(CNN) — To the devout, the concept of becoming “Muslim for a month” — or any other religion, for that matter — could verge on the sacrilegious.
“It’s a provocative title, ‘Muslim for a Month,’ so we were bracing ourselves for (criticism),” said Ben Bowler, who runs cultural exchange programs with that name. The tours take non-Muslims from around the world into Turkish mosques and homes for a first-hand experience of Islam.
“There has been a little of that — ‘Being a Muslim is for life, not just a month,” he added.
But overwhelmingly, he said, the response from Muslims has been positive because the tours help to dispel negative stereotypes about the religion and leave participants with an enriched spiritual perspective.
“People are very visibly moved,” Bowler said. “There’s lots of tears. It’s a rich, multi-layered experience and people are coming out with changed ideas and changed perceptions — they are more aware of the positive side of the religion than before.”
Muslim for a Month, run by Bowler’s NGO World Weavers, is part of a new breed of cultural immersion tourism being dubbed “pray-cations.” It promises travelers a rich, meaningful experience, by exposing them to religious beliefs and practices “in a country where spirituality is still very much alive,” he said.
Bowler, a Thailand-based Australian, has run half a dozen of the tours in recent years, during which participants are taught the basics of Islamic practice, study Islamic history and calligraphy, pray in mosques and live and eat with Muslim families. The itinerary also includes a day of fasting.