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A Deeper Love and Understanding

Instead of waking up and eating a nice breakfast, going to church, or watching the Houston Texan’s game on Sunday morning, Jordan’s first class of the semester in Sharjah started promptly at 2:00 P.M. Sunday also marked the end of orientation week for him and all of the new students. As he reflected upon what he’d learned the first week, he was coming to have a better understanding of Middle Eastern culture.

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The famous sail-shaped “Burj Al Arab” Resort at Jumeirah Beach.

Before Jordan was named one of Black Entrepreneurs Inc.’s See the World, BE the Future (STWBTF) scholarship recipients, and even before participating in theStudy Abroad ISEP Direct! program, Jordan fell in love with the United Arab Emirates. It was six years ago when he was in his sophomore Business Information class in high school and he was assigned to do a project on the country, the lavish lifestyle and extravagant buildings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They absolutely took his breath away during his research, causing him to admit that cities like those never existed in his narrow perspective of the Middle East. 

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The group (including Jordan) waiting to eat the traditional Emirati Cuisine at the Sheik Mohammad Center:

Chicken with rice, Khameer Bread, and Luqaimat (Fried dough balls) with Date syrup.

This past week’s lesson for Jordan was that the Emirati culture is much deeper than an extravagant lifestyle; and while they are outnumbered 8 to 1 in population by foreigners, Emiratis take pride in preserving their Arabic heritage. He was able to take a few trips out to the nice and fancy beach, and he spent time at the largest mall in the world, The Dubai Mall, next to the largest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. All of it was mind-blowing. However, the most rewarding experience of the second week was a trip he took with a small group to visit the Sheik Mohammed Center in Dubai.

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          A view of the Hotels from Jumeirah Beach, where they also offer camel rides for visitors.

Looking like it had been taken right out of an old Middle Eastern movie, the “Sheik Mo” Center is government-sponsored, rebuilt traditional Emirati settlement with tours and a restaurant to teach foreigners about the local culture. It was located right in the city of Dubai. And across the little river Jordan could see huge buildings and one distinct tower with the “Rolex” logo on it in the distance. But the irony was that it was located in a modest settlement, built and ran like an old Emirati community. 

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The Sheik Mohammed Center, which has been rebuilt to be a traditional Emirati community.

The most memorable part of the tour was the tour guide, who was a local Emirate working hard to make all of the Foreigners feel at home, teaching them to respect local culture and religion through education. The guide’s tour theme was centered around the logic that many people around the world were afraid of the Muslim religion and put off by traditional Hijabs that cover women’s faces, head wraps that favor “terrorist” clothing, and other Islamic garments because of ignorance. Essentially, if people knew the purpose of women covering their hair or why drawing Muhammad is disgraceful to the religion, then the stereotypes wouldn’t be so dominant. The tour guide discussed discriminatory laws like the ones in France, which just recently banned the use of Hijabs for Muslim women to cover their hair and the fact that Muslim men and families get “randomly searched” at American airports. It was interesting for Jordan to get a non-westerner’s point of view on an issue that was so relevant in today’s world.

What Jordan took away from the tour was that dialogue is so important.   Instead of acting uneasy when we see people dressed in traditional Muslim garments, engaging in a conversation can change everything. Simply asking about their religion or culture and asking them why they wear what they wear, will give us a legitimate reason to our curiosity rather than leaning on our own assumptions.

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A distant view of the World’s largest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Jordan left the Sheik Mohammed Center with a great appreciate for the rich culture, learning that conflicts in the middle east were almost never really about religious fighting between Muslim countries; but almost always based on politics the same as any Western country’s conflicts. Jordan learned that he should ask those students wearing all black “Abayas” or all white “Kanduras,” why they wear what they wear and to give them the opportunity to share the importance of the clothes in their religion or culture. But the most important thing he learned was that he should never let ignorance be an excuse to fear a group, no matter if it’s a religion, ethnicity, or any other group. Rather, he has decided that he will educate himself to gain a better perception instead. 

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