| || |
I am no blogger. It is all I can do to sit down and write without a solid deadline and an impending grade looming over me (—thank you, American education system). The last month and a half since my first, and only, blog post has flown by and I am on the home stretch now. Every day that passes brings new experiences, new obstacles, and different emotional responses.
This frustration came on full force after I spent a beautiful weekend in Granada, Spain. In Granada, I saw women in short dresses, I saw people kissing in public, I saw people drinking and socializing freely, and no one saw me. No one was concerned about the American girls exploring those Spanish streets. Being invisible was liberating. That weekend was a dream and coming home, home to Morocco, was disappointing. Like I said, I spent the next few weeks angry at everything, but being angry will get you nowhere. I finally came out of that anger after a quick trip to the costal city of Asilah. Asilah, with its blue and white medina, its friendly people, its incredible murals, and its ocean breeze, reminded me of the beauty of this country. I wasn’t so mad anymore. My frustrations have not left entirely, but I am not Moroccan. I cannot change the culture, I cannot expect them to change it just for me, and in the end, I get to leave. It’s better to just be happy while I’m here and explore what the country has to offer.
Reflecting on that desire though, I find it not to be true. I am glad, even with the struggles I have had in Morocco, that I did not pick Europe. Even with differing cultures, it is easy study in Europe, in fact that is why so many people do so. It is so similar to the States that the challenge of being abroad is relieved a bit. It’s a completely different experience to go outside those first world borders. It is an immensely more difficult experience, but with all that I am learning, I can say it is an important experience. Living in Morocco has put many things into perspective and has pushed my mind to think in ways living in the States never calls for.
| || |
I have never thought about religion as much as I have here in Morocco. I am not a religious person and the American secular society does not force me to think about it regularly. Residing in a Muslim country for the last two and a half months has changed that. In Morocco, Islam is a part of everything. It is a part of dress, it is a part of food, it is part of the sounds you hear, it is a part of the language, but most importantly, it is a part of the government. Morocco is not just a Muslim country because the majority of its people identify as such. It is a Muslim country because Islam is incorporated into the government and the laws. There is no separation of Mosque and State. This has been such a strange concept for me. It is not as if Morocco is only populated by Muslims. In Meknes, the city in which I live, there is a church and a temple to accommodate those Christians and Jews that live here. How crazy it is, though, to think that these people, these non-Muslims, are ruled by a religion that they do not follow. Their lives are affected, on a regular basis, by an ideology and a set of beliefs that they think to be completely false and contradictory to their own. What is more, not all Muslims read the Quran the same way. There are different schools of interpretation, in addition to the between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Moroccan law follows the Sunni-Malakite ideals when it comes to law-making and governing, but they could be governing Sufi or Shia peoples, or those who see merit in some other school of thought. Many times, these thoughts contradict each other too. So, in order to obey the law, people could have to violate their religion and vice versa.
I found it interesting though, when one of my professors pointed out that there are few things in America that aren’t so secular. In the Pledge of Allegiance, we are “One nation under God.” On our currency, “In God We Trust.” We swear our leaders in on the bible instead of the constitution they are suppose to be upholding. These are all small things, but they go against our country’s basic principles, nevertheless. If you asked some Moroccans, they may think the U.S. was a Christian State, as my professor was hinting, not the secular land of religious freedom we take pride in.
Whatever foreigners think, it is comforting to know that I live in a place where my rights and other American citizens’ rights, are not affected—outright—by religion and that we are free to choose our religious beliefs for ourselves. This calls for a shout out to those ingenious Enlightenment thinkers who came up with these ideas and to our founding fathers who took their ideas and implemented them for the betterment of our country. WOOHOO!!!
| || |
Prior to arriving in Morocco I was confronted multiple times with questions about dress. "What do women wear in Morocco?" "Will everyone be wearing a burka?" "What do you have to wear?" "Is it expected that you wear a head scarf as well?" These questions seem ridiculous now and stem from stereotypes and misconceptions about the Muslim world—Orientalism, really. I have to remind myself that while I am experiencing or witnessing everyday the ways in which women are expected to adhere to societal norms, most people at home still have little understanding of Muslim society.
The veil, or the hijab, is the most prominent religiously influenced garment for Moroccan women. The hijab stirs up quite a bit of controversy in the West. In part, it is because of how Islam is portrayed, but largely the poor reaction the hijab’s blatant expression of religion that, as Americans who embrace a more secular culture, we are not used to. Religion tends to be something discussed with close friends and family, not identifiable with a piece of clothing that is worn regularly and for the world to see. But just because it is something uncommon to Americans does not mean it wrong.
The fact that it is still foreign to most Americans should entice them to go out and educate themselves on the various reasons that women across the world wear the hijab, for there are various reasons. Reasons for wearing the veil could include, but are not limited to: interpretations of the Qur'an have led to such choices, that tradition and society call for it, that law calls for it, that women want to identify with their Muslim background in a foreign country, that they want to distance themselves from being seen as sex objects, that a woman feels more respected in society by wearing, etc. In the West, people tend to see the hijab and assume that Muslim women are oppressed but some Muslim women find this article of clothing empowering.
In the west, we ask our business, professional, political, and leading women to dress modestly. Dressing more conservatively allows for women to be taken more seriously, where as immodest dress tends to be associated with the uneducated, the unrespectable, the attention seeking, and the sexually promiscuous. Our level of respect for women in America also correlates to their modesty and yet we seem oblivious to it; however, we are quick to see this Muslim culture and identify their norms as oppression without really understanding or educating ourselves on the matter.
Living in this Muslim society sometimes makes me feel trapped. I am living, as most women are, in this paradox where women are supposed to be invisible, yet I cannot leave the house without feeling stares and glares pouring over me with each step. Part of those stares is because I am visibly a Westerner, but the other part is just biology—I am a woman. It is distressing to know that there is nothing I can do to direct attention elsewhere or not attract attention at all. The frustration is only deepened with the knowledge that being a female and an American guest in other foreign countries—non-Muslim countries—does not get this sort of reaction. But then I wonder if this is how immigrants, especially Muslims and Arabs now, feel when they come to America. Do they feel as though they are the subject of intense stares and judgment just as I have here? Even with the anger I have felt, the anger I have tried to replace with understanding, I know that this experience I am having in Morocco is an incredibly important experience for a person to have. There is so much more to the world than the privilege we see in America; not all people live as freely as we do. Even on our hardest days, we don’t understand half of the struggles that the rest of the world faces. This glimpse I am having into the rest of the world, from my post here in Morocco, is incredibly eye-opening and thought-provoking, and I am so thankful to be growing from this experience.