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Misconceptions About Muslim Countries
After traveling to Morocco this summer, I would like to clear up a few misconceptions about the Middle East that I heard before and after I attended the program. This year, I was granted the opportunity to travel to Morocco through the NSLI-Y scholarship, a grant given by the US State Department to study Arabic in Morocco (North Africa) with a group of 24 other American students. Upon receiving the scholarship, I received a lot of negative feedback from people in the guise of helpful warnings:
As a white, American girl, I was likely to be kidnapped and sold into human trafficking
All men would be out to hurt or suppress me
If I did not wear a burka, I would be arrested
The water was unclean and harmful to people who were not used to it
I was likely to be discriminated against because I was not Muslim
All of these “facts” frightened me, but I persisted in studying in Morocco and seeing for myself how Morocco really was. I soon learned that I should not let white people who have never visited the Middle East tell me shit. After experiencing a country that was incredibly different from what I had been prepared for, I want to sort out a few of the garish misconceptions that I have encountered.
Where I Visited in Morocco
All women are forced to wear a burka or head scarf
When I first met my host family, consisting of four women and two men, I was incredibly surprised to see that only half of the family wore the clothing that I expected. One of my host sisters wore a hijab (head scarf) and a full dress that covered her to her feet and wrists while the other two had uncovered hair and wore t-shirts and jeans. Many Middle Eastern countries, especially Morocco, formerly colonized by the French, are incredibly western and forward thinking, and people are not required or pressured to wear traditional clothing. While I was there, my sister even took me to Guilez Plaza, a huge mall with a McDonald’s, H&M, Steve Madden, and Zara. Some fathers even discourage their daughters from wearing a hijab and traditional dresses in order to show them that they should not feel restrained by men or society.
Middle Eastern/African people are all uneducated
Though the Moroccan education system cannot compare to the education system that we have here in America, they are more skilled in other ways. One of the skills possessed by the Moroccan people in an amazing ability to pick up languages, something that simply is not a priority for Americans. Each Moroccan speaks at least three languages: Arabic (Fusha), Moroccan dialect Arabic (Darija), and French. In school, student could elect to take German, Italian, Spanish, or English and many of them did. My host brother spoke four languages and many of the shop keepers could speak an average of seven to eight languages each.
Arabs hate Americans
In my school, The CLC, we attended classes of Moroccans who were learning English for a “cultural exchange.” I attended one of the advanced English courses and answered their questions about living in America. Going into the class, I expected them to hate the confident, arrogant air that I assumed more foreigners attributed to Americans, but they seemed rather amazed with our culture and educational system. The idea of the American Dream fascinated them: the ability to break out of a social class and get an education, something that simply was not possible for them.
Terrorism was visibly present
One of the most prevalent questions I received from Moroccans was that if Americans thought of them as terrorists. In Morocco, terrorism is not a problem. Though the King has some problems, he keeps his country safe and free of terrorists. Throughout all of the problems this month, every single US embassy in the Middle East has been shut down, except for Morocco and I did not once feel “threatened by the Jihad” or Al-Qaeda while I was there as I have been asked many times.
They dislike Christians highly and you must keep your religion a secret
Though my host family inquired as to my religion, they did not seem upset, or even surprised, when I told them I was Catholic. They even offered to attend mass with me on Sundays and drive me to the big cathedral in downtown Marrakesh. My host sister, Zenib, observed that our two religions were incredibly similar, but she feared that Americans had the wrong idea of Islam. Islam is an incredibly peaceful religion, but the terrorists have twisted it into something for Americans to fear and mock. They share the same god as Christians and the religion revolves around charity and prayer, yet people think only of the few terrorists who twist their religion. The other students on the trip, some Christian, some atheist, and some Jewish, all received similar reactions.