I come from Lithuania where the only mix of people would be Russians, Polish or Latvians. I didn’t know anything about Islam or the muslims. I wasn’t taught at school about that world. I read a book One thousand and one nights and it was magical to me. That’s all I knew about the Arab world.
The first time I met a muslim was about sixteen years ago. I was wondering the streets of London and admiring the Houses of Parliament. I don’t remember exactly how I met him nor his name. All I remember is the friendliest exchange. I was walking on the street with a map in my hands. I was a proper tourist. This man offered his help. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t know what I wanted to see.
He gave me a couple of suggestions. He bought me a cup of tea. And then he set off. This kindness was, indeed, unexpected. I thought that man was an Englishman. Years later I learned he was a muslim. I wish I could repay his kindness to me. I guess writing about him is paying him back.
For a person like myself, who didn’t know much about the muslim world, ended up with working with muslims at an embassy. I guess that’s the reason they hired me. The world I was thrown in was fascinating. I learned a lot about their culture and how to work with them. I was exposed to the Middle East in London. The stories I have from that time of my life is probably for another time.
What I do want to note is how badly the news portrayed my colleagues. The manipulation that’s going on about how bad the muslims are was unbelievable. I couldn’t understand that the same people I work with would bomb something. Yes, they have egos and various mischief like anyone else but they are good people at heart. I remember asking my boss at that time: ‘Why would the news say such bad things about the muslims?’
His reply was:
‘Ignore it! It’s convenient for the world. Let’s get to work and do something great!’
And that’s how I see the muslims.
The muslim world gets the bad name for wrong reasons. What happened in Spain to the muslims? They brought the goodness to the Spanish land such as dates, palm trees, education and medicine. Did you know Cordoba had the largest library in Europe? They had about 70 libraries and in France only 7! They brought most advanced medicine. There’s numerous research comparing the Christian medicine to Islam. What did the queen Isabella do? Wanted to kill them all! Do a mass cleanse!
In order to turn the Spanish world against the muslim they hired a silly man to attack women in the market. This was the reason to start the riot against the muslims in Spain. I am sure there are more stories like that. It was the manipulation of the people to turn against Islam. And what’s happening today?
Somebody pretending to be a muslim kills many people so Islam becomes a hated religion. The muslims become the hated people of the world. George Monbiot wrote an article ‘Why stop at Isis when we can bomb the whole muslim world?’ Uncomfortable truth!!! In actual fact the goodness comes from Islam. I personally have only seen the goodness.
I have been to Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Riyadh and I went to Marrakesh. They are all muslim countries. However, very different from one another. The reason for that is variations of Islam. Different continents and countries have versions of islam. The same as Catholicism is different in a tiny town in Italy compared to Spain or New York.
For example, Catholicism has evangelist, amish and so many other. And it’s the same with islam; suni, shia and wahhabism. That variation sets them apart and makes them very different.Before I set out to hate someone or a certain religion I learn about it.
To question and be thirsty for knowledge is key. See the countries, talk to the people, read the books and get the experience and then form your opinion. I grew up in a culture where everything was monitored. What I was learning or rather what the government wanted me to learn. Therefore, everything I learned was somebody else’s truth.
The most recent and evident example of how exiting, interesting, magical and fascinating the muslim world can be was Marrakech.
M A R R A K E C H
There were many things that struck me about Marrakech such as taxi prices; how big was the sun; the freshness of the mint tea; the fish and vegetable tanginess; the simplicity of life. I don’t mean simplicity in a negative way but simplicity as nourishing and honest. I used to be in the world where everything was made to sell for profit and had no soul.
The rawness and honesty of the bread seller on the street was heart warming. The people watching a football game; the unity of them. They seemed the most “glued” group of people and all they were drinking was tea. The love for each other and appreciation was so evident everywhere. I couldn’t help but wonder where does that come from?
In London, I would show a lot of care for my friends and family, and would do anything to be there for them. However, the love and care I have seen was for people that didn’t know each other. The people cared about each other in the way that families care for each other. It hit me that it has got something to do with islam.
In islam like in catholicism you do have a rule ‘love thy neighbour as if it’s your family’ or something like that. However, I don’t see such care and love in the catholic countries. The beggar on the street would always be fed in Marrakech. They have juice from the juice owner and some food from the food stalls. They wouldn’t be asked to leave as it’s in the West and catholic countries.
The most exciting was the famous market and the square. I could spend days there. The first thing my husband said to me was, “Don’t engage and look at anyone!” What did I do? I took a photo of a lady. It turned out she was a beggar in the market. We “had to” pay her. I loved how some beggars would offer you a prayer in exchange of a few pennies. It was beautiful. However, that’s a norm in islam. In fact, the book I was reading talked about the prayers as a beggars “job”.
The sounds for prayer would echo every so often in the distance. It was something truly sacred about it. I can’t tell what exactly but it was magical. It’s the unity maybe. The love and care for each other. No matter how hard I try, I cannot find anything bad to say about the muslims. Marrakech was such a magical experience for me.
When we landed we were greeted with palm trees, the most pleasant heat, sun, and a massive queue at the boarder. We had to fill in a bit of paper. The security were relaxed and cheerful as the ice-cream seller. We were greeted by a driver the hotel had arranged for us. He looked as an excited puppy seeing his owner after a long time. The space of the place was enourmous. Wherever I looked there were massive fields with some palm trees like from a magic book.
We got to our hotel. We were greeted by an obnoxious manager. I couldn’t decide if she was mad or it was her way of being. She was the type of person you could mistake her for a squirrel on drugs. Later, I discovered, it was her way of being. Some would find her irritating at first but then later warm up to her, like I did. However, something has made me keep a distance from her.
I loved seeing children going to school on 25th December! It’s an unusual sight. In the Western world it’s a holiday and everyone overeats on that day. We met a man who creates Moroccan tiles “zelish” style. He took us to his workshop to show how it’s done. We went to a market that’s not known to the tourists and had the best time choosing doors for the house.
What I have learned is no matter where you go you have got to adapt yourself. What I mean by adapt if you go to India (I have never been by the way) is you tend to wear the clothes closer to the culture; if you go to Russia you tend shorten your skirt and so on. It’s the same in Marrakech. I put a headscarf on when I was walking around the market. I immediately felt a difference. The prices have dropped a notch.
In the market we came across the shop where the guy sold almost anything you’d want. He sold tarantulas, chameleons called ‘Lady Gaga’, ‘Britney Spears’ and so on; soaps; dried tea and all kinds of bits; that you’d only imagine but never believe it’s real. He was dressed like a king of a castle. His attitude was warm, welcoming and full of love.
And that’s how I would describe Marrakech a place full of love, warmth and welcome. I learned that if you can dream it you can create it. In the market people would make things for you, you just have to know what you want. Isn’t that magical? You dream it and create it?! Anything is possible! That’s what Marrakech taught me.
I went to sleep after a day in the market and I dreamed my book in a way that I had never thought possible to write. I never thought that a muslim country would be so inspiring, loving and full of creativity. The dreams become reality. You are the creator of all your dreams. How on earth such an inspirational country get such a bad name in the world?
The behaviour I have seen was incredible and how nice everyone was. I was surprised that none of it is broadcasted on the news. It’s convenient not to like muslims. I hope the past can teach and help understand what’s happening today to the muslims.
My question is, why would anyone dislike the muslims? Is it because the press said so? It’s easy to go “down the hill” with the rest of the people. Is it because you met some muslims, hang out with them and they did some harm to you?After all there’s no truth only your own perception. How do you form your opinions? The news? Your own experience and knowledge?