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.
My summer internship with America’s Unofficial Ambassadors seems like it was forever ago already, but the time that has passed since then is probably exaggeratedly lengthened in my mind because of how much I miss the people I met in Morocco and the Moroccan way of life. I had a pretty quick turnaround from Morocco to France: I’m now continuing my travels by spending a semester in Paris. It’s a pretty perfect place though (to extend my studies of the Muslim World) since France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. Every district I go to I see Moroccan restaurants that make me desperately yearn to go back. So, you ask, what about Morocco ended up being so amazing that I can’t let it go? What exactly happened to me there? I learned a myriad of invaluable life lessons; but as life lessons can be quite complex, I will expand here on two very significant ones learned during my time in Morocco.
Lesson Number 1: The Value of Religion
If one defines the term “religious” as concerning organized religious beliefs, (which not everybody does but usually I do), I’m not a very “religious” person and I never have been. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so eager to learn about Islam these past few years, as it’s one of the most misunderstood and devoted organized religions out there. I’ve now spent two summers in Muslim countries during the time of Ramadan (the holy month of Islam) and my appreciation for the Islamic faith has grown exponentially. The month of Ramadan is known for its fasting: not eating or drinking from dawn till sunset. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll learn that it’s about so much more. It’s about devotion and dedication to a cause and a people, attempting to evolve into the best character you can be. If you haven’t heard by now, Moroccans are some of the most hospitable and generous people around. But during Ramadan not only are you supposed to remain generous, you should refrain from saying or thinking anything potentially hurtful towards others. Abstaining from every external distraction, it’s a time to focus solely on your internal thoughts and decisions. I quickly came to discover and admire the qualities embedded in this holiday and religion- qualities that are found within religions all over the world- qualities that everyone should strive to obtain.
Lesson Number 2: The Magnitude of Human Connection
The other day when I was talking to my roommate, (an international student), she said that a quality she admires about the U.S. is how they bond much more as a collective than most countries in Europe. They’re not so “cold” or “individualist” as to not be able to take delight in basic and daily human interactions with each other. When she said this I laughed and responded, saying her comment was amusing to me because I had previously made the same statement comparing the U.S. to the Middle East, except the U.S. was on the other side of the comparison. This isn’t to say that the culture of the U.S. is very cold compared to that of the Middle East, but when I was in Morocco, I noticed that genuinely caring about how a stranger is doing and what is currently happening in their life is a daily and ordinary occurrence. Instead of stepping away from the stranger on the street for fear of the unknown, Moroccans tend to step closer for the excitement of a new companion. In addition, the importance placed on family relations seems to go above and beyond. All children are seen as gifts from God and elders are unquestionably respected. Even just the way one greets a person for the first time, two kisses on the cheek, automatically creates a connection that goes much deeper than that of a handshake. By consequence, I experienced this lesson through personal interactions as well as through my own internship teaching English to the youth of Azrou in Morocco. Without a pure cause and willingness to interact, nothing will ever be as successful as it could have been.
All in all, what I learned while interning in Morocco corresponds directly to what I want people to know about Moroccans and the Muslim World; they’re exactly the same things because everything that I learned essentially stemmed from Moroccan culture. I will miss the hospitality that is second nature. I will miss the dedication and willingness to learn that my students strongly possessed. I will miss that immediate rush of human connection. To Morocco, I am forever grateful.