Nearly 30 years ago I visited Egypt as part of a Middle Eastern tour/trip. I loved the warmth of the people and the sense of old and deep culture. I don’t mean the pyramids, although those were amazing in their own way. I mean the markets, the rhythm of conversation, and an accepting, curious, connected perspective on life.
Now I find myself in Qatar, working with students and teachers on music, storytelling, kindness, and the arts in general. I’ve had several powerful conversations as part of this visit that have challenged how I see the world.
Qatar has amazed me with its mix of traditional values and forward thinking. Because of the Blockade (Google it) the country has been forced to take steps toward independence and self-sufficiency that I believe will have long-term positive implications for sustainability and future growth. The country is investing heavily in education, and renewables are a big part of the economic discussion. Qatar recognizes that oil is not a long term financial strategy, and they are adjusting accordingly, led by the government. Very different from my own country.
I don’t mean to romanticize the place. The issues are much more complicated, and the Middle East in general is a multi-player chessboard of which I have very limited glimpses of understanding.
But the people are fascinating. Yesterday I had a very long and intense conversation with the lead teacher at a childcare center. Daad is intelligent, informed and deeply rooted in her Islamic faith. Her openness to talking about her life and her understanding of what happens when Islamic culture meets Western culture changed how I perceive this long-standing cultural divide. I realize how, progressive as I think I am, I carry my own set of prejudices about Islam born of ignorance.
In particular I began to understand the relative standing of women in Islamic culture. My preconceptions saw women as subservient and oppressed by yet another male dominated religion. That view began to shift at the emotional level for me. I can’t consolidate my thinking well yet, but I can see the limits I carry in how I view this particular stereotype. Daad feels no limits on her life as a woman in Islam, but instead feels empowered and respected. Her commitment to service as part of her faith inspired me. I felt lifted up by the possibilities of what happens when people with different perspectives are able to explore and discuss with compassion and genuine curiosity.
As part of my visit I’ve revived a song I wrote during my Egyptian visit 30 years ago, Sabah Il Xheer. I have had my pronunciation lovingly corrected, and it’s worthwhile to connect to the song in this blog. One of the teachers was kind enough to write the words in Arabic for this post. It’s a beautiful greeting. “Morning of Light” and I hear it said often in the schools. And I’ve also heard that the right way to spell the song is Sabah El Kheir. Both the El and the Kh happen at the back of the mouth. Hard for me.
Here’s a prayer for more mornings of light between two different, sometimes contentious and newsworthy but not necessarily opposing views of the world.