I created this documentary in order to open peoples minds about multicultural misconceptions and specifically on ‘Islamophobia” in America.
Again, I realize this post is not about the country of Jordan but it relates to the core theme of my blog because of opening peoples minds about Arab culture in order to continue sharing my interest in the Middle East and the Arabic language.
The documentary is called, “Multicultural Misconceptions: Islamophobia.”
and maybe not worth the hassle all the time
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.
This is the Imam, Dr. Abdel Raoof Kharabsheh
First, I will clear up some cultural misconceptions on the relationship between men and women in the Middle East. For instance, it’s forbidden to hit a woman in any kind of manner according to the Islamic religion. It is also forbidden by faith to kill. However, according to Tribal Law until recently there have been rare cases when honor killings can be carried out in an attempt to “retain family honor.” There is no doubt that women are not treated up to “our standards” in the West, however, I think it is important for people to consider that “our standards” are just the cultural norms in America and is not the same across the entire globe. But, I believe that the sexual regression from strictly following the Islamic religion (and making it illegal to have sex before marriage) can influence this segregation of sexes. Often I found young Jordanian men clueless on how to socialize with women because of the segregation. I believe outlawing sex before marriage has severe psychological impacts on the population of Jordanian society. Sex is a natural act of life, but in Jordan people aspire to become married and then have sex frequently. Therefore, making honest friendships with people of the opposite sex in Jordan can be quite the challenge. I should reiterate that I was living in a very conservative Muslim city. The conclusions I make can only be acquainted with the city of Irbid.
Not until the last two months of my program in Irbid was I able to make female Jordanian friends. One day my friends Nate, BJ, and I decided to teach many of our male Jordanian roommates at Yarmouk University how to play Frisbee. The young men were very intrigued by this foreign game. It was slightly difficult to explain how to throw the Frisbee exactly in Arabic therefore we acted it in a slow, dramatic fashion. One day a group of female Jordanian students seemed very curious by this game. My friend Fuad said to the girls “yella, ma fe mshkla” (meaning “let’s go, no problem”). When these girls joined us to play Frisbee I realized just how amazing this was. Guys and girls would never think of playing a sport together in Irbid and here are these young ladies who defy this cultural norm. Defying cultural norms is not very common in Irbid. The group of girls named Hadeel, Asaala, Aseel, and Sara began to play Frisbee with us every Thursday and Sunday. After a few weeks I became close with this group of girls. I began to see these girls about four times a week and would walk around campus with them, eat at restaurants, and receive extra help in Arabic as well. Not only did these ladies become great friends it also was the main catalyst for my rapid improvement in Arabic because these women did not speak any English. A casual relationship between a man and woman in Irbid is very difficult because of the cultural values and the laws. I feel very honored to have made friends with these girls because of the harassment they and I dealt with when we were together in public. I wasn’t sure if the other Jordanian students were jealous, immature, or etc. but we would constantly have to ignore verbal harassment from “shababs” (young guys) on campus. I continue to stay in contact with these girls and hopefully will meet up with them in the future either in America or Jordan.