Before leaving for Morocco I got a lot of mixed reactions from friends and family. "Are you going to have to cover your head there?" "Is it dangerous for an American woman?" "Aren’t you worried about a terrorist attack?" My answer to all of these was a resounding no. I could not wait to get to this exotic and mysterious country, to learn about their culture and heritage and immerse myself within the community I would be living in.
It was clear as soon as I arrived how pervasive their religion is in their every day life. The call to prayer goes off without fail five times a day. Many women wear hijab, and everyday speech has references to Allah. As I moved in with my family and started my classes, religious aspects of everyday Moroccan life that used to catch me off guard became the norm and I felt myself finally settle into my routine. Our little community of homestay families, neighbors, and teachers welcomed us with love. One of the very first things we felt was the immense hospitality and soon a blanket of security fell over us as Rabat started to feel like home.
I think it’s safe to say no one saw the Paris attacks coming, and even from far away in Morocco the events were still rattling. It soon became clear to me that the repercussions for Muslims around the world wouldn’t be positive, and I worried that preconceived notions of Islamic countries would prevent people back home from being receptive to the Muslim perspective, one that I have been so lucky to experience and learn from. Islamaphobia, it seems, is taking over the West. Our first problem is the discourse we use to discuss such events. If there is anything I have learned since living in Morocco it is that terrorists are not Muslims. Not even close. We indulge them by even calling them jihadists, extremists or Islamists because those titles tie them to the religion, which they have no right to claim. Take the religious discourse out of what they do and all you have left are murderers. That is exactly what they are and exactly what we should be calling them.
Since the Paris attacks, has it crossed my mind that something could happen here? Yes of course. That blanket of security I felt when I first arrived has been lifted. Nowhere feels impenetrable anymore. But it pains my heart to think that if anything did happen it would be glossed over just like the attacks on Beirut and Baghdad were, as just another sad news report from the Middle East where “that stuff happens all the time.” Why is that?
It is not the faith we should fear, it is the people that corrupt it to enact war. It is the murderers that twist the words of the Quran to give them a reason to fight. I have been taken care of by a Muslim family, lived in a Muslim community and been taught by Muslim professors. I will never blame a religion for the violence of a group of criminals. I have seen the unbelievable hospitality and love that Moroccans can share. I have seen the drive that they have to be better people, to do the right thing, to modernize and lift their country up in the world, to become a democratic Islamic society. I will never succumb to Islamaphobia, because there’s nothing about Islam to fear. I will not allow terrorists to overshadow all the good there is in this religion and culture.
If there is one thing that I will take away from this semester, it is that we need to stand by those who practice their religion in peace and not allow them to be stereotyped because of what they choose to believe in. Don’t fear your neighbor because they wear a headscarf and pray at a mosque instead of a church or a temple. That same neighbor is exactly like the family housing, feeding and taking care of your daughter or friend abroad. Don’t fear the family fleeing the same terror that we are fighting. Don’t discriminate because they happen to be born on the wrong side of a border.
I will never regret coming here, especially now in the wake of all these tragedies. This is the time where Muslims need the West the most, to stand with them against the violence that is falsely being enacted in their name. Only together can we fight the worst enemy our generation has ever seen. No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.
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