Hiking Hijabie: Hiking group helps connect Muslim community to the Great Outdoors

On a cloudy fall day in Victoria, for one group of hikers, a stroll through the great outdoors is more than just a walk in the park.

"I enjoy being outdoors and it helps connect me with nature and physical activity. Connecting with nature reminds me of God and the wonders that are in nature," said hiker Mariam Anwar. 

"To take a little break from everything and just to walk and embrace nature and try to just relax a little bit as much as we can," said another hiker, Dilek Hanedar.

Once a week, several members of the local Muslim community meet at different locations to get some exercise, get in touch with nature, and create community at the same time.

The organizer of the outing is Nasrieen Habib.

She started Hiking Hijabie about a year ago to give Muslim women a safe space to experience Minnesota's natural environment and recently created another group to do the same for Muslim families.

"I feel like Muslims are, especially women, our hijab is like a red flag that we're Muslim and a lot of us don't feel confident accessing parks and stuff alone," said Habib.

Habib says she started hiking after she moved to Minnesota from Houston more than a decade ago as a way to get used to the winter weather.

But she says many Muslim women don't feel safe going to parks and trails by themselves because they fear their traditional headscarves called hijabs could make them targets for Islamophobic attacks or strange looks that make them feel unwelcome.

"Going as a group gives you that sense of security and the safety net that you have people that are in this with you and feel more comfortable to do those things," said Habib. 

Habib also says many members of her community didn't grow up participating in outdoor activities, so they may not feel at ease giving them a try.

"There is a lot of fear that you have to kind of educate people on. So telling them, we're going to have people there who are going to help us," said Habib. 

Over the last year, the group has taken trips to several state and national parks, including the Grand Canyon.

And they do more than just hike.

They've also tried their hand at kayaking and canoeing and even snow tubing and snowshoeing in the dead of winter.

"And the cool thing about it, I'm learning myself too. I don't do a lot of these things yet, So it's not like I'm like this extra outdoorsy recreational person, I'm learning and it's nice to see people come along for the ride," said Habib.

On this particular weekend, a few of the hikers are camping overnight, which for some, like Malika Dahir, is a first.

"I've never put up a tent before. I clearly underestimated it and I'm way over my head. I'm just flailing about over here," said Dahir.

But the self described city girl is giving up her creature comforts for one night in order to have a new experience.

"I'm all for knocking things off your bucket list, even if it's just the only time I ever do it. I'm all for trying things once," said Dahir.

Habib hopes to encourage more people who look like her to explore the outdoors and help everyone understand when it comes to the natural world,  we all share more common ground than we may think. 

"As human beings, we all have more similarities and differences. But sometimes we don't see that because we want to put people in a box. So just understanding, like a lot of us, enjoy the outdoors. You enjoy the outdoors. Let's start a conversation there," said Habib.