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.
By Bethlahem Belachew
“Enti Muslima?” or “are you Muslim?” asked Walid, after I told him that I was fasting during Ramadan.
“La” I answered, attracting half of the classes’ attention.
With a puzzled face, Zakia asked why I wasn’t Muslim. As I was carefully crafting a good response, Aziz followed up asking “enti qafira?” I don’t think that I will forget the baffled expression of my students when I responded that I was neither a Muslim nor a heretic.
Ever since that day they always ask the question “so are you fasting today?” to which I answer, “Yes.”
I appreciate their frequent effort to label me in a way that is most convenient to them, and I am pleased to see that my presence in their lives and my actions evoke a certain question. In my own spiritual journey, I have tried to eliminate such a dichotomous view of the world, and meeting people from different parts of the world has helped me attain this position. My difference of faith, tradition and even looks is question enough already to my students; consumed by lesson planning and grading, I had not acknowledged my mere presence as another instrument for learning. It gives me great joy in knowing that my students appreciate me enough to not accept the idea that because I am of a different faith, it does not necessarily mean that I am to be condemned eternally.
As getting to know me has made my students more or less sympathetic toward people who are different, fasting has made me more sympathetic and mindful of the people around me. During Ramadan, the pace of life slows down; people wake up later as they stay up late to have suhoor , the last meal before sunrise. It is not uncommon to see people laying in the shade as it is extremely hot. As one might guess, it is illegal to consume food or drinks in public, it is not only religiously immoral, but also culturally unacceptable. Although my Moroccan friends and colleagues told me that I have the tourist pass, I found it difficult to go the university cafeteria, or eat in the car in front of our driver.
After much reflection, I wholeheartedly decided that I would be fasting the remaining three weeks of Ramadan, for both religious and moral reasons. I was never more wrong in my initial belief that Ramadan would hinder me from fully experiencing Morocco, So far it has been quite the contrary. Partaking in this religious tradition has brought me closer to my friends, my students, all of Morocco, and I dare say, the Muslim world.