

How has Wanderlust brought you closer to Allah?

“I feel like my connection with deen and spirituality has become a lot stronger whilst being in spaces like this, because it’s just you, nature and Allah. What more do you need?

“Whether you’re religious or not, if you’re on a mountain looking at how the rocks are formed, how the trees are blowing, you can’t help but think Subhanallah. At that moment you feel so small in this huge space that you’re in, because how can you not see something like that and be grateful for the beauty that you see?

“Everyone’s journey is different and everyone connects with their deen differently. But being in spaces like this, you have a deeper connection to God and your spiritual side really awakens because you’re being mindful, you’re able to ground yourself, you understand the meaning of life, gratitude and simplicity.

“When we went to Toubkal, North Africa, we went back to spend Eid with the orphans in the village. You see their way of living and it takes you back to the time of the prophets and the Sahaba, and how they used to live. We have everything so easy, it puts everything into perspective.

“Just going outside and meditating and just sitting and remembering Allah gives you that peace and contentment that you’re looking for. You’re in these spaces where you’re literally walking through the verses of the Quran.

“Scientifically they say it’s important to be mindful, to go out to switch your brain off and to connect with yourself. These are all things that were already ingrained in our deen and Islam. Our Prophets used to get away and go to the mountains to meditate away from the world and connect with Allah.

“By going outside and doing this in our lives we’re doing an act of worship. Every single plant that’s listening to you will intercede for you. It’s such a beautiful way of getting so many rewards, but at the same time, you’re looking after your physical strength, your mental health, and then also your spirituality.”

If you’re interested in partaking in any of Amira’s events and want to join the Wanderlust family, click here to find out more.

*Interview has been edited for clarity.*

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