‘The outdoors is for everyone’
Access champion Haroon Mota on why he’s passionate about bringing people together in the great outdoors.
I’ve always been passionate about inspiring and empowering communities to get outside. The outdoors is free and it’s for everyone. It seemed strange to me, all those years ago when I first started hiking, how little I’d see people that looked like me in the mountains.
Since then, I’ve done lots of charity hiking and marathon fundraising, mainly through Muslim charities. This enabled me to build my passion for the outdoors while also championing social good. I’ve been leading charity hikes here in the UK for over 10 years, as well as expeditions further afield to Everest base camp, Kilimanjaro, the Andes and more.
During lockdown, my marathon training kept me sane, and getting outside was the one thing that really helped keep me motivated. I wanted to encourage other people to do that, too, and felt it would help to create an online community to connect, inspire and spread positivity.
When I set up the Muslim Hikers Instagram page it was amazing to see so much appreciation, not just from the UK, but from the global Muslim community wanting to connect and unite to show appreciation for the outdoors. Muslim Runners and Muslim Cyclists pages soon followed, and to bring them together under one umbrella, I set up the Active Inclusion Network.
At first, these groups were purely for the purpose of building communities online, to help address loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. But the community asked for events, and that’s what initiated our Muslim Hikers group hikes. Our first event, at Snowdon in July 2021, was a proud moment for me. Seeing 80 people travelling from all over the UK to join us was a very special experience. We’ve since been getting over 100 people on each of our hikes, with events typically selling out in 48 hours, such is the demand.
Whether it’s a day hike, or multi-day adventure and camping trips, it’s such an amazing feeling being with people in nature who you can relate to. Eating together, praying together, laughing together; it all feels rather special when you think that 15 or 20 years ago, it was uncommon for British Muslims to be exploring the outdoors. While that has definitely changed for the better, there’s still more work to be done to help empower communities that are underrepresented in the countryside.
As CPRE’s research has shown, some people are deterred from exploring the countryside because they’ve been made to feel unwelcome there. Walking groups can certainly help overcome this, simply because people feel safer together. However, incidents of abuse and racism can be problematic for individuals that may already feel less empowered to get outside. Initiatives to help these people feel more welcome in the outdoors can go a long way.
We know our group walks are instilling confidence in people and helping build their capacity to get outside more. But our mission is not to hold their hand indefinitely. We’ve seen many people travelling and adventuring independently, often in friendship circles that have been created through our hikes or our social media groups. It’s satisfying getting tagged in someone’s own adventure, knowing we’ve played a pivotal role in facilitating those friendships or helping them get there. Community is everything. It’s where the power is.
Marathon runner, hiker and mountaineer Haroon Mota is the founder of Muslim Hikers and the Active Inclusion Network (@InclusionActive).
This article, or a version of it, was originally published in CPRE’s award-winning magazine, Countryside Voices. You’ll have Countryside Voices sent to your door three times a year, as well as access to other benefits including discounts on attraction visits and countryside kit from major high street stores, when you join as a CPRE member. Join us now.