Walking with the Ramblers and my local Muslim women’s group

Farkhanda shares how walking with her Ramblers group has inspired her to lead walks for local Muslim women

My very first memories of going for walks with Dad and my younger sister was in our local area, it was always a familiar route around the local streets or to the nearby park. Dad insisted we go out daily and although we weren’t keen, in retrospect it was a lovely bonding time with him as he worked long hours and we rarely got to spend much time with him.  In those days, our walks were limited, but when we got a car, we went further to Richmond Park which was close by, those trips became cherished memories of family time enjoying nature and walking in my childhood. 


Walking with the Ramblers and my family 

Living in South Buckinghamshire, I joined the Ramblers about seven years ago, becoming a part of the Chiltern Weekend Walkers group. Joining them opened a world of opportunities for me, pulling me away from the monotony of streets and local parks, and into the beautiful hills and greenery of the Chilterns. It's exhilarating to explore country paths and alleyways, and public footpaths that I had only passed before but never had the confidence to go down.  

Walking, for me, is the ultimate stress buster, when life or work throws a curveball, for me a walk or run instantly soothes me and helps me to work out how to move forward. My three grown-up daughters, who were once reluctant to go for long walks now have become avid walkers. They know on special occasions like Mother’s Day or my birthday, I will insist on a walk before indulging in a delightful lunch, or maybe just some coffee and cake. It's a tradition we've all come to love! In Ramadan, my family and I prioritise both spirituality and physical well-being. We often prepare our food and walk during the last hour before breaking the fast, that way we feel more energised and enjoy the evening meal. During Ramadan, Muslims focus on spirituality, but that doesn't detract from trying to keep your body fit and well. 


Leading walks for Muslim women 

Walking with my Ramblers group has been great, the warmth and friendliness of the people in the group have made it enjoyable.  However, I couldn't help but notice the lack of diversity, particularly the absence of people of colour on these walks. This realisation prompted me to think about the possibility of extending the joy and benefits of walking to a broader audience. 

As the chair of a local Muslim women's group named 'An Nisa', which means 'women' in Arabic, I was already involved in supporting Muslim families to become active citizens through social connections, cultural engagement, and physical activities. Recognizing the potential interest within our community, I initiated the 'Walk and Talk' Project, offering supported walks for ladies. The goal is to promote physical activity, foster a connection with nature, and alleviate social isolation. 

I started facilitating walks in scenic locations such as Burnham Beeches, Black Park, and Windsor Great Park, creating an inclusive environment. The intention is to provide a space where women, who might feel hesitant to join mainstream walking groups, can find encouragement to walk regularly. Hopefully, over time, they will gain the confidence to participate in wider guided walks like the Ramblers. 

Since starting to lead walks last summer, we have seen a significant number of local ladies joining our walks. Some lacked the confidence to walk alone, while others needed guidance in navigating routes, even on their phones. These walks not only facilitated friendships among the participants but also encouraged them to form walking buddies outside our organised events. 

A group of female walkers on a gravel path with large trees infront.

As our group grew, we expanded our activities to include longer walks, including partnering up with organisations for weekends away in picturesque locations such as the Wye Valley, the Lake District, and the Chilterns. Recognising that some members faced financial constraints, we made a conscious effort to keep costs minimal, applying for grants to cover the expenses of transportation. 

Our group comprises women of various ages, some traveling from London to be part of this unique experience. The lack of spaces specifically created for women, especially Muslim women, motivated them to join us. It's important to note that An Nisa Walk & Talk is open to all women, irrespective of their background or beliefs, as evident from individuals discovering our walks on Eventbrite and joining in. 

Taking on the responsibility of leading walks for An Nisa prompted me to enhance my skills, particularly in navigation. To achieve this, I completed the lowland leader course with the Mountain Training Association. This qualification not only improved my navigation skills but also provided valuable insights into leadership. I have since shared this knowledge with fellow walk leaders, contributing to making our walks more inclusive and welcoming to all. 


Making group walks feel inclusive 

Walking with diverse groups enriches the experience, fostering friendships and cultural understanding. I advocate creating environments where everyone feels comfortable, encouraging walk leaders to consider various perspectives, including different faiths and abilities. A brief acknowledgment during the walk introduction, inviting participants to share any specific needs, can welcome and foster inclusivity. 

When planning walks, it’s important to consider prayer breaks for Muslims, and open communication can address potential barriers. In my experiences with Ramblers group walks, I simply inform the walk leader about my prayer needs. The structure of these walks, with short stops and a lunch break, makes it feasible to incorporate prayer times.  When I go out on a Ramblers group walk, I’ll just mention to the walk leader that that I need a bit of prayer time.  But some people might not have the confidence to ask and so that could be a barrier to them joining a walk.    

I love walking with all types of people from all different backgrounds because you learn so much.  I made some lovely friends through my Ramblers group.   I would love for everybody to feel comfortable to walk in any group and to feel comfortable sharing your faith and background.  I’d encourage walk leaders to consider different perspectives and beliefs.  I don’t just mean thinking about Muslim practices, but also other faiths or for example disabilities.  In the chat at the start of the walk, it could just be a matter of inviting people to let you know if there's anything that you need to think about on this walk.  That could go a long way to making walks feel more inclusive. 

Three walkers looking into a phone with trees and blue skies in the background.

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