I have been interested in the Arab culture and Islamic faith since High School when I realized learning Arabic was my number one goal in life. When I began my undergraduate studies at the University of Denver with an Army ROTC scholarship I witnessed overt “Islamophobia” from soldiers returning from the Middle East. Hearing words such as “towel head” have encouraged me to learn more about the Islamic faith and Arab culture because I understand that people are all people. No matter where you travel around the world you will always meet good and bad people. Growing up, I naturally developed some misconceptions towards the Islamic faith and Arab culture because of the culture I grew up in and my media selection. My determination to learn the Arabic language on top of opening my eyes to a new culture led me to join the most intense study abroad program for Arabic and cultural immersion in a high risk area. I wanted to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture, rarely speaking English, and correcting personal misconceptions.
I’m hoping my comments do not aggravate anyone. I am just being 100% honest about my ignorance towards the Islamic faith and Jordanian culture before I travelled to Jordan. Before arriving to Jordan I didn’t believe it was possible for an Imam in the Islamic faith to be open minded, because while growing up every time I would see something about an Imam (a Muslim professor of faith/priest) it usually was in a negative connotation in reference of terrorism or “hatred for America.” This is probably because in High School I loved watching Fox News for some reason, a media outlet widely known for its unfair depiction of the Middle East and specifically the Islamic faith. There is no doubt I was affected emotionally from the 9/11 events, which also contributed to my misconceptions. Also, during my freshman year at the University of Denver I visited an Imam at a local Denver mosque for my Islamic Studies class. My negative experience with this Imam and specifically his views on women rights imprinted a negative image in my head. However, this was before I was able to wrap my head around the fact that “Feminism” is a Western created concept, also I believe there was some language barrier.
However, my opinion on Imam’s in the Islamic faith vastly changed when I lived in Irbid. My neighbor in my student apartment at Yarmouk University was the head of Sharia law at the school and the Imam of the mosque on campus. One evening, less than a month into the program, my American friends and I were drinking and listening to obnoxious dubstep, in order to help remind us of our “Americanness.” During the period when we began to gradually increase the volume of the music and our voices, we heard a knock. It was my neighbor an Imam, Dr. Abdel Raoof Kharabsheh. He asked permission to come inside, to my surprise he didn’t mention anything about the music, he’s just small talking and getting to know us (all in Arabic because he did not speak English). After twenty minutes of “chatting” Abdel mentioned that it would be polite for us to turn down the music because the walls are thin. He made a point that he loves music therefore he didn’t care, but he was worried about the other families living around us. I was blown away by how calm and seemingly open minded this Imam was. Here is a Jordanian man who is a professor of Sharia law and an Imam who is in room with a couple empty liquor bottles and three females. This is an epitome of a cultural enigma because according to Jordanian society, unrelated men and women to be in the same room in a residence. I ended up becoming closer with Dr. Abdel and was blown away by his ability to recite the Quaran. Sometimes we would play this game where he asked me, “Rich, give me a page number any page number.” I would say a random number and this man would begin reciting the Quran word for word as I followed by reading the Holy Quran. Maybe I’m just ignorant but I was blown away by how open minded and non-judgmental Professor Abdel was. The best feeling in the world is realizing when you’re wrong. I love a constant reminder of humility.