Chartered accountant Zahrah Mahmood takes up hillwalking to relax and reflect away from life's everyday pressures
'I got into hillwalking while I was studying for my accountancy exams and struggling with the pressure. Some friends took me up Ben Lomond for my first experience of hillwalking as they thought getting outdoors might help. But this is a 974m mountain, and I struggled the whole way up. I also felt people staring, perhaps because of my lack of fitness, but also because of my appearance – I was, and sometimes continue to be, the only person who looks like me out there.
'The struggle and the stares put me off, and I didn't go back out again until a year later. This time, I attempted Ben A’nn, a smaller hill. It was brilliant for my mental health as making that summit made me feel like I could also overcome any challenge in my life, one step at a time.
'Of course, the physical aspect is a nice added benefit, but I love the spiritual part of hillwalking, too. It's akin to how the Prophet Muhammad (Peace & Blessings upon him) would head up the mountains to take time to reflect, regroup and continue to connect with God. I soon realised that I get something similar out of hillwalking – the feeling of peace from being amongst raw beauty and stunning, unfiltered landscapes is indescribable.
'But without my friends, I would never have started hillwalking, so I want to show other Muslim women that the mountains are open to them, too. I don't want to be in a situation where the next generation of Muslim kids grows up without nature in their lives. It's time to bring more diversity to the great outdoors.
Follow Zahrah's adventures on Instagram @the_hillwalking_hijabi