Meet Your Halal Guide: Rida Ali

Text by Rachael Roth, Photos by Narisa Ladak

Rida Ali—known more widely by her TikTok handle, FreeSpiritRida—uses her platform to show her life as a student at New York University (she’s double majoring in global studies and media and communications) and what it means to be a Muslim woman living in NYC. The intimate portrayal of her days, filled with eating, studying and sightseeing along with travel tips and history lessons, has gained her a massive online following.

Read on for her NYC playlist, local recommendations and why she thinks New York is the best city in the world.

Rida Ali. Photo: Narisa Ladak

You use your social media platform to talk about your life as a Muslim woman in NYC. What do you hope to impress upon other Muslim women who want to live or travel here?
Rida Ali:
I hope that Muslim women know that if they don’t see a space for themselves, they have every right to make space. New York is a city full of opportunities, but it’s also so easy to get lost and drowned out. Have confidence in yourself and who you are, and make sure to hold strong to your own values. In terms of traveling here, I think it is so wonderful because there are so many people who look like me. NYC is one of the most diverse cities in America, and it feels so good to know I am not the only Muslim hijab-wearing woman.

Rida Ali. Photo: Narisa Ladak

You set a lot of your TikToks to music. What songs made up the soundtrack to your first year in NYC?
RA:
A lot of Bollywood music, lo-fi qawwalli (spiritual poetry in song format), Tame Impala, Khalid, Daniel Caesar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, The Weeknd. I like anything that’s vibey that I can listen to on long walks in the City.

What makes NYC the best city in the world?
RA:
So many things! It really is the city of dreams. You can find any person from any part of the world, all striving to achieve their dreams. Every day feels absolutely unreal because you’re right in the center of so much that is happening.

Qahwah House. Courtesy, Crescent Rating

Based on your feed you seem to spend a lot of time studying in cafés. What’s your go-to coffee spot and what is your order?
RA:
My favorite spot is definitely Qahwah House, a Yemeni joint on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg. I usually order an Adeni chai. The staff are some of the nicest people you will ever meet in your whole life.

Roosevelt Island Tramway. Photo: Julienne Schaer

If someone has 24 in hours in NYC, what’s something they can’t miss?
RA:
You must experience the New York City East River Ferry for just $2.75 [the same cost as a subway ride], the Roosevelt Island Tramway, Washington Square Park, Pier 35 and Martha P. Johnson State Park in Brooklyn, named after the LGBTQ+-rights activist.

What makes NYC a great destination for Muslim travelers?
RA:
There is so much that makes you feel like you’re not a minority for once: halal food around every corner, places to pray, diversity. There is a wonderful Muslim community here at the Islamic Center at NYU; people come from everywhere to experience it.

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