As a business traveler that travels frequently, sometimes, practicing Islam during business travels can appear to be challenging for the Muslim professional.
Modern-day business travel is harrying enough for professionals, especially IT executives. On a typical traveling day; running through an airport to catch a flight, work on an upcoming presentation/proposal on the flight, picking up some airport food upon landing, hurrying to catch a cab to the customer office, then lead hours of workshop with demanding customers, and then sometimes rush back to the airport to catch a flight to the next destination as well as having a growing backlog of emails (and/or SMS/voicemails) to read/listen and respond to, all these can be more demanding as Muslims professional we also have to worry about daily obligatory prayers on time, finding halal food at odd places like airports and address issues of Islamic cleanliness – in a predominantly non-Muslim majority society which does not attend to our religious values and needs. However, Allah (glorified and exalted be He) makes the way easy.
This article is a documented practical experiences, resources, and tips on observing the tenets of Islam during my extensive travels. I am hoping this will provide some practical guidance for other frequent travelers in non-Muslim majority countries. I will describe my experiences from the following principal perspectives – prayers, food, cleanliness, and behavior.
How to Keep up with the Daily Prayers (Salah): Let’s start with the most important topic of prayers (salah). Generally speaking, this is my top concern and priority during travel – how do I offer my obligatory prayers on time and not miss my prayers. There are several approaches I follow:
First, I observe the principle of qasr prayer (shortening and combining of prayers). This is major mercy from Allah to ease the traveler’s affairs. This provides me with a broader window of time to offer Dhuhr (noon) and Asr (afternoon) prayers together as well as Maghrib (sunset) and Isha (night), as opposed to being available for each during its time-slot. I typically plan my workday so that I free myself up once between Dhuhr and Maghrib (typically in the airport, or in the office, or sometimes on flights) and once after Maghrib (typically after work in my hotel). Fajr (dawn) prayer is rarely an issue since I can offer that in the hotel.
A couple of key points I’d like to include:
- Praying at airports: I often pray at airports – either during travel or transit. I always look up whether the airport has prayer facilities – like the airport chapel. Most of the airport chapels have prayer rugs, so you can use them. When praying at multi-faith airport facilities, please be respectful of others who may be there. I have never had any trouble praying at chapels at airports. Matter of fact, I have had people going out of their way to provide me more privacy and some even ask about my prayer and faith.
- Praying at work/office: Sometimes, we have day-long meetings at my employers or customer offices, which requires me to pray at work. Generally speaking, I can find an empty meeting room where I can pray during a break. Some offices (like those of my employer) have dedicated “Wellness Rooms” which offer additional privacy for prayers. In general, I have never had anybody object to my prayers.
- Prayer direction: Where applicable, I use mobile apps to correctly determine the Qibla direction. HalalTrip and Qibla Compass are both great apps for this.
- Praying inside the airplane: Occasionally, the only opportunity to offer prayer is during the flight. In such cases, I pray sitting on my seat, regardless of the direction of travel. To calculate the correct time of prayer while on a flight, I use the inflight prayer time calculator on halaltrip.com website.
- Duas/dhikr before Maghrib time: Even though I generally combine Maghrib and Isha prayers at a later time, I always make time for duas and dhikr just before Maghrib time.
- Dhikr during travels: Ironically, I have found that occasionally travel actually provides me some much needed “downtime” for greater remembrance of Allah (glorified and exalted be He). As we are all armed with connected mobile devices, we feel we can be productive every minute even while we are on the go. However, think of specific pockets of time during travel when it is difficult to get meaningful work done – for example, going through airport security checkpoints, boarding/disembarking a flight, the times during takeoff/landing when they ask you turn off laptops, rushing through a transit airport to catch a connection, etc. I find these (and other such occasions) great opportunities to do Dhikr rather than idly thumbing through my smartphone.
‘Ironically, I have found that occasionally travel actually provides me with some much needed “downtime” for greater remembrance of Allah (glorified and exalted be He).
How to Find Halal (Pure & Lawful) Food: Food is generally my second biggest concern during travel especially in places like airports or in the workplace. Typically I eat fish or vegetarian foods in such places, but such veggie/seafood may not necessarily be halal – they may contain alcohol or other meat by-products like chicken stock (you won’t believe how many so-called “veggie” products have chicken stock in them) or maybe contaminated by other haram (unpure/unlawful) food through use of common utensils.
When eating out, I always ask about ingredients in detail and do the best effort in due diligence, and leave the rest to Allah. It is generally difficult to find good fish (or seafood) in airports, where salads are the best option.
Use of public restrooms: We all know Islam emphasizes cleanliness. However, I often find private stalls in men’s restrooms – especially in airports – quite dirty. Using the toilet seat in a sitting position may in fact cause more uncleanliness (apart from the risk of infections) – use of porous toilet seat covers notwithstanding. In such circumstances, I found a ruling that says it is permissible to urinate while standing. I am not sure how women travelers deal with this issue.
Wudu (ablution): Similar issues are related to wudu where we have no choice but to perform them in public restrooms. Taking off shoes and socks in unclean restrooms is somewhat concerning, so I am careful to take off one shoe at a time so my feet do not touch the ground. I ignore the stares that I get sometimes. Our Imam says that we can also do masah over regular socks, which also is a great blessing from Allah (glorified and exalted be He), especially during travels. Occasionally I perform wudu in the restroom on the airplane. But what happens when you are unable to go to the restroom in an airplane (for example when the seat belt sign is on) and the prayer time is elapsing? Well, as a backup, I carry a pair of clean stones in my carry-on bag so I can perform tayammum in a hurry.
Islamic Behavior while Traveling: Finally, I would like to discuss how we behave during travels. I am not going to discuss the usual guidance and restrictions on how Muslims need to carry themselves in public but focus more on how we behave in the modern workplace.
Some circumstances in the workplace are of concern. For example, we often have get-togethers (both in the workplace and during offsite dinners) I need to attend where alcohol is served. I make it well known to my colleagues (and customers) that I do not drink, and they always respect that.
I also generally never attend the “after dinner” drinking socials that are so common in professional circles. Most times, when these social occasions overlap with prayer times, I get out early or skip them altogether. Similarly, I do not engage in un-needed joking or small talk.
Interacting with members of the opposite sex in workplace contexts is also something I am very careful about. My philosophy is to keep such interactions to a necessary minimum without being disrespectful or awkward.
Communication about our Islamic practices in non-Muslim majority societies is key so that we are not misunderstood, especially in professional circles.
Consider for example, when we go to the common restroom to do ablution while in the workplace. Our colleagues typically relieve themselves, wash their hands and leave. To perform ablution, however, we need to take off our jacket and tie, roll-up our shirt sleeves, take off our shoes (and maybe socks) all of which would look unusual to non-Muslims, and some of whom may even find it offensive. Hence it is important to communicate proactively about our practices.
Over time, people around you begin to better understand your ways. Most of my colleagues think of me as being “religious and disciplined” and most appreciate it.
‘Communication about our Islamic practices in non-Muslim majority societies is key so that we are not misunderstood, especially in professional circles.’
Please note that I am NOT an Islamic scholar and this is not a scholarly thesis. This is a practitioner’s experiential guide in attempting to observe Islamic tenets amidst the bustle of modern business travels. I acknowledge there may be mistakes and shortcomings in my practices and approaches. I seek forgiveness from Allah (glorified and exalted be He) for my mistakes. And I would appreciate guidance from scholars and knowledgeable folks for corrections and improvement.