Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project

May 24th

I received an email Tuesday with a pre-depature packet, which was a whopping 28 pages of pure excitement and joy. I have printed out all that I will be needing for my year abroad, insurance paperwork, confirmation of payments, etc.

I only have 3 more days in Atlanta. I still have a TON of shopping to do. Getting ready to go out with my mommy to shop for everything from skirts and blouses to Clorox Wipes and my contact lenses.

Edit @ 10:06pm- I just came back from shopping. It was loonggg guys. Usually, I love shopping. I am a certainly enjoying myself with my mom going from many different stores all over town, but there is still SO much to buy! So much to pack. I have a master packing/shopping list that just keeps getting longer by the day. I need to savor my last days in Atlanta more!

May 16th

Great news! Our visas to Saudi Arabia have gone through! YAY, five solid years of multiple re-entry. All I have to do is make sure Israeli officials do not stamp my passport….easier said than done. Only 13 more days until I am in DC and 15 more days until I am out of the country!

May 15th

This weekend was exciting! I overnighted my passport to the program’s connection to the Saudi Embassy. We had to send them in order to process our visas to enter the Kingdom in time. It was a bit scary mailing it on Thursday since the deadline was so soon (that Saturday). I was relying on the mail services to be diligent, which they are most of the time…I think. Anyways. I got confirmation Monday that our connection received my passport, and it is probably in the Ambassador’s assistant’s hands as a type. I also just got confirmation last night that my flight to DC has been booked. I shall fly out on the 28th of May. That day shall be the beginning of an amazing embarkment, God Willing.

Hello all! Here is the deal. I am will be participating in the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project this summer, inshAllah. We will be traveling to a couple of Arab countries on a study/ tour type of program. The goal is to promote understanding and inter-religious and intercultural dialogue. The program starts on May 28th and goes until June 13th. I hope to post a blog for each one of those days, granted there is internet access. But we will mainly be in the Gulf, which I am sure is rich with wifi. So stay tuned!

April 11th

I made this video as an introduction to myself and what I love. I submitted it to the program, and here’s a taste! https://vimeo.com/63853061. I do not have much for now except for the fact that I am SUPER excited to meet these new and interesting people as well as getting to travel through the Middle East!

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Reflection on the Trip:

1. What was the most illuminating experience from the trip?
When I think about the many experiences I have gained as a participant in the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project, I can no longer think of the project simply as a trip. Even though I have been to the Middle East a few times, the journey expanded my understanding of the many different cultures which make up the Middle East. It showed me how domestic and international policy affect the lives of thousands, and it showed me how differences in religious interpretation manifest in entirely different societies.

On our first day in Oman, we listened to Ahmed Al Mukaini, an Omani legal expert, explain the legal framework of Omani society. We learned that Omanis are Ibadhis, and they do not follow the Wahhabi tradition of its northern neighbors, most notably Saudi Arabia. Oman’s interpretation of Islam is one that is built on the grounds of coexistence and acceptance of others. This basic principle is the reason why there are churches and temples
alongside mosques. Also when it comes to settling their legal matters, followers of other religions are free to opt out of sharia law in exchange for their own religious jurisprudence. In contrast, just on the northwestern border, there is Saudi Arabia which is also a Muslim country. Yet, the laws stem from completely different interpretations of the same religion, resulting in different societal norms. In Saudi, there are issues between shia and sunni Muslims; clashes are occurring without even adding completely different religions into the dynamic. Even the climate is different. When in Saudi there was the feeling that the religious police may be right around the corner or a concern as to what would happen if someone’s head scarf slipped off.

This experience reinforced my belief that experiential learning is one of the most powerful tools one can employ. While many still view Islam in the Middle East as a static monolithic entity, I learned that is not the case especially when one examines two Muslim neighboring countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia back to back. It was illuminating to see how the interpretation of the religion truly makes a difference when it comes to understanding the society, its norms, and its values. Oman is very advanced when it comes to societal coexistence while Saudi still has ways to go.

2. What was the most surprising experience on the trip?
I think the Palestine­Israel leg of the journey surprised me the most. Walking through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem was one of the most peaceful, spiritual, and rich experiences. From our walking tour, we learned that the Old City is broken up into quarters. There is the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, and the Christian Quarter, etc. Because sections of the Old City are named after various religious groups, I thought people would be generally confined to their respective quarters. I was surprised to see Orthodox Jews walking through the Muslim Quarter, and I was also surprised to find out that some of the most beautiful Churches were located in the Muslim quarter. Everyone seemed to be going about their business and their daily lives ­ coexisting.

During one of our evenings in Jerusalem, there was a light show in which activities and light exhibitions filled the ancient holy alleyways of the city. There were many people enjoying the events, and contributing to the liveliness of the Old City. From Palestinian merchants selling their wares to foreigners to Orthodox Jewish teenage girls in their fashionable black knee­length pencil skirts, they were all part of the same dynamics of the Old City. It was surprisingly beautiful.

I wish to share these images with others. As the situation currently stands, images of violence and terrorism reign supreme when one thinks of Palestine/Israel. Having seen another side, a more human side, I think it is a responsibility of mine to share that reality. That coexistence is possible, and I think the Old City is a great example of that. This coexistence and respect for one another gives me a level of hope regarding the future of Palestine/Israel.

3. What assumptions did you have about the Middle East, interfaith relations, intercultural understanding, and leadership that were proven wrong or somehow altered by the trip?
Saudi Arabia is where my assumptions about the Middle East were challenged. From the way the Western media portrays the country, it seems as though Saudi’s patriarchal society prevents women from driving, educating themselves, and having any sort of personal freedom. Though parts of the Saudi population are facing such issues, there are many women who are working in business, medicine, and tech industries. Many Saudi women are starting and running businesses and organizations, and many are working to help other women across the kingdom. We met with the CEO of Al­Nahda who is a Harvard educated, eloquent, multilingual Saudi woman. Her organization helps Saudi women find employment and aids young girls in their educational endeavors. We also met with a female Saudi physician, who made an interesting statement about the state of Saudi women. She said that many people believe that the issue of women driving is the most important issue. But, the reality is that the battle against obesity and the struggle to attain a healthy lifestyle are actually more important issues to them. It was great to see and hear Saudi women frame their own achievements and also share their own struggles rather than having media outlets do the job for them.

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