Based in Singapore and a former preschool teacher, Asha started her community business Asha & Co which champions mental wellness in a healthy setting and supports women who are recovering from mental illness, trauma or loss. In our series of interviews, Asha shares with CrescentRating her experiences as a Muslim woman traveler.
CrescentRating: What are the challenges you faced as a Muslim woman traveler?
Asha: In my travels, I have not been treated differently by the locals but I have received verbal abuse from other tourists, specifically Islamophobic remarks. Another challenge is having to deal with judgmental looks from not just non-Muslims but Muslims too. I love to go diving and as you know, wetsuits are fitted. It is supposed to be that way as you will be diving deep into the sea. I have gotten disapproving looks from other Muslims at my choice of attire.
CrescentRating: Your company started offering all-women retreats. What made you start?
Asha: Travel is one of our newest mediums to practice mental wellness and our first all-female retreat was to Vietnam. I wanted it to be meaningful and not solely on sightseeing, so we partnered with a non-profit organization for women to provide cultural immersion activities. The Vietnamese women have their own cultural challenges and went through human trafficking, sexual and/or physical abuse. You can say that the retreat was more of an exchange program.
CrescentRating: Do you think you are different from non-Muslim women travelers in terms of the services you seek?
Asha: We all travel for different reasons. The same goes for two Muslim women in hijab - they might be traveling for different purposes. What makes me different from non-
Muslim females is that I must make some adjustments to manage my religious requirements. Halal food is very important to me, but I am quite flexible too. If there is no halal food, I will look for vegetarian or something that is easy to eat. But I do know some who may be uncomfortable with these options.
CrescentRating: Do you think businesses are doing a good job of catering to Muslim women?
Asha: Even if there is a gap, Muslim women usually can adapt. When I was in Maldives, I had to take my wudhu from the well (shared by both genders). There was no privacy for me to perform my wudhu without exposing my modesty. I guess you can say there is no consideration in making performing prayers easier for Muslim women. Personally, I do not demand for all-female amenities as it is not part of our lifestyle in Singapore. I do not mind going to a mixed-gender spa because usually you would be in a private area with a female staff, so your modesty is protected. But I do acknowledge there are women who want these facilities.