âI was walking down Mount Snowdon and in the distance I thought I could see brown people, and I thought my eyes were laughing at me. Then, as I went down and got closer, I realized that they were women in hijabs. I was like ‘wow muslim women on the mountain’, like ‘am I dreaming?’ Haroon Mota, founder of Muslim Hikers, remembers a walk he took about 15 years ago and, if you look at the stats, his shock to see members of his own community on the trails makes sense. . Only 1% of visitors to national parks are from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) backgrounds.
A 2021 report by the rural charity CPRE reported data showing that ethnic minorities have, on average, 11 times less access to green spaces than their white counterparts, and that only 20% of BAME children who visit them. natural environments go to the countryside, compared to 40% of white children.
The reasons for the racial imbalance on the outside are complicated and Mota has his own opinion on the main obstacles, but a diversity review commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) highlighted that despite people from ethnic minorities valuing the natural environment and the pace of life in the countryside, they felt excluded and hyper-visible in what they consider to be an âexclusively English environmentâ.
Muslim Hikers is a community group created by Mota to encourage Muslims to go out, although everyone is welcome. Since the group’s launch in 2020, it has been criticized by trolls for being “exclusive” and “creating divisions”. Mota brushes aside these comments, confident in his values ââand purpose. âThis is what is written on the tin. There is a very clear under-representation and to overcome that you have to take care of this community. Everyone is welcome. But our goal is to try to help the Muslim community and I think there is nothing wrong with that.
The group’s most recent march was on Christmas Day. About 100 walkers came from all over the UK to climb Mam Tor in the Peak District. After the hike, some of them enthusiastically shared photos from the trip with the Derbyshire and Peak District Walks Facebook group. It didn’t take long for some of the group to leave “vile and racist comments,” Mota says.
“It’s like the wildebeest migration into the Serengeti, they keep coming in,” wrote a white woman under the footage. While another said: “And I bet none of the 100 help mend the paths when they get damagedâ¦ an absolute disgrace.”
Responding to the comments, Mota said: âIt was such a shame to see some hateful commentsâ¦ It’s only a small minority of people doing this, but it certainly justifies the calls to make the outdoors more diverse and inclusive. . It will not deter us at all.
Mota says he’s never been a victim of racism when hiking and finds the outdoors “a very welcoming space,” but adds that many in his group of hikers have suffered racist remarks, stares and condescending comments.
The CPRE report echoed these attitudes by examining the main obstacles: âOne of the obstacles identified was the perception of rural communities as being tight-knit, white, privileged, older and more conservative than city dwellers, and resistant to change. The feeling associated with thisâ¦ is that of being unwelcome.
When Mota saw the Muslim women on Snowdon, he enthusiastically chatted with the group who had traveled from Birmingham for the Islamic Relief charity hike. He exchanged details with the group leader and continued his descent. In years of hiking, this was the first time he saw brown people on the hills. âI thought our people just weren’t coming outâ¦ I want to do something to try to inspire and maybe empower Muslim communities to get involved. “
Mota, who was European kickboxing champion at 17, has a long history in sport and fitness. âIt’s in my DNA,â he says. During his final year at Coventry University studying Sports and Exercise Science, Mota began volunteering with Islamic Relief and his first charity hike was at Everest Base Camp where he raised Â£ 10,000. His passion and flair for fundraising quickly became evident. âFor me, charity is a big part of my faith,â he says. He volunteered as a leader on numerous Islamic Relief charity hikes over the following years, including one in Peru.
Today, Mota works for the Muslim charity Penny Appeal, organizing and leading charity walks around the world. Three years ago, he took 18 British Muslim women on a trek to Everest base camp. Soon after, he ran the Berlin Marathon, led a group on a trek to Machu Picchu in Peru and another to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He had many other plans in the works, but Covid has struck.
With a fundraising pledge to run four of the world’s six major marathons canceled by the lockdown, he chose to run the six-marathon length (260km) in his Coventry area instead. Not only did he run 10 km a day, he did so by fasting without food or drink for 18 hours a day during Ramadan. He raised over Â£ 50,000 for Penny Appeal, which helps people experiencing poverty around the world.
âI ran voluntarily, but refugees flee war and extreme poverty every day and I ran for them,â Mota explains.
After seeing his inspiring determination, Canadian outdoor brand Arc’teryx asked him to become an Ambassador. With the support of the brand, Mota’s first instinct was to try to invest in his own community and this is how in 2020 Muslim Hikers was born.
Now with nearly 9,000 subscribers, the group has made three official hikes and is planning more, potentially abroad. Many attendees said the events were the best thing they had ever done, creating lifelong friendships and a sense of ‘safety in numbers’ in the UK outdoors.
Muslim Hikers’ second event, called High Chai, enjoyed similar success in two hours – the group toured the Peak District and some of them stopped for afternoon tea in the only parlor of area independent halal tea – Millies Tea Rooms, Chocolatier and Bed and Breakfast in Hayfield.
An important factor in wanting to bring your community outside is for health reasons, Mota says. âSouth Asian communities suffer the most from health inequalities. We are the ones who die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity. And then it’s no coincidence that our levels of physical activity are also the lowest – it’s so important for us to encourage our communities to be healthier. ”
Mota’s hopes for the future are firmly anchored in the community and create a cultural change. âWe want to help other local initiatives build infrastructure, so that we can do more and create lasting and lasting change. He is already working with national parks to help them increase the diversity of visitors.
âWhen I started running marathons, I automatically became ‘the Muslim man of the marathon’. When I started climbing mountains, I automatically became âthe Muslim mountain man,â âhe says. Mota wants to change the under-representation so that Muslims engaging in physical activities become the new normal.