[This post was written by our newest team member Mariam Alavi. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist. She was raised in Connecticut and has traveled around the world (12 countries and 20 U.S. states.) Mariam loves trying new recipes, traveling and crafting.]
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.” (The Holy Quran, 49:13)
One of the many things The Mister and I love to do together is traveling. There isnothing like diving into a culture and exploring it as the locals do. Our travels this past November brought us to Spain as we celebrated our first wedding anniversary alhumdolillah! We began our travels in Madrid, the largest city in Spain. The Mister and I had an amazing time exploring the city on foot and by Metro . We saw beautifully built government buildings, cultural centers, and century old plazas, along with stories from the past, at every corner. We also enjoyed shopping, strolling the large boulevards, and stopping to eat a snack or two at the many quintessential European sidewalk cafes that I love so much.
The Prado (Museo del Prado), Madrid’s famous art museum, is one of the highlights of the city. Although the Mister and I are not big fans of art museums, we figured we’d make an exception given the status of the place (plus we went 2 hours before closing time so the entrance was free :)). From an art perspective, we appreciated the realistic depictions of fabric, fruit, and people, as well as the historical value of some works that outlined the horrors of life such as the Spanish Civil War. But I certainly wouldn’t go again. “Art” in the Western world consists of inappropriately (un-)dressed bodies and vulgarity which is just unacceptable. Anywho, it was an experience
If art is not your thing, there is plenty more to be enjoyed in Madrid. Walking through the city’s flourishing downtown and towards Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid, savor the liveliness of Spanish life. Streetside vendors and performers, roadside cafes and international shopping all await in this area of the city. Just minutes away, you’ll find yourself in Plaza Mayor, a square built in the 1600s that was the site of many social and historical events, such as markets, bullfights, and even the persecution of Muslims and Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.
Today it is home to many cafes and restaurants, along with a market on weekends. After dinner at a halal restaurant, the Mister and I returned to a café near Plaza Mayor to have our first authentic Spanish churros. We opted to sit outdoors on iron chairs/tables, complete with outdoor heating lamps above each table! Here, we indulged in the “deep-fried goodness” of Spanish churros dipped in chocolate (that’s what the Mister called them), enjoying the conversations in Spanish around us
The “deep-fried goodness” of churros dipped in chocolate at an outdoor café near Plaza Mayor. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar
Make time to visit the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), which is still the official residence of the royal family of Spain (although they don’t actually live there anymore). It is one of the three most famous palaces in Europe, and is built on land that was once occupied by a Muslim fortress. Across from it is the Almudena Cathedral. Although we didn’t go inside the cathedral, we could still see (and hear) the remnants of the San Isidro Festival, which celebrates the Catholic Saint Isidro, the farmer, who is considered the Patron Saint of Spain. It was really interesting to see the fervent Catholicism in this country, especially in comparison to some other European countries. And as we know, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella took their beliefs to an extreme level by enforcing the Spanish Inquisition, which forced Muslims and Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism, burned books of knowledge that had been translated by Muslims, and of course tortured and killed those whose conversion they did not accept.
The exterior view of Palacio Real, Madrid. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar
Muslim tourists will be pleased to hear about the many halal options in Madrid. In each city, we simply did a Zabihah.com search and found quite a few options. We then used Google Map to figure out how far the restaurants were from our hotel (don’t you love technology?). In Madrid, there is a halal fast food chain called Doner Kebap, which sells Turkish style pita wraps and other yummy items, and can be found in many easy to reach areas of the city. Of course, if you’re like me and Mister you will want to have an authentic Spanish experience and try tapas. The Spanish tend to eat a light breakfast and a heavier lunch in the late afternoon. Dinner usually starts around 9 or 10pm, so a typical Spanish dinner consists of a variety of appetizers called tapas. But beware folks! The Spaniards love hamon (ham) as well as alcohol…so you will need to be careful about what you’re eating, especially if the menus are only in Spanish (as was often the case in the places where the Mister and I ventured). Honestly, we found it easier to opt for the halal options throughout our trip, even if we ended up consuming non-traditional foods. But don’t worry—there are still plenty of authentic traditional foods you can still enjoy…including seafood paella, tortilla patate, and of course, the deep-fried goodness of churros.
Visit the local masajid even if it’s just to pray 2 raqah sunnah prayer! We were lucky enough to be in Madrid for Jumuah, and joined the jama’a at The Islamic Cultural Center (Centro Culturo Islamico). It is a truly Iman-lifting experience to witness the Muslim communities all over the globe! Every society, culture, and language has something to offer that we can learn from in order to improve ourselves. Traveling reminds me that Allah (swt) made us into different ethnicities and cultures, and created different languages, not as a way to divide us, but as a way for us to learn from each other. I don’t know where my travels will take me next, but I do know that no matter where it is, I’ll come back home knowing much more about the world than when I left.
Centro Cultural Islamic, (Madrid,) the masjid where Mister and I prayed Jumuah. Photo Credit: Shahzeb Jabbar