Monday, July 28, 2008

The Iraqi Imam

"I have found out that there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them." ~Mark Twain

One of my most interesting experiences here has been the opportunity to meet different people, especially Iraqis. This is because we're engaged in this long war in Iraq, yet I feel we know very little about its people and culture, and how they feel about and perceive the war and occupation.

Enter Sheikh Abdullah Al-Jumayli, the very young and energetic Imam at my local mosque here. He's only slightly older than me, married with a 1 year old daughter Maryam, and has come to Jordan to study a masters and afterwards doctorate in Islamic studies.

Sheikh Abdullah is full of energy; he's always joking around, singing, and even wrestling in the mosque sometimes. He has such an amazing voice that, despite his youth, he often leads the large friday congregational prayer because his recital is heavenly.
video
I asked him where he learned to sing and recite like that, and how he learned all his songs (he has an incredible number of traditional Iraqi and Islamic songs memorized), and to my surprise he replied that Iraqi people love to sing. Wherever you go, he says, you find people singing in the street, singing in the market, singing in their house.

He also went on to describe his village in Iraq. Everyone lives in nice villas, and have yards and fruit trees, and as a child he used to swim in their clean flowing river. Sounds nice, right? He's from Falluja! I'm very intrigued to see what Iraqi is really like, but of course I can't go now, it would practically be suicide (despite being Muslim and speaking Arabic, I am clearly Western and they seem to have a shoot then ask sort of policy on the streets there).

When I discussed with him the issue of Iraq and the violence and instability there, he blamed the continued US military presence. That's emerging as a consensus here amongst Middle Easterners it seems (a recent Al-Jazeera poll found that 90% of its viewers think this way). It makes sense to a degree, as Muslims often don't like people occupying there lands and react rather viciously to it, even if their intentions are sound. However, when I asked what would happen to Iraq after the army leaves (to their credit, they seem to diminish the amount of sectarian bloodshed there), Sheikh Abdullah seemed confident the sunni awakening would take firm control of the country (he's sunni). Alarmed, I asked him wouldn't this just lead to more bloodshed, and he seems confident not, but without any clear justifications.

This is what I've taken away though from getting to know Sheikh Abdullah, who I would consider a personal friend now: he's a normal person. He's a singer, an Imam, a sunni, but above all he's a human being with a family that he's wants to provide for and live in peace with. I think almost all Iraqis are just like that, but haven't yet figured out how to do so given this post-Saddam vacuum. May God grant peace to their land and ours.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Life in Amman

I am with a group of 22 students on a State Department scholarship studying Arabic at the advanced level this summer in Amman, Jordan. Originally, we were slated to study in Sana'a, Yemen, but due to some security issues we got moved the last second to Jordan.

This program is really wonderful. We study at a center called Qasid, which was established by Westerners who mastered Arabic, which is really good because (1) they know how to teach Arabic to non-native speakers and (2) it has the organization one comes to expect from living in the West (for all the great qualities of Middle Easterners, anyone who has traveled to the region knows that organization isn't one of them). We have 2 hours of class a day in the morning, and optional tutoring in the afternoon, with Fridays and Mondays off. I've felt my Arabic has really improved this summer, to the point where I can understand what I hear, convey my thoughts, and read without a dictionary.

We live in a hotel apartment, Bateel, which means we have a living room and kitchen but they also come twice a week to change the sheets, towels, and clean the apartment. It's a pretty nice and fancy set up; overall this scholarship treats us extremely well. My roommate is a dentist and Imam from Maryland, whose very careful how he uses his time here. He has a family and responsibilities in America and realizes this opportunity may not come about again, so he's trying to make the most of it (and setting a good example for me). Other than him though, most everyone else is non-Muslim and studying Arabic for all sorts of purposes - music, anthropology, archeology, politics, literature, poetry, etc. I seem to have won my seat here as the "Arabic teacher" (although I teach math, I also tutor in Arabic now at my school).

Amman is fantastic. It gets hot during the day, but it's a dry heat, and it gets quite cool by night, and there's a soothing breeze that blows and it's all very peaceful (I guess that's desert climate). The people here are also really nice, and I'll try to highlight some examples later. Ironically, most people are not Jordanian here, only about 20%. The vast majority is Palestinian, and now they also have a lot of Iraqi refugees. Financially, it's better off than Fez, where I was last summer, but not as rich as some of its Gulf neighbors. Considering they have few natural resources and no oil, it's pretty impressive what the Royal family has been able to do with the country.

Introduction

In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

I decided to start this blog as a way to stay in touch with my friends and family as my travels tend to take me all over the world. I named it "Ibn Blauvelt" in respect to the famous Moroccan sojourner, Ibn Battuta ("Ibn" means "son of"), who traveled approximately 75,000 miles over 30 years, long before the time of steam engines and trains. He's a role model of mine, as I find in traveling and getting to know other people and cultures you get to know yourself better and your purpose in life.

Every few days I will try to add a post and pictures from a trip or facet of my journey here, and maybe I can even convince my sister Heather to do the same as she travels off to Argentina this fall. Please share your comments and questions through posts!