Syed Adnan and Samia Butt specialize in halal travel; together, the married couple runs a charity and travel blog, Adnan N Samia, where they chronicle their adventures and compile tips, like how to rack up airline miles and where to have a knockout halal brunch in New York City. Having grown up in Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, Samia and Adnan share a need for exploration and giving back that has led them all over the world. Through their nonprofit, Act of Goodwill, they’ve worked with unhoused individuals in NYC, as well as Syrian and Rohingya refugees.
The pair, who recently welcomed their first child, is proud to call Queens home—though Samia is still partial to Brooklyn. Read on for their guide to date spots, halal food and family-friendly spaces in their borough, and follow the couple on Instagram for updates.
As world travelers, why did you decide to make NYC your home base?
Samia Butt: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I find that to be a blessing on its own. There was already so much diversity, and now there’s more than ever. We were given opportunities to work abroad, but we didn’t want to move away from New York. It’s so convenient. You have your buses, your trains, your taxis. And it’s so easy to get everywhere on foot that you don’t need to depend on anyone or anything. You have 24-hour service everywhere.
Syed Adnan: We’ve been to so many different cities where things close at 8pm, or if there is a storm or strike, you can’t use this, you can’t do that. In New York City, you’re not limited.
When did you move to Queens?
Samia: Eleven years ago.
Adnan: When she got married to me. I’m the “King of Queens”—I call myself that—and Samia is a Brooklynite. She wanted to stay in Brooklyn, but I worked very hard to convince her to come.
Samia: I am biased toward Brooklyn; that’s always going to be home.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood outside of where you live?
Adnan: I love Steinway Street in Astoria.
Samia: The Arabic food.
Adnan: The hookah lounges.
Samia: It’s vibing and popping at 2, 3, 4 in the morning.
Adnan: Since the baby has come along, I haven’t visited, but before that...
Do you have advice for families with young kids exploring New York City?
Samia:Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens has a petting zoo and a carousel that opens in spring. And in Brooklyn, there’s Luna Park. It’s great for kids. You can get food, walk, have ice cream, go to the beach. And in Manhattan, you have Central Park.
It's all stroller friendly. In the winter, we get a little limited, but the great part is that every corner has a café. You can always find a coffee shop where they’re going to allow children and newborns to come in. You just sit there, get your work done and have some coffee with your baby during the winter days. You also have the Children’s Museum and the Guggenheim and the Whitney. You can always go inside with your newborn and look around while staying warm.
Why did you start Act of Goodwill?
Adnan: We started this organization after my godmother, my aunt, passed away. She always instilled in us [the idea] to pay it forward. She’d say, “In life, always give back no matter what, even if it's with a smile.”
When we first started, we worked with another organization called Muslims Giving Back, and we would sponsor nights to feed the homeless. We wanted to make sure that people in our city did not go to sleep hungry.
When we started traveling, my wife said she wanted to always give back to any country that we visit. Recently we went to Mexico and sponsored a meal for about a hundred families in need. We’ve helped Syrian refugees in Turkey and Greece. We also worked with Rohingya refugees, and my wife helped distribute pads for women.
What makes NYC a great destination for Muslim travelers?
Samia: New York is so diverse. You’ll find a masjid [mosque] on every corner. There are so many communities, and a growing Muslim population across New York City now.
Adnan: I think New York City is a great place for anyone because I love the overall acceptance of any group of individuals.
Samia: New Yorkers know the hustle. If a new person comes to the country and they’re looking for work, they can go to the community centers and someone is going to be there to help them regardless of religion, community or ethnic background. Everyone here is out to make it. We’re all here for a cause, and we’re all trying to help one another out.
Where do you have date night in the City?
Samia: It used to be the hookah lounges on Steinway. We would go on weekends and sit at the lounge and have some food and hookah. Since that’s come to an end, we’ve been doing a lot of takeout from Turkish, Pakistani and Chinese restaurants.
If you had friends or family visit NYC for 24 hours, where would you take them?
Samia: We would take them to Gantry Park and give them a view of the city.
Adnan: And to [Flushing Meadows] Corona Park to see where Men in Black was filmed and where the 1964 World’s Fair occurred, at the famous Unisphere. From there we’d drive them out to Brooklyn to see Coney Island.
If you haven’t taken the cheesy Times Square picture, you need to, as cliche as it is. That's what people want to see: the lights. It’s a last stop and it's always open, so you don’t need to worry about the hours.