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Learning about the Muslim faith in an Amazigh Village in Morocco

By Fiona Rose Beyerle

In a post 9/11 world in the United States, I was taught to fear Muslims. Seeing a woman in a hijab, I was taught oppression. Seeing a man on his knees praying, I was taught terrorism. And seeing anything about Islam, I was taught fear. Fortunately, as we grow older, we can choose to challenge what we are taught as children. I joined the Fall 2019 Semester at Sea (SAS) voyage in order to see the world in a way most people will never get to. I knew I would be able to better explore other languages, cultures and religions that are often stereotyped by mainstream society. By participating in this homestay, I knew I would be able to contest these stereotypes myself.

On the first day in the village, our group was welcomed with smiles from our host siblings. My brother, Abdelhadi, walked us to our home for the next few days as the sunset blanketed the nearby mountains in sunshine. When we arrived to the home, his mother greeted us warmly. Although she did not speak English, and we did not speak Tashelhit (the Amazigh language spoken by indigenous Moroccans), she communicated immediately to us that we were welcome in her home. 

What surprised me the most was seeing that among all the community members, it seemed that women were the most respected. I remember debating in my tenth grade English class about whether women in the United States should be allowed to wear the hijab or not. Several articles we read indicated the symbolism of oppression behind this piece of fabric. Yet by being in an Amazigh village, it was proven to me that women were not in fact forced to wear a hijab, it was simply a choice. In the Amazigh village, not all women wore a hijab, this instead symbolized to me the free will women have here to practice their faith to a degree of their choosing.

I learned that being Muslim was not just about following Islam, but also being a loving individual. Hearing the prayer call five times a day, I thought it would cause the world around to almost stop time to have prayer, but that was not the case. Instead it was explained to us that the prayer call was more of a reminder to pray, and not a strict metronome to follow. One of our program leaders, Youssef, told us that Islam is more about what you want it to be for yourself. It is a reminder to value love, not hate. It is a reminder be kind. It is a reminder to be respectful. And, I think that is something beautiful we can all learn from.

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