For Muslim Women's Day, we're collaborating with MuslimGirl to tell the stories of women all over the world.
In 2016, 25-year-old Iraqi Zeina Atamish graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and got accepted into an MBA program in the United Kingdom; she thought the world was her oyster. However, a little blue book — Atamish’s passport — proved to be more important than her qualifications and hard work in determining her future place of residence. Her student visa was rejected. “They said I was from a ‘high-risk’ background,” says Atamish. “I am a young, single Iraqi woman, so they weren’t convinced I would go back home once my studies were over.”
According to the Henley Passport Index, the Iraqi passport is the world’s second weakest, followed only by Afghanistan, which means the list of countries that passport holders have access to visa-free or visa on arrival is sparse, currently with entry to only 27 countries with only 5 countries not requiring a visa at all, compared to 127 countries for the United States. The Middle Eastern nation, which the United States invaded in 2003, was also among the seven countries that President Trump targeted with travel bans in January 2017. Not to mention, the number of humiliating horror stories — from detainment to flight removal — that Muslim travelers experience as a result of Islamophobia.
But the visa rejection didn’t kill Atamish’s wanderlust. Unable to visit Europe or the United States, Atamish explored the Middle East and Muslim-majority Asian countries, making a trip to Pakistan her first destination out of her country (“The media doesn’t really like Pakistan, in the same way it doesn’t like Iraq”). Eventually, she moved to Istanbul to pursue her MBA and began to document her travels. And that’s how her travel blog, the Zeina Diary, was born. It’s a small but ambitious platform that aims to change the perception the world has about Muslim women and show them they can be world travelers too. There’s photos and tips from her most recent trips and life in Turkey, written in both English and Arabic, and an original series called Breaking Stereotypes where she profiles “ordinary Arab women,” one of them being her grandmother.
In addition to the bureaucratic difficulties Muslim travelers like Atamish might experience, Muslims are sorely underrepresented in the sphere of travel media.