Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Faith, In A Place Where It Defines You

I have a friend Mo, who is Egyptian and German but speaks Arabic and is culturally Egyptian, but from Boston. Him and I talk about religion together. He’s a Muslim and I’m well, I’m not sure yet. He, and so many others here are open to sharing things with me about Islam, about their faith, and why they believe what they believe. Islam is I think the religion that is most actively practiced in daily life. The dedication to 5 daily prayers, the attempts to devote so much of your day to what you believe, to your God I find to be incredibly admirable. I don’t believe in Mohammed’s divinity but I find many of the principles of Islam interesting. I have language partner Emey, we meet every week to discuss different topics (1/2 in English and 1/2 in Arabic). She shares her perspective on religion with me, why she believes what she does- and I just find her honesty and openness so refreshing. People here talk about their faith so openly (but only if you are Muslim or Christian) and instead of being an inhibitor of converstaion, is something respected, and actually quite common. Whereas in the states its a topic to stay away from, here even the taxi drivers curiously ask you about your religion. (More to come on this topic)

It’s funny how similar all the three major religions are- even the principles of morality shared by nearly all religions lie along the same lines- all preach principles of love, truth, patience, kindness and grace. The world would be so much simpler if we could just recognize our shared principles and agree to disagree on the details. Unfortunately, so much of the political sphere of religion is shaped by responding to the fanatics (from every religion) who ruin it for the rest of us.

It is ironic that those who consider themselves the most religious ad most devoted are the ones who feel their religiosity some how excludes them from following the simplest of commandments- love your neighbor, treat others the way you would like to be treated(though not officially a religious principle...still, arguably commonly applied in most religious texts).

That is why I think I consider myself to be a kind of universalistic in regards to religion. Humans are so prone to fault- to become absorbed in the hierarchy, the politics, and the power struggles. There are pieces from each religion that I admire, believe and also criticize. I do believe in one God, at least I’ve gotten that much down. I don’t really know where I stand on the details about life after death, messiahs, rules etc. but I believe in acts of kindness, a supreme being, a kind heart and the moral values propagated by the major religions. I figure when I know, I’ll know. But I want to experience and explore every religion before I can have any kind of full understanding of what I do believe, and why.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Answer

I actually have only seen someone get hit by a car. It was the saddest thing I have ever witnessed. As you have probably read in my posts, Egyptian drivers are freaking nuts. Seriously, the worst I've ever seen- including Italy. NUTS! So I was in Alexandria and this 20-something guy was crossing the street- a taxi just literallly took him out. He buckled over and had to get help standing up. Thank god I don't think he was really seriously injured but it was definitely lucky. All the others things on my list have yet to happen...lol.

and now- again my university is talking about shutting down for 10 days because of swine flu. Seriously, I have had the weirdest semester of my life, in a good way.

Post again soon.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Ignorance That Persists...

If you are wondering how I live here, what I perceive- the answers are varied. I am a Jewish Studies/Arabic/Political Science Student. That is what I study. When I come to university, I expect the same degree of openmindedness. I believe agreeing to disagree is sometimes the best solution- but at least freaking open your closed mind to an idea besides your own.

I would like to quote for you all the view of Jews from the Arab side. I am NOT saying this perception does not exist on the other side, for I know it does. Some of my Israeli friends think Arabs are inferior/have no place in Israel. I am not taking a stance here- for this is not the place, at least not now. But please think about the following statements, taken directly from our Universities newspaper at the American University in Cairo. Educate yourself, see the world how I live it here.

The article attemps to paint a picture of cooperation to some extent, but fails on all accounts. "Although AUC is a community constucted of diverse cultures and people of different backgrounds, the anti-Jewish propoganda of Arab countries often has its influence on students..." Okay...setting up the article. A Business studnet here said "La, wala respect them wala zeft, dol nas zebala." Which translates into No, there is no respect for them, they are a filty people. They go onto say "We{Arabs} have a wrong stereotupe that Jewish people are betrayers and care too much about money." Admitting wrongs is lovely, but this is the best attempt the article gives at expressing how not all Jewish people are awful people.

Quite frankly, this mindset is the most upsetting thing I have encountered. This is why I want to do what I want to do- work, even a little to lessen this crappy stereotype. I have several Jewish friends who attend school with me in Egypt, are equally appalled. However, they choose to not take action, for good reason. Keeping your religious preference quiet (if you're Jewish) is oft times a matter of safety then a point of pride.

So now we continue with the article...(sorry if I'm ranting..) A professor talks about how he holds a class every semester on modern Zionism and Judaism and how the class is always full of kids curious, trying to break the stereoype, etc. This is obviously a good thing- but clearly the minority viewpoint. The professor says "the stereotypes believed often resemble conspiracies of Jews in running American, killing innocent Palestinian children, causing all of the world's sorrows and the list goes on. It is always "the Jews" as though a confederacy of evildoers operates under the Star of David." (pause for reaction...)

Alot of kids here have never even met a Jew, or if they did, they wouldn't know it. The article says, "Jewish students and faculty members are often mistaken for Christians, and because of the current political and cultural tensions in Egypt regarding Jews, most of them are not too keen on correcting others on their religion." Again, note the secrecy factor- a matter of safety more or less.

Okay get ready to be pissed, because I was. So the article goes on about the willingness of students to know the other side. NOW GET A LOAD OF THIS!!! "An example he {the professor} gave was of when he had a conversation with 2 Egyptian students, and one mentioned that Hitler's Mein Kampf was the only autobiography she had read. What ensued was a talk about Egyptains who idolize Hitler for his victimization of six million Jews. At some point, the girl said she wants to meet Jewish people." ARE YOU serious!!??!?! That is their idea of openmindedness? That literally made me sick. I don't care where you come from- idolizing the a sick man who murdered millions of people. not Jews. PEOPLE. is absolutely disgusting.

As I contemplated throwing the paper away, I thought I would share this with all of you. Oh, one more fun thing. The article further notes, "There have been other displays of anti-semitic propoganda on campus. According to an anonymous Jewish student, an Egyptian walked around the university with a pair of jeans with a swastika drawn on it. "Some of my Egyptian friends tried to explain to me that here in Egypt, the swastika is seen as an anti-Israel symbol and do not associate it with the Holocaut," he said. "Yet pleading ignorance wouldn't save me if I wore a shirt with the Prophet depicted on it.""

Which is exactly the point I make. Meh! The Egyptian government, and many other Arab governments, and Arabs in general are allowed to hate a people so fervetly, to wish for its destuction- yet have no seperation of even acknowledgement of the difference between the Zionist political ideology and Judaism the religion.

The thing that really bothers me is that there is zero distinction made between Jews as a whole, Israeli's, Settlers, Zionists, etc. Though some do overlap, not all do. Not all of my Jewish friends fit into 1, or even all of these categories. People are people are people. That is it.

If we all just focused on each other as people, the world would be such an amazing place. Fat chance.

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