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9 min.

Islam has always interested me, the religion, and the culture and traditions of the people of this faith and consequently their art, architecture, and most recently, music. An interest born with novels read as a little girl and naturally grown in my Parisian years with new Syrians, Iranians, and North Africans friends and sadly with wars and terrorism constant news.

For years I dreamed about traveling to Islamic Countries, so close and so different from us and between them. I dream of getting to know and better understand all these cultures by the amusing and elusive nuances at the same time. For this, I started following Angela Corrias, an Italian journalist and blogger who found inspiration, friendship, and love between Iran and Afghanistan. Angela is one of the few people who can tell the Islamic countries’ complexity with transparency and empathy. I have not been able to withstand the temptation to ask her some direct questions that I hope you will find interesting.

Traveling to Islamic countries with Angela

Where does your passion for traveling come from?

I’ve always traveled since I was a kid because my parents always liked to travel and always did it with my sister and me, to any destination. I guess my passion for journalism and news-hunting as a freelance was born during those family trips.

And your passion for Islamic Countries and people?

They’re proud of their own traditions in a special way, a pride we are slowly losing. Not all Islamic Countries are the same though, for instance, I’ve never been a great admirer of Dubai, just because it lost its authenticity in the name of luxury and wealth.

Among the Islamic Countries that most impressed me there’s Lebanon, full of contrasts and problems, Iran, as you might guess given my long-distance travels and my entirely Islamic Republic dedicated website, and now Afghanistan, especially after my marriage to an Afghan citizen my three months turbulent and quite worrying stay there.

What was your first impression of Islamic Countries?

There are so many things that can be said of a Muslim Country, from the minarets of the mosques that immediately fill the sight to the muezzin’s call to prayer. Above all, I immediately realized that there are so many social layers and cultural issues that come out gradually under the veil of explanations of tourist guides and brochures. They have very complicated societies; their customs and habits are carried on for centuries, and they continue to live through the population that handles them, sometimes unknowingly.

What do you like most?

I am always drawn to challenges, and in these countries, I see challenges everywhere. These are the not mentioned things… the fascinating aspects of these cultures on their own are the silent traditions that no one explains to you and that you have to find out. And then, of course, their millennial history, full of conquests, always turbulent, and their ancient wisdom continues to come out in daily life. In Iran, you can see many remains of the past centuries, including in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, as opposed to the fact that in forty years of war and terrorism, much has been destroyed or is currently in the hands of the army or closed to the public.

Something you don’t like about Muslim Countries?

Obviously, there are also aspects I do not share, the position of women, for example. Not all Islamic Countries follow the same rules; for example, the condition of women in Iran can not even be compared to that in Afghanistan, where segregation and disparity reach unbearable levels when they do not degenerate in extreme violence like stoning as “condemnation” in tribal environments often governed by Taliban groups. Unfortunately, extreme cases occur with a worrying frequency. In Iran, the disparity is more at a legal level, but in society, women normally live, study, work, travel, live alone, and go out with friends.

How to approach Islamic Countries for the first time?

Mental opening and patience. In these countries, the conception of time is different from ours; they rarely get in a hurry, so let’s not pretend it. This, of course, can be better understood if we live there, more than if we only go on vacation. Another thing to keep in mind in an Islamic Country is that miniskirts, dresses, and super neckties are not very appreciated, so it’s always advisable to dress modestly. In Iran, veils and modest clothing are imposed by law, but I also recommend them in other countries. Obviously, do not wear a veil when not imposed, but avoid looking like an arrogant tourist to whom everything is due..  do your best to respect the traditions and feelings of the locals.

Are there important differences between countries in terms of the first approach?

More than differences, I would see similarities. These countries, in general, are proud of their own traditions and ways of living, and even those who complain about them don’t like to see their traditions derided by foreign people. So, again, respect the culture you find, and you’ll be easily accepted.

How is your relationship with the men and women you met and that you continue to meet even now in Afghanistan?

Even in one country, my behavior changes according to the people I interact with. In Afghanistan, for example, on certain occasions, I do the “Afghan wife” (do not laugh!), So I’m “in my place” near my husband, he talks to him, and I nod. We usually know the kind of people we have to meet, so we know from the beginning how to behave. This is more if we are with only men, while if we are with mixed groups or with only women, it’s all very noisy with endless chatter and questions, with the inevitable request to add us on Facebook!

If we do not know the people around us when we are entering a house, my husband announces himself for women in the house to get covered. I do not need to announce when I go to someone, but I have to cover up if someone comes to see us, especially if they are not family members. When we are with a close family, usually my husband’s brothers, I was able to close the veil slowly, but, for example, the wife of one of the brothers never pulled the veil in front of my husband or other family members. Even with my closest friends (those less conservative), I’m baptized, and they accept it more because they know it’s not my culture. However, with the widest family, I keep the veil, whether they come and see us or when we visit them. Even these customs are all to be learned gradually, not without some embarrassment of course, because they rarely explain it to you, so you’re the one who has to learn it and memorize it!

Are there countries you visited and that you do not recommend to women traveling alone?

Afghanistan! Women going there are usually traveling with a working team and are not moving around on tourism tours. There are very few tourists in Afghanistan, but if a woman wants to go there, better not by herself and due attitudes. A woman is seen in the background with respect to a man, and a foreign woman is more exposed to the risks of kidnapping, harassment, and robbery.

However, I heartily recommend Iran, very safe and at the moment full of tourists. Despite everything, I still recommend a modest dress, always a well-set veil, and maybe avoid going out alone in the evening as I read of some tourists who were molested, mostly verbally while walking alone. This happens all over, but it might be worse when we’re away from home.

Any stage, activity, or visit you recommend?

It depends on the countries; in Afghanistan, I recommend the unmanaged Taliban seats!

Seriously, every nation has its artistic, historical, and natural heritage; I usually try to see the main attractions depending on the time I have. I also love walking around people and never failing to visit the markets where they spend their money; they always reveal a great deal about local culture and society, cooking, ingredients used, and how they contract and interact in everyday life.

Let’s put Islamic Countries away for a moment. What past journeys did you enjoy the most and why?

A country I always remember with pleasure is China. I’ve been there for a year, and it was one of the best experiences I had abroad. Organized and efficient, I remember that even at the beginning, when I couldn’t speak a Chinese word, I managed to settle on my own in a flat thanks to their perfect organization. Chinese people are very sociable. As soon as I could say a few words in Mandarin, they opened up even more, appreciating that I made an effort to enter their culture, not a negligible effort given the difficulty of the language!

Last question: your next trip?

We will be back in Italy and perhaps plan some European trips, but we are already thinking about the next trip to Afghanistan to visit the family and keep visiting the country. From Herat, normally our base, we will also jump to Iran as the border is about one hour’s drive.

Is there something I did not ask you and you wish to share?

It is never enough when traveling, but these countries require more research than others. Passing by quickly and talking to maybe ten people who list in the five minutes the good and bad things of the place is not enough to understand such complicated societies. Also, because almost all of them, at certain times in their history, more or less recently has been a theater of wars and occupations.

For example, Afghanistan is fashionable, and occasionally I read posts of casual bloggers that went there totally irresponsibly and equally irresponsibly advise their readers to go because they are safe enough and people are sociable. This results from not being able to travel and especially not knowing how to do research and inform other people. I’m not talking about mainstream media, which are much more cautious in these cases, but bloggers who still have their own audience are sometimes even an important one.

Far from me saying that I have the keys to understand everything happening in the Middle East and Central Asia: these are complicated destinations and require patience, time, and dedication, even to win people’s trust.

Well, thank you, Angela. Thank you so much.

For more information and tips, I would, of course, recommend reading Angela’s blog. As always, I recommend you consult your official Foreign Minister’s website and track your travels on the official dedicated site of your country!

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Silvia's Trips

Hi there! My name is Silvia and after 15 years between the Paris Opera and the Palau de les Arts in Valencia I now run a boutique hotel in Cinque Terre, deal with tourism management and blogging, sail, horse-ride, play guitar and write about my solo trips around the world. For more info about me and my travel blog check my full bio.