|Leather Tanning Factory Fez|
In the summer of 2007 I was fortunate enough to travel to Morocco. I had never been to North Africa or the Middle East and was looking forward to a new culture.
First, I think it is important to define a few terms:
- Arab people, or Arabs, are an ethic group of people from North Africa and the Middle East extending into part of Asia.
- Islam is a religion in which the Qu’ran is the text and teachings of Allah, or God.
- A Muslim is a person who practices or follows Islam.
- Arabic is the predominant language of the region.
Just because someone is an Arab does not necessarily mean he or she is a Muslim or that they follow Islam. Similarly, a Westerner does not necessarily mean they are Christian or that they read the Bible. Alternatively, an Israeli is not necessarily a Jew who practices Judaism.
Over my years of travel, I have come to appreciate experiences versus hearsay. Unfortunately, global media has the ability to bias and manipulate what information is provided to its viewers. I recognize this and was excited to experience Morocco with an open mind.
Flying into Casablanca via Royal Air Maroc from New York’s JFK, I was nervous yet excited to be in such a different place. I joined an Intrepid Travel Tour Group for a 15-night Moroccan Adventure. In my group I met four Kiwi nurses, an Australian couple, and a nice mix of five fellow solo travelers, one of which a Scottish lass, Laura, who is now my current flatmate in Sydney. I also shared a room with a nice young Lebanese Australian man who had been away on a gap year.
Baptized Episcopal, confirmed Methodist, and attending Catholic Mass in college, I was game for learning about Islam. What better place to learn about a religion than in an Arab country with a Muslim roommate?
|Cheeky Youngster; photo by Andrew Ingersoll|
We made our way from Casablanca to Rabat to Meknes to Fez, into the Sahara and ending in Marrakech. All the while our group leader, a local Moroccan man, educated us on the local customs and cultures. I was thoroughly excited to have a local guide to answer my ignorant questions. I took advantage of the opportunity to inquire about all things Arab and all things Islam.
While getting the basics, I was taught about the Five Pillars of Islam. These five acts are considered obligations to all Muslims as outlined in the Qu’ran:
- Shahada – a saying professing Muhammad as a messenger of God (Allah)
- Salat – five daily prayers – announced with a call to prayer
- Sawm – daily fasting during the holy month of Ramadan
- Zakat – act of giving charitably
- Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia
As far as I could see, they all seem reasonable, structured, and with a purpose. My experience in the Arab world is severely limited. By no means am I qualified to educate the populous about Arabs and Islamic culture. However, what I am capable of suggesting is that education eliminates ignorance.
|Claudia, Transport to our Desert Campsite|
When we open ourselves up to learning and education, we find a wealth of opportunity and our lives become more enriched. My time in Morocco reminded me that we are all entitled to our opinions; we are all entitled to live our lives as we like. I am also significantly thankful for having the ability to watch the NEWS with a more critical mind. Morocco taught me to think of: Who is reporting the story? Why are they reporting it? What message are they trying to convey? What is the subtext of that message? What are they REALLY trying to say and WHY? Lastly, do I, as an educated person, want to accept or reject what the NEWS is trying to make me think?
Has anyone traveled somewhere with preconceived notions and then realized they were wrong? Humbling — yet experience gained.
Royal Air Maroc has a code share agreement with Delta Airlines and services numerous destinations across Africa and Europe. For all of you Starwood Members, I was fortunate to stay at the Sheraton in Casablanca for a couple nights prior to joining my tour group. The Sheraton is in the city center within walking distance of most major sights.