The great outdoors is a place of wonder, beauty and adventure where everyone should feel welcome. When the Muslim Hikers walking group faced online abuse after their story was featured on the BBC, it was clear more needed to be done to ensure the outdoors really is for everyone.
Now a new partnership project between Wiggle, adidas TERREX and the Muslim Hikers is hoping to break down some of the barriers that remain. The project has launched an innovative all-weather prayer mat, while signs have been erected in the Peak District signalling the direction of Mecca for Muslims wanting to engage in prayer while hiking.
With the goal of promoting diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility, Muslim Hikers provides a safe and welcoming space for people from all walks of life to explore hiking and walking trails in the great outdoors.
So, to find out more about the club, we caught up with Muslim Hikers founder Haroon Mota.
Who are the Muslim Hikers?
Muslim Hikers was launched during lockdown with the idea of encouraging and empowering more people of the Muslim faith and their allies to get outside and into nature.
The hikes promote safety, confidence and awareness in the outdoors. The group is not exclusively for Muslims, although the majority attendance is from the Muslim community. But what's significant for Haroon is that many members of the group had never visited the countryside before.
"I set up the Muslim Hikers Instagram page in September 2020 for the purpose of creating an online community to help people who were struggling during lockdown," Haroon said. "The idea was to help motivate Muslims to get outside more and help tackle loneliness and isolation.
"The page was also intended to address underrepresentation, to tackle one of the very issues that hinder or prevent our communities from getting outside.
"We're now the biggest community in the world for Muslims interested in the outdoors and host an extensive hiking event portfolio with sold out hikes taking place every month in various national parks and landscapes across the country, typically attended by over 150 people."
Haroon added: "When I started hiking 20 years ago, the outdoors was very much unknown for our communities. A lot has changed since, but I'm working hard to really address behaviour and culture change - problems which are deep rooted in our origins. These account for the lack of outdoors being embedded in our cultural and lifestyle norms."
What is the benefit of hiking as a group?
Hiking in a group has many benefits. It offers an incredibly powerful social experience; the opportunity to connect with people from different backgrounds, all with their own individual unique stories.
Harron said: "I love connecting with people on walks and hearing what brought them here. Walking in a large group doesn't necessarily mean you need to be switched on socially 24/7. There are many opportunities to switch off and enjoy your own space and follow the feet in front of you."
"Our events promote safety in numbers so for people who lack confidence or perhaps are a little anxious about a new experience, often being amongst a group of people of similar demographic and understanding can very much help ease their worries. Together we're like one big family."
What level of fitness do you need for hiking?
Walking and hiking is for everyone. You don't need to be super fit to give it a go. Shorter, flatter walks require less stamina compared to longer hillier walks. But the good news is, the more you do it, the fitter you will get.
"Most of our walks are suitable for people of all abilities even if they have little or no experience," Haroon said. "We do ask people to train physically beforehand so that they can enjoy their hiking experiences with us a bit more. You don't want to join a hike and constantly be out of breath or feel like your legs are so exhausted. It can feel like that for many people if they're just starting off."
What more can be done to help under represented groups?
Wiggle and adidas TERREX have worked closely with Muslim Hikers to identify the barriers that need breaking down which included praying in the outdoors, and making the countryside feel like a place that Muslims can enjoy. The creation of the bespoke prayer mats and first-of-their-kind signs will empower more Muslims to get outside and celebrate everything nature has to offer.
To continue helping under-represented groups get access to the great outdoors, Wiggle has recently partnered with OUTO. The not-for-profit coalition works to provide grants, research, and much needed support in pursuit of making the outdoors more inclusive.
How do I find Muslim Hikers?
According to Haroon, the best way to join the Muslim Hikers' events is join their growing mailing list and find out about their upcoming activities at www.muslimhikers.com.
"We also have presence across Instagram, Twitter, FB and TikTok so people can follow our work and connect pretty much everywhere all the time," he said. "We don't have a membership scheme, we're pretty much an inclusive community here for everyone, whenever you need us."
Having 20 years' experience as a hiker, Haroon knows a few things about making the most of the great outdoors. So we asked for some of his favourite hints and tips...
Best piece of kit for hiking?
"Good walking shoes. We all need a good pair that are going to help us walk comfortably. That should be number one priority, a waterproof pair with good ankle support."
Favourite hiking route in the rain?
"I'm not sure I have a favourite rainy route. Usually the rain dampens the mood on any good walk! In all honesty, I don't think the rain determines whether a route will be good or not. The route will always be the route, and the weather will always be the weather. You just have to ensure you have the appropriate kit for all conditions."
Favourite hiking route when the sun is shining?
"Helvellyn in the Lake District. Striding Edge is an absolute treat on a sunny day. I've had summer hikes up there and I've felt like I'm in heaven!"
Best thing about hiking?
"I love the freedom hiking gives me. Being surrounded by nature is the ultimate therapy. Nothing makes me happier. Of course, I love the physical exercise too."
Worst thing about hiking?
"Living in the city sometimes means it's not as simple as getting out the door. The best places to hike are often several hours drive, so it's a shame you can't get out to enjoy it enough. It is worthwhile the travel when you get out there."
Here at Wiggle, we’re all about championing clubs, groups and individuals that are up for enjoying the outdoors in any way, shape or form. Some of you may find thrills from running, cycling or hiking further each week, but what’s cool about the Muslim Hikers is their sense of community, breaking down barriers and opening up new possibilities for new outdoor enthusiasts.
Are you part of an active group or community and want to share your story? Are you doing something adventurous, making a difference in your community through sport, or nailing the fun and social side of activities? We'd love to hear from you.