We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Shibrika Pansy who recently returned from volunteering with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Morocco. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
Volunteering in Rabat, Morocco for three weeks seemed like plenty of time for me to accomplish my goals. However, when I reached my final weekend in this beautiful country, I wished for more time. Just as my journey had begun some time ago, I knew it would have to end. According to the itinerary I loosely prepared, I was scheduled to visit Merzouga, Morocco with another Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer to learn about the Berber culture. After ten hours of travel using several forms of transportation, we arrived in this tiny Saharan oasis. At our hotel, we would have just enough time to eat breakfast, shower, and mildly explore this unfamiliar location before we would travel by camel to campgrounds in the Sahara Desert.
Merzouga was simple, yet absolutely stunning due to its position at the foot of the Erg Chebbi dunes. And through intense conversations with our tour guide and the hotel owner about the history and the indigenous people of this region, I departed Merzouga with a wealth of knowledge and fond memories. The hotel owner recommended that we participate in a Gnawa musical performance. Personally, I feel this was one of my favorite activities because music has always held a special place in my heart. Through the use of music, people are able to find a common bond where differences aren’t as important as similarities. Gnawa music is a prayer and a celebration of life that combines music with acrobatic dance. I discovered that many of the musicians were singing songs about the adversities they had faced. Through all of the pain and suffering, they managed to keep enough fortitude to maintain a positive attitude about life. And as they performed their happiness was like a disease that anyone present was sure to catch.
In Morocco, I definitely learned that time does pass quickly when one is having a wonderful time. During my last week in this Muslim majority country, I was able to reflect on numerous things I had witnessed. Particularly, the role women played in society. I spoke with several men about current issues in Morocco, and I received a lot of useful information. When I mentioned women’s rights, most Moroccan men answered the question I felt only halfheartedly. I think they thought I was referring to human rights, which deals with the issue partially. So I found myself repeatedly asking the question of “how are women treated in Morocco?” Answers would come, but not as quickly as I anticipated.
Several women at the East/West Foundation where I was teaching English asked me to lunch at a restaurant near the Atlantic Ocean one afternoon. Immediately, I agreed because I wanted to discuss a few things about Moroccan culture with these women. Throughout my time at the East/West Foundation, I was able to develop a solid relationship with these women, so I felt comfortable asking questions and receiving feedback. We had a very informative, positive conversation that lasted about four hours in a very intimate setting. At last, I received the chance to discuss the status of women in Morocco with Moroccan women. Although, women were viewed mainly as domestic servants, things were changing gradually due to the new “fatwa” or laws designed by the King of Morocco. Women were given the opportunity to educate themselves and seek employment outside of the home in demanding fields such as medicine and law. The women seemed very joyful when we spoke about women’s rights because progress was visible. Due to the new laws, Moroccan women have become more knowledgeable and they have developed a wider range of skills.
While volunteering in Morocco, I wanted to engage in as many activities as I could in an attempt to understand the Muslim world. Several of the women I encountered encouraged me to visit the “hammam”. The hammam is a cleansing process Muslims are required to complete weekly in order to please Allah. Women and men have different times when they can enter the hammam. An individual enters several rooms filled with showers and allows someone to scrub his or her body with black soap and a mitten. The temperature of each of the rooms is different ranging from hot to cold. There are approximately twenty people of the same gender in one room. Visiting the hammam was definitely a great experience for me because it forced me to get comfortable with my body around other women, and it strengthened my mind by removing negative thoughts. The main purpose of the hammam is to allow one to form a greater connection with God. The Muslim women at the hammam were so focused on increasing their spiritual link to their creator, until they forgot about the size, shape, and color of the bodies of the women around them.
WhenI left America to travel to Rabat, Morocco, I did not have a set agenda. The only thing I was certain I would participate in was volunteer work at a placement set up for me through Cross-Cultural Solutions. Not adhering to such a strict schedule as I often do in Dallas, Texas allowed me to be fully present and soak information up like a sponge in Morocco. I was able to achieve a state of blissfulness I have never felt before, and it is all due to a visit to a country in North Africa.