As a business traveler, I travel frequently within the USA and abroad. Sometimes, practicing Islam during frequent business travels in non-Muslim majority countries (like the USA) can appear to be challenging for the Muslim professional.
Modern-day business travel is harrying enough for professionals, especially IT executives. On a typical travel day, I run through an airport to catch a flight, work on my upcoming presentation/proposal on the flight, pick up some airport food upon landing, hurry to catch a cab ride to the customer office, then lead a multi-hour workshop with demanding customers, and then sometimes rush back to the airport to catch a flight to the next destination. And, not to mention, I am on multiple business conference calls during the day (typically during the cab rides and waits in the airports while I am eating, as well as have a growing backlog of emails (and/or SMS/voicemails) to read/listen and respond to.
On top of this, as Muslims, we also have to worry about daily obligatory prayers (salah) on time (amid travels and business meetings), finding appropriate 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, I’ve found where there is a will, Allah makes the way easy.
Mastercard-Crescent rating Muslim Business Traveler Insights 2016 conducted an online survey and interviews with 250 frequent Muslim business travelers. Results showed that the top concerns for Muslim Business travelers are the availability of prayer facilities (78 %) and Halal dining options (71 %). 
In this article, I would like to document my practical experiences, resources including the travel management software (plovertrip.com/travel-management/), 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.
Disclaimer: Please note that I am NOT an Islamic scholar. So 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 for my mistakes. And I would appreciate guidance from scholars and knowledgeable folks for corrections and improvement.
Also please note that none of the practices I discuss here are new. They are all based on the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet in the etiquettes of travel. This is simply an articulation of how to adapt and observe the Sunnah in the context of modern business travels. May Allah guide us, grant us his forgiveness and mercy and make it easy for all of us.
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.
- Planning is key to making the above approach work, especially during the shorter days in winter wherein praying Dhuhr/Asr is sometimes challenging.
When traveling by air, where permissible, I fly out early in the morning (since the gap between Fajr and Dhuhr prayers is the biggest) so that I arrive at my destination at least one hour before Maghrib – which allows me to pray Dhuhr/Asr together -especially when I am flying from west to east (thereby effectively shortening the daylight time). Else, I plan my transit in such a way that allows me to pray the Dhuhr/Asr at the transit airport.
To be prepared, I look-up the prayer times in the cities I am visiting or transiting through. You can use various sites like IslamicFinder.
Unfortunately, the based-laid plans can sometimes go awry (for example due to flight delays and other circumstances). Hence, I also consider the prayer times in-flight using sites like halaltrip.com (or their mobile app on the go), which provides me the correct prayer times and direction based on origin, destination and flight times – just in case I am forced to pray during the flight.
Some of my Muslim friends prefer to journey by night (i.e. red-eye flights) especially during winter months since nights are long. This provides the maximum allowable time between the mandatory prayers (Isha and Fajr) and probably the least disruption due to travel. And there are narrations where the Prophet recommended traveling at night unless one is alone, then it’s not advised.
Anas reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Keep to traveling by night because the earth is folded (traversed more easily) during the night.” [Abu Dawud]. However, this is not recommended if one is alone. As the Prophet said: “Were people to know of what I know about the dangers of traveling alone, no rider would travel alone at night.” [Al-Bukhari]
A couple of key points I’d like to include:
1. 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. Alhamdulillah, most major airports in the USA have some form of a facility for worship. You can look-up the list of US airports with worship facilities in many sites such as halaltrip.com, Pew Research or Directory of Airport Chapels or the respective airport website. Alhamdulillah, my “home” airport (Dallas-Fort Worth) has the most number of chapels (5) – one in each terminal!
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. SubhanAllah, what an excellent opportunity Allah gives us for dawah on these occasions!
Often I have to transit through my “home” airport (DFW) since it is a hub for American Airlines. A question arises if I get an opportunity for prayer during transit – do I pray the full prayer (since I am within 50 miles of my home) or qasr (since I am in the middle of a journey)? The general guidance is that unless the journey has ended, we can observe qasr prayer since we are still in transit.
In airports where there are no worship facilities and it is impossible due to circumstances to pray while standing, I pray either sitting down or on a portable prayer mat if I can get appropriate space and privacy. The recommendation for mandatory prayers while seated (due to circumstances) is to make them up while standing later.
2. 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. Once at the General Motors headquarters in downtown Detroit, I had to explain to security why I took off my shoes since someone complained I was barefoot!
Sometimes I have to attend long customer or business meetings in the afternoon that cover the entire time of Dhuhr and Asr (especially during winter months when daytime is short). Depending on nature and criticality, it may sometimes be difficult to break out of such meetings. In such situations, I pray for Allah’s help and make my best effort. I remember once I broke out of such a meeting saying that I have another urgent meeting. When asked what other meetings could be more urgent than the meeting I was attending, I said “I have a meeting with God” – who can object to that?
3. Prayer direction: Where applicable, I use mobile apps to correctly determine the Qibla direction. HalalTrip and Qibla Compass are both great apps for this.
4. 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. Only twice while flying Etihad Airways, I found dedicated space for prayer on an airline, but I have never seen that on US airlines.
5. 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. Here is a list of the Sunnah/recommended duas and dhikr (or get the app “Fortress of the Muslim”). It does not normally take more than 15 minutes but has huge benefits.
6. Dhikr during travels: Ironically, I have found that occasionally travel actually provides me some much needed “downtime” for greater remembrance of Allah . 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. See examples of recommended Dhikr here.
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.
American salads (without meat) are generally a bland fair, and not very appetizing, so I look for Mexican and Mediterranean salads where possible. Such salads don’t just have leafy vegetables, but also feature nutritious beans (great source of protein and fiber) and delicious sauces. Specifically, at Qdoba, I have verified that their black bean and vegetable sauté do not have any meats in it. Additionally, Qdoba now features the tasty Impossible “vegetarian meats”, which is considered halal. Another popular option for me at airports include Panera Bread (they always have veggie soups and sandwiches) and Subway (veggie subs).
Outside airports and the workplace, I generally look up halal restaurants using Zabihah.com, which is a great resource (online or mobile app). However, it is always a good idea to call the restaurant ahead to verify the halal status.
Maintaining the Tahara ( Cleanliness/Purity) While Travelling
Another key thing that concerns me on travels includes the use of public bathrooms and ablution (wudu).
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.
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. During winter months, I sometimes wear leather socks (khuffayn) that makes it somewhat easier. Our Imam says that we can also do masah over regular socks, which also is a great blessing from Allah , 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 wudu while in the workplace. Our colleagues typically relieve themselves, wash their hands and leave. To perform wudu, however, we need to take off our jacket and tie, roll-up our shirt sleeves, take off our shoes (and maybe socks) while performing wudu….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.
One thing I have learned from my experiences is that we need to stand up for our Islamic needs. In the USA, discrimination in the workplace based on religion is considered illegal.
I have spent a limited time working in Muslim majority countries (KSA and Emirates). Most of these issues I discussed here do not exist there. Most food everywhere is halal, people take breaks from work to pray, there are mosques in every street corner and airports, and people generally observe Islamic decorum in terms of behavior. It is not so in non-Muslim majority countries, so we need to conduct ourselves accordingly. Hopefully, I have provided you with some new insights based on my experiences.
I would be happy to hear back from you on your experiences and guidance. May Allah forgive our shortcomings and make our affairs easy in this world and the hereafter.
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