Mabrook Muhammad Assaf…But

I want to first say that I am very pleased at Assaf won Season 2 of Arab Idol (Check out my previous post about him*). I have followed the show from the beginning carving up to 2:13 hours of my life out for each episode of the show. However, when he won, people went in ethno-political directions. Especially some of my Arab / Palestinian brothers and sisters. Nationalistic posts and nostalgia for their lost watan (nation) filled my facebook feed. This was only one manifestation of nationalism, and I speak on nationalism in general…This is where I think things get paradoxical. Just posing a question: wasn’t it extreme levels of nationalism -Jewish Zionism- that caused the illegal and some would say immoral conquest of Palestinian land? If nationalism is what caused the quagmire of the Palestinian people, will nationalism get them out?

When I hear many people talk about the conflict, many try to classify it as a Palestinian issue, an Arab issue, or a Muslim issue. This ghettoizes the conflict. But I think it goes completely beyond phenotypic realms. It’s an international issue, a human rights issue, etc…You don’t have to be a Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim to empathize with the Palestinians – all you have to be is human. If we all start thinking that way, maybe we could get somewhere.

*I am just stating my opinion. This is not the first time I have said this, nor is this a belittling of the Palestinian struggle. I have been to Palestine and seen the struggle for myself, and I hope to make a change for those treated unjustly.



الفقراء في المغرب

من هم الناس الفقير في المغرب؟ لا أعرف كيف أوصف القضيةالتي رايتها اليوم.رأيت شخص كما يأكل من ألزبالة. في الحقيقة لم أرى أي شخص يأكل من الزبالة في حياتي حتى اليوم. عندما رايته يأكل، جائت ألدشمة و ألصدمة إلى وجهي. فكرت عن حياتي و كل الأشياء التي لا أشكر الله لها. و في نفس الوقت هناك صراع في قلبي. أحس أن هذا العالم عدم عدالة. ينبغي أن نساعد بعضنا البعض. هناك مفارقة كبيرة حينما يوجد مطعم “مكدونالدئس” و أمامه يوجد ناس جوعانون ,و هم لا يستطيعون أن يشتروا أي وجبة منه .نحتاج أن نرفع مجتمعنا إلى مستوى أعلى. من الواجب أن نغير النظام الذي نعيش فيه. أولا، هذا النقد إلي و سلوكي. أساسا، أنا أشارك أفكاري وتجاربي فقط.

Reflections on Saudi Arabia- المملكة العربية السعودية

Saudi oh Saudi, where for art thou Saudi?

I never expected that I would be able to go to Saudi except to make pilgrimage to Islam’s holy sites: Mecca and Medina. Nor did I think I would be able to go without a mahram – a male guardian who is a close family member or husband. But I was able to defy the odds, because of God’s will. When we first arrived in Saudi we were met with a sandstorm. I thought sandstorms were a creation of orientalist fantastical movies. But no, it was real. You could not see a mile in front of us because the sand obstructed our vision.

Even through the sand, I could still make out the shapes of the skyscrapers and flashing lights of downtown Riyadh. It was amazing, I could have been in DC or LA, but I was definitely in Riyadh. The arabic scripts of the buildings reminded me we were in the Middle East. The city is super build up and developed – at least the parts we visited. Our hotel must have been a 4 or 5 star because it was elegant and the staff catered to our every whim.

Over the course of our visit we met with NGO’s like النهضة and tech start ups like بلاد. We got a glimpse into the lives of the Saudi elite – the movers and shakers. We visited the Harvard of the Riyadh and took a tour around the facilities. It definitely broke the stereotypes I had about the country – mainly because I didn’t really know what to expect. From what I saw of Riyadh, granted it was very limited, the country does have very developed parts, and the government is doing a lot to ensure that Saudis are getting the education they need – because its ALL FREE (same as Oman)! That’s a true investment in the population – free education.

Now I am sure a lot of people are wondering about the dress code. I can personally say that I did not see a single religious policeman. Though I wear the hijab on a regular basis, no one from the group did. To be honest, no one really wore the hijab and no one really cared. Granted we were in private establishments most of the time – the hijab would gradually slip off and no one would look twice. Our tour guide was a Christian who had been living in Saudi for 11 years, she did not wear the hijab once while she was showing us around.
The abaya was different, that had to stay on for most of the time. Though we were able to take it off in private establishments like the German Embassy. I learned a lot about the history of the black abaya while in Saudi, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not a part of the religion but it is cultural. *That’s for another blog post. Image

But overall Saudi seriously slapped the stereotypes out of my head. Especially the ones that friends and family implanted within me. Before I left I heard that the religious police was everywhere and that even niqab was forced upon the people. Though I realize I only saw a limited view of Saudi (the rich and effluent side), I think I still have a better idea of what life is like there than I did 2 weeks ago. But it has only spurred a hunger within me to go back and learn more!


Mission Impossible: Getting to Morocco

Hey guys and girls. I am not even going to lie to you and say that leaving Tel Aviv was an easy task. It was very difficult to say the least. When I first arrived I could not pass through with the group because my plane to Casablanca wasn’t until later – around 1:20am. So I was forced to wait about an hour to go through security by a snappy Ethiopian Jewish girl my age. Fine.

The clock strikes 10pm, and then I am able to enter the security lines which are mad beastly- very long and very slow. I progressed maybe 5 feet in 15 minutes. When they finally came up me, the security agent took my passport, scrutinized it, and asked me a series of questions as to why I had been in the country. I answered earnestly, and then was able to go to step two which involved putting my bags through a monstrosity of a metal detector. It seriously spit out my bags at a speed of about 10 mph; had there not been a safety guard on the other side of the machine, someone could have died from the blow of that 60lb bag. (Yup folks you are right, I did go over the weight limit again – but I will get to that later.)

After that “preliminary” check, we had to enter a line to wait for security or “scrutiny” agents to basically unpack and repack our bags for us. When I was waiting for my turn to come, I was pulled out of line…I thought “here it comes, the infamous ruthless interrogation”. But the agent led me to an empty counter to begin the bag-search process. They wanded everything – I mean everything possible – in my bag for explosives. They put my laptop in the screening machine twice – they did the same thing to my shaving cream. I can understand though, seeing that a lot of countries do not like Israel – but dang!?

When my bags were done it was time for my body. Yup, I had to go to a separate local to get a pat down. The security agent, who’s name was Judis, apologized for the possibly of making me uncomfortable, which was really nice. Though I am used to getting pat downs, the TSA usually does it with an attitude which Judis did not have – I can respect that. After a thorough search of my hair (?!), I was free to go to my gate.

But before then, I had to check in my bags. The original bag I took on the trip was broken so I bought another one in Ramallah. Of course it was over weight – about 65lb. But I didn’t have to pay, they let it pass! This is true victory- going on 5 flights in 2 1/2 weeks and 4 of those 5 times, I had over weight bags but not a dime was paid in overages. Anyways, it was off to my gate, where the real trouble started.

I got there without incident. But it wasn’t before long that I realize our plane was terribly off schedule. We were supposed to leave at 1:20 am but did not begin to board until 2:00am. I took my seat on the plane, and I heard an announcement say that we literally had 5 minutes to be seated until the airport closed – if it closed then that would mean that we could not take off and our flight would be rescheduled sometime for the next day. WHAT?! Yes. When the flight attendant made this announcement, all broke loose. People began blaming this situation on the flight attendant. If I did not know better, I would have thought a riot was about to break out on the flight.

Then the countdown began. Two minutes, one minute. We then started to taxi. I fell asleep, and woke up to a horrifying announcement that we did not make the countdown. The riots were breaking out. People started to yell. She continued the announcement saying we would have to deplane and then catch the next possible flight to Brusssels sometime tomorrow afternoon. WOAH? My connection would be jeopardy. For some with less time between their connections, they were contemplating walking to Brussels, no doubt they would probably get there faster. But the people who were trying to leave their seats were told to sit down. Okay, if we are forced to sit down, then I made the rational decision to take a nap.

I wake up to another announcement around 3:00am saying that Ben Gurion does not have its stuff together, and we have just been given absolute clearance to fly to Brussels. YAY, cheers erupt. But wait, the pilot continues to say that if we do not arrive to Brussels by a certain time, he would be in danger of losing his license so he would have to fly very fast to get there. Wait a minute. Look, I want to get to Brussels just as badly as the two Belgium girls sitting next to me – but I do not want to die in the process!? Jeez. So knowing me, I ask the flight attendant if it was safe to still be on this plane. She yes “Yes of course, we have families, etc, etc.”

Okay, lets go – heavy nap time. Its right around 4 am now. Drama aside, we get to Brussels around 8am. I get out on a tourist visa and see the city. It was nice and chilly. I spotted about 40 hijabis which is cool, unfortunately I can say there are more hijabs in Brussels than there are in West Jerusalem. Anyways, I hop on my next connection to Casablanca. I arrive and my bags ARE NO WHERE IN SIGHT. I am not going to say I didnt see it coming, I knew something was up.

Anyways, I checked into my arabic school today and I got the keys to my apartment which I will be sharing with about 8 other girls. I am going back to casablanca tomorrow to pick up my bags, I am working on the assumption that they will arrive tonight. I would know for sure if the phone number the claims people gave me would work :). I will keep you posted.


Understanding Jerusalem – القدس

I arrived in Jerusalem about three days ago, and I was immediately overcome with an overwhelming peace. I did not know why, so I attributed it to the Prophet Muhammad’s prior presence in this blessed city (as well as to the many other prophet’s presences). But I happened to randomly open the Quran to this Surah which explains the peace surrounding this city. (17:1)Image

Same Blood.

Today we were walking through the Old City. I got to go into the Dome of The Rock and Masjid Al-Aqsa, which were amazing in itself. I love having spiritual moments, and I hope I can continually reach higher and higher levels of spirituality by deeply excavating of my inner thoughts and my soul. But enough of the gushy spirituality stuff. I want to share something that happened to me today. As you may know, I am on an interfaith trip, and there are also Jews, Christians, and a lone Hindu on the trip. I was walking with our Professor, a Jewish man, I heard someone try to grab my attention in the Jerusalem souq. I turned around and I saw a Palestinian vender quickly ask me why I was walking with a Jewish man. I tried to explain to him that I was on an interfaith trip with the goal of trying to understand one another, but he continued, “why are you supporting the Jews when there are Palestinian tour guides? Our blood [mine and his] are the same”. That hit me, and I wanted to say more to him. But because we were on a tight schedule, I could not say more, unfortunately. But he was right – our blood is the same even though I am an American Ugandan and he is a Palestinian. Our blood is the same, but what makes our blood different from a Jew or a Christian? Real Talk…

Since then, I have been thinking about the Palestinian struggle. Today we met with an advocate from Peace Now, and he went over the situation with the settlers and how they fit into different classifications. Let it be known that these settlements are illegal under international law. However, there are many types of settlers: there are the nationalist settlers, the suburbanite settlers, the ultra-orthodox settlers, and the “price-tag” settlers which are basically vigilantes. We also talked about the wall – the concrete wall which separates Palestinians from Palestinians according to Daniel Seidman. I have seen this wall from an aerial view (from the shrine of Prophet Samuel in the West Bank), and I have seen where this wall encloses Palestinian villages completely – 360 degrees. I have seen and traveled on the “Israel – only” highways like 443. I have been in a checkpoint…Though I can say that I have seen these things, the reality is that I do not “live” it. It’s a totally different experience when you know that you are going back to your hotel room at night. Its a different feeling because I know that I can will pull out my camera, and leave the country in two days.

We drove through a settlement today, and it was like a utopia. So peaceful, like a bubble. We asked our guide from Peace Now if he was ever able to go to Ramallah, he said no because Israeli citizens are not able to enter into the occupied territories. But the real question then arose, how are we supposed to find peace and an agreement if the two sides do not know one another. It is easy to vilify someone you don’t know. I sincerely hope that the people on both sides are able to participate in something remotely similar to the program I have been on for the past two weeks. I have learned a lot, and I hope that peace will be right around the corner.



Thank you to the Orthodox Jewish man who helped me find the direction to the Qibla.