Sal Lavallo is an American blogger, currently living in the UAE, who has travelled every single country of the world before turning 27. Yes, every single country! Adding to that, Sal is a Muslim convert. So we had an interesting chat with him regarding travelling and being Muslim!

Where are you originally from?

I grew up in the USA. My mother’s family is German and my father’s Italian. I left the States in 2011 and since then have split my time between the UAE and East Africa when not travelling.

How and when did you convert to Islam?

I converted in February 2013 in the small village of Mangula, Tanzania. I first said my Shahada in the small hut of a local village elder who I call my grandfather. The next evening we went to the Imam, had a long discussion and then we said longer prayers in English, Swahili, and Arabic. We then went to pray Isha with all the elders – one single line of men in a half-constructed mosque lit by one small candle. After the prayers the Imam introduced me to everyone and they each took turns congratulating and embracing me. It was the most perfect welcoming to this new part of my life – truly transcendental!

How did travelling play a role in this?

I am incredibly lucky to have seen so many different forms of worship all around the world. Regardless of what religion it is under – worship of the Divine is a special thing to observe. To me of course, Islam is the truth, but observing other religious ceremonies and talking about God with people of other beliefs has pushed my own spirituality and thinking. It’s been especially amazing to see the diversity within our own religion.

A post shared by Sal Lavallo (@sallavallo) on

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As Islam spread almost 1500 years ago it encountered so many varied cultures that all imbued the religion with their own practices and norms. It is important for us to separate what is cultural and what is religious, and to accept that we often conflate the two. I think I’ve prayed in mosques in nearly every Muslim majority country, and I always take some learning away with me.

What or who triggered the first step towards embracing Islam? Was there any particular person you received special support from during your journey towards Islam? Was there a special incident?

There have been so many people who have impacted my spiritual journey. From my family building my faith in God as a child, to learning to worship the Divine with Pentecostals in Texas, to my mentor in university teaching me that God truly is love, and with my adopted grandfather in my village in Tanzania with whom I said my Shahada. Since my reversion I have been guided by countless others who have answered my questions and helped me think through issues that arise. Belief is not about having answers – instead it is about constant questioning. Our relationship with God should always be developing and that occurs both through a personal journey and through sharing and learning from others.

My belief in God has always been the most important thing in my life, both before and since my reversion. In the 5 years since I began practicing Islam I’ve felt much closer to the Divine and appreciate that ineffable magic in completely new ways. Of course, this continues to develop and take on new forms but with Islam and my foundation of belief I feel secured that I am in the right direction.

Did you face any opposition from the people around you? If yes, how did you cope through it?

No. I’ve been very supported throughout my journey. I think this is because I approach it from a deeply thoughtful and reflective place. I don’t practice Islam for anyone but myself, it wasn’t a cultural decision or for some kind of acceptance. It was following the path that I felt was true and that most enabled me to form a closer relationship with the Divine. We should be simultaneously able to express our journey that led us to our views and be open to questioning and allowing them to evolve. Being able to explain that well to people necessitates a level of understanding.

Can you please name your favorite Muslim country? Why is it your favorite?

My favorite country in general, Muslim or not, is the United Arab Emirates. It has been my home base for more than 6 years. It is my favorite because I know that I’m constantly learning here. The topics of race, gender, class, religion are so dynamic in the UAE and endlessly interesting to study. It’s also inspiring to be in a place that is growing in such a holistic and inclusive way.

Your favorite cuisine out of all of your travels? Why?

I love food and exploring a new culture via their cuisine. I always crave food from the Levant. Also Africa has many of my favorite cuisines – from Ethiopian injera and raw meat, to ugali and small fish in Tanzania, and spinach and peanut stews in West Africa. I can always go for Japanese sushi or camel in the Gulf or the Sahel. Of course, since my father is Italian, I grew up eating lots of pasta and that always feels like home!

Tell us about the most beautiful mosque you've ever come across (excluding the ones in Saudi Arabia).

To me the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen, mosque or not, is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

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From every single angle, inside and out, it is a masterpiece. I truly never tire of seeing it and am always walking around looking up in awe. The mosque itself is located between the airport and the city and every time I return to Abu Dhabi I feel that I am at home when I pass the mosque. It is lit according to the cycle of the moon, full lights with the full moon, dimmed for a new moon, and so on – this creates a majestic effect. Overall, the entire complex fills my soul and brings me closer to the Divine as I see it and pray in it.