1. Make an appointment at your local mosque and sit down with a sheikh to better understand the religion.
No matter what country you’re in, it’s considered disrespectful to not cover your hair and body when visiting a mosque. Both males and females should also take their shoes off before entering any prayer rooms.
2. Visit your local library or bookstore to gather information about the country, whether it be simple things like geography or more intense historical facts.
3. Be very cautious about allowing others apply henna to any part of your body, especially in markets. Some people use hypodermic needles and you can have horrible allergic reactions. Only go to someone that is recommended by a local or the concierge at your hotel.
4. Be smart about food and drinks.
Although Islamic law prohibits alcohol, some Muslim countries are fairly accommodating to tourists who wish to drink and dance – it’s just a case of noting which city it’s most acceptable to do this in.
It’s easier to accept the fact that you won’t find pork, than it is to go on a wild-goose chase for a hotdog. There are things such as Halal sausages but they don’t quite taste the way you may want them to.
5. Find out what is customary as a greeting, both verbal and physical. This is very important in Muslim countries where at times a man cannot shake a woman’s hand.
6. When visiting shops, you’ll notice that the Quran (the Islamic holy book) is normally closed and placed on top shelves out of respect. If you pick up a copy, return it to the exact position it was originally in.
7. Learn a few simple phrases to break the ice. Everyone loves a tourist who can understand and speak some Arabic.
7. If you can take a class or purchase audio versions of the language, this will help for reading signs and becoming more comfortable with the language.
8. Make sure you are aware of where the embassy is located, hospitals, and stores that sell products you need.
9. It’s recommended to travel with a male in strict Islamic countries. This is because Muslim women are not meant to travel without a mahram (blood-related male). In other countries, it’s better to travel with a group when you’re visiting busy places such as souks.
10. Muslim people do not eat with their left hand because it’s used to clean oneself after using the toilet, therefore perceived as unclean. You won’t get yourself into any trouble by not doing the same yourself, but it’s nice to keep it in mind out of respect.
11. People are likely to be polite and are generally happy to help and recommend places to make your experience all the more enjoyable. At the same token, it’s important to be well informed on how others interact in the country.
12. Find out conversion rates, public transport rates, and street rates for simple items so you are not swindled.
13. In stricter countries, ladies are still expected to have their arms and legs (if not, thighs at least) covered as a sign of respect. There are also women’s-only pools. A good way around this issue is to follow the crowd – if everyone else is covered, do the same.
14. Take as many photographs as you like, but make sure there are no women and children involved without permission. It’s considered very offensive in some countries.
15. Smoking shisha is more a tradition in Arab culture rather than a religion practice, and is done commonly during social gatherings. You will find cafés in Dubai, Algeria and Turkey full of both men and women smoking shisha and having a good time. In other countries, like Egypt, it’s more acceptable for men to do it openly as opposed to women. Do your research beforehand.
16. If you’re a complete foodie, avoid visiting Muslim countries during Ramadan. If you have to eat, then do so privately because authorities, for example in Dubai, can fine you for eating during fasting hours. Many countries like Malaysia will have no (or very few) restaurants and cafés open before it’s time to break your fast.
17. Have an open mind and heart.