Mosque Meditations

Written by current student Hope Zigterman (Gordon College, Massachusetts)


It was a giant eight-sided room with wall-to-wall carpeting. The room was lit with a giant circular chandelier and there were stained-glass windows all along the upper part of the wall. The “decorations” included no pictures or paintings, but only geometric designs and Arabic writing. It was a very beautiful and peaceful room.

Before the call to prayer, a few men trickled in and began their individual prayers. One man in a wheel chair came in and he was helped into a chair. A few others grabbed chairs as well – a demonstration of the principle of ease. Following the call to prayer, more men slowly began to enter. They remained pretty spread out, with only about twenty men in the room. However, once the group prayer began, being led by someone calling out a few words softly (all I heard/understood was “Allah”), all of the men gathered towards the front in two long rows. As more men entered, a third row was started. Altogether, there were probably about 250 men. Between 100 and 200 men were there when the group prayer began and the rest filed in as it continued. Afterwards, most of the men dispersed, but a decent amount stayed to complete individual prayers, again, spreading out throughout the room.

What struck me about the service/praying, was that all of the men came as they were. Some came in jeans, some in the traditional long garments, some had hats, some had their construction clothes on, and some wore business suits. The only uniformity was that everyone takes off their shoes before entering. The idea of people coming as they were reminded me of haj (pilgrimage to Mecca), when everyone wears a white robe so that they are all equal. I think it is also significant that on normal days they do not all wear the same thing, but come from wherever there walk of life has situated them. As they all prayed together, they are equal before God. I was impressed by the fact that it was not just older men. A lot of shebab (“young men”) were also praying. Islam is not just a religion for one type of people, but it is for all people, regardless of their race, age, or employment. I was also struck by the sense of peace available in the room. Maybe it was because the carpet made it cozy. However, as I watched the men praying, I thought to myself, that Islam is truly a religion of peace. The men in that room were taking time out of their day and their schedules to come and pray. This takes effort and commitment and suggests a deep belief in God.

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Middle Eastern ‘Soccer’ Program?

Written by current student Caleb Sorenson (Kings University, Edmonton, AB, Canada)


 

I really loved sports as a kid. I was always playing soccer, basketball, and street hockey with my friends. Junior High and High School were both filled with various different teams and sporting events. As I grew older, I realized that sports were not everything in life (it was quite the revelation at the time) and since then I have become more passionate in studying humanities. Hence, coming to the Middle East to study.

However, I was pleasantly surprised that my love for sports could be an entrance to interact with so many local people. Throughout my whole semester, I have been able to connect with a lot of people based on the common ground of sports.

In Jordan, I was invited by teachers at my Arabic school to play soccer in a park it was a great way to meet local people. Another fun soccer game happened in the parking lot outside our program apartment building during a family party that was put on by our landlord.

Every Tuesday, MESP students are a part of service projects. My service project was at a school in a neighboring city to Amman called Zarqa. My time at the school consisted mainly of having one on one time with students who needed help in English. A common conversation I would initiate would be about who their favorite soccer player or team was. This got the students excited because they were talking about something they were passionate about.

Another part of MESP is participating in homestays. The family I stayed with had children who absolutely loved soccer. We would play every night on their drive way. Sometimes they would even invite relatives and neighbors to join in the fun. These nightly soccer games were a great way to bond as my Arabic, and their English, was limited, but we still found a way to connect.

Another part of the semester included travelling to Morocco. This trip was incredibly fun, and a notable experience for me was just chatting to shopkeepers, while drinking very sweet mint tea, about soccer. Also in Morocco on our last evening in Casablanca, I went to the beach and joined local Shabab (Arabic for young men) in playing soccer on the beach. There were multiple games going on, and easily hundreds of people playing on the beach. It was by far the most scenic field I ever played on as the sun set in the evening. This game was particularly fun as my communication with the other people playing consisted of English, Moroccan Arabic, French, and Spanish. It was a great way to practice all of those languages and to meet local Moroccans.

I never knew that when my parents first signed me up for soccer as kid that it was going to be so helpful during my time in the Middle East.

A Night In A Moroccan Medina

Written by current student Nadia Abboud (Bethel University, Minnesota)


One of our days in Fes we traveled far & wide. After a delicious breakfast at our hotel, us MESPers were taken on a tour of the ancient (and oldest) Medina in Fes (supposedly the oldest ‘continually occupied’ Medina in the world!) For those unfamiliar with it, a Medina is an old Arab quarter of a city in a given North African city (it is many shops of basically anything you could imagine from tanneries and pottery-making workshops to restaurants and supermarkets as well as mosques in this particular Medina)

After, we went to Art D’Argile a pottery and mosaic factory to see how these are made in Fes. There is a special clay that’s used for making the pottery and mosaic (also for facial mask) this is then moulded (the pottery on a wheel that’s manually propelled with the feet). Next, it sits out to dry and if desired the clay is dipped into a glaze (for colors like saffron or blue). Then comes the detail. For the pottery it is artfully hand-painted then let to dry before selling. The clay for mosaic is cut into shapes that fit each other like a jigsaw puzzle, then they are pieced together into a design of varying shapes i.e. for a table or coaster. Since we were students, the store owner gave us a ‘special offer’ of 30% off anything in the store (I didn’t have money on me, otherwise I would have been tempted to buy).

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Afterwards we went atop an ancient castle for a panoramic view of Fes. Then was lunch (and a cup of guh-way nos-nos– half expresso half frothy milk) and our interesting speaker who discussed moderate Islam of Morocco.

Finally, free-time! Six of us went to a café (which had at least 4 terraces…we went for the top view) to got a bite before our shopping expedition. I ordered an iced tea which was a Moroccan tea iced. It had quite the flavors going on with lime, ginger, mint, and one other herb I couldn’t quite identify. Little did we know at that point what that evening would have in store…

While waiting outside the Medina for friends to get money from the ATM, we were addressed by a young man of 11 yrs.- Omar. He, like many restaurant representatives, came to get us to come eat at his mother’s restaurant. Of course, we’d already eaten but props to my fellow student, Abby, for still pursuing conversation with him because in the end he lead us on an ‘extended tour’ of the ancient Medina which resulted in fairly good deals on textiles and leather goods. **Side Note- Omar was a quite a gentleman for his age.

Sometime along the way, I believe when we were at his uncle’s weaving/textile shop we picked up another young boy who happened to also have the name of Omar (and of about the same age). This textile shop was deep in the heart of the Medina. It was dark and we walked for a good 30-45 minutes to get to the shop (some of the byways seemed kind of sketchy but we made it, ‘our guide’ had quite a good sense of direction). Once we arrived we were warmly welcomed by Omar’s relatives. One of his cousins gave us a demonstration of how the weaving on the horizontal loom was done for the scarves, tablecloths, and bedspreads. Following this, she proceeded to dress us up in the traditional Saharan (desert) garb. To each a robe and turban was given and the outcome looked like this:

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Afterwards, good Moroccan mint tea (compliments of Omar 🙂 was offered to us as contemplation began on our choices of purchase. Deals were made and money exchanged and the next thing I knew we were on our way to a tannery were I planned to buy a belt. I had to haggle a fair bit (with the help of Omar to know good pricing) but in the end I got it for 200 durum (~$20 USD). Here too we were offered tasty mint tea before our trusty guides (Omar-tain –Arabic pun suffix meaning 2 of a given commodity :)) took us back to our hotel for the night. By the end of the evening I was the proud owner of a Moroccan style blanket, 2 scarves (1 was a freebie in a combo), a coin purse, and a leather belt.

Wow, what an experience! As I said, I could have never imagined the night would’ve turned out as it did and we made two new friends out of it.

Well that’s just a taste of our MESP Moroccan experience.

Allahu akbar?

Written by current student Abigail Prichard (Trinity Western Unversity, BC, Canada)


 

The last three months in Jordan have not been my first time living in a Muslim nation. The first time was three years ago when I spent three months in Turkey with an organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). However, when I compare my perception of Islam and Muslims from then to now, I see radical change.

 

Allahu akbar.

 

Three years ago, during my first sleep in my new home in Gaziantep, Turkey, I was jolted awake by the eerie sound of muezzins’ voice. These Arabic words rang through the air. Multiple muezzins sang at once, it seemed to me they were all competing for the airspace. Their songs staggered so there was never a moment of silence. At first I was fearful of what the multiple voices were, coming from every direction, calling out in a language completely foreign to me. It lasted hours, or so it felt. I lay in bed, frozen, waiting for it to end. The experience gave me my first taste of culture shock and one of my first polarizing experiences with Islam.

 

During my time in Turkey, I never really got used to the sound of the call to prayer. I woke up almost every morning at 5:00 am, without fail, to hear the sunrise call. I came to associate the call to prayer with the dominance of Islam in the region. Because of the evangelical Christian community of YWAM I was a part of leading up to my time in Turkey and while I was there, this made me incredibly sad. It broke my heart that everyday, five times a day, Allah was being declared sovereign over these people, and they were missing the truth and redemption that I had received through Jesus. The call to prayer unsettled my spirit and led me to pray for revival in Turkey, a now Muslim nation that had previously been the footstool of the Gospel.

 

Since being in Jordan, I have become a little confused as to how I am supposed to view the call to prayer, and Islam as a whole. The more I learn about Muslims and Islam, the more similarities I see between my faith and theirs. I now understand that Allah is merely the Arabic word for God and I have been opened to the possibility that maybe we’re all calling out to the same God, just in our own different ways. The call to prayer does not unsettle my spirit in the same way that it used to. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.

 

I think the anecdote of my changing perception of the call to prayer illustrates my journey with understanding Islam well. It’s slowly transitioning from polarization and assumptions to uncertainty and discomfort. Maybe uncertainty and discomfort weren’t the words you were expecting. I can’t lie and pretend I understand it all now and I know how I feel about Muslims and Islam. That’s just not true. “The more you learn, the less you know,” this has sort of been my motto throughout the semester. The more I learn about Islam the less I know for sure, learning breeds discomfort, but the good kind.

Unexpected Beauty

An excerpt from, current student, Sarah Bennet’s blog: Cherish the Moment (Oral Roberts University, Oklahoma)


 

Your hair  brushes your cheek as you stare out over a canyon looking down on the treasury at Petra. The night sky illuminates the canyon as your feet hang over the side. Stars smile down from above as the moon seems to dance to the musical melody filling the air. Below hundreds of candles flicker on the desert floor.

You jump into the warm water and lunge your arms forward. You float right to the surface laying on your back you stare  at the crystal blue sky above. Barely a cloud lingers in sight. The waves rock you back and forth like a hammock. You feel the salt burning the cuts in your leg, but the pain is part of the experience. You roll over and swim further out, letting the waves whisk you away. Suddenly, a wave crashes into your face. The salt burns your eyes, sucking out the moisture. The pain is real, but the moment just makes you laugh. You cry the salt out and continue to let the waves take you away.

You hike up a canyon full of water fighting upstream to journey up to a beautiful waterfall. The sound of shebab (young Arab men)  fills your ears as they sing at the top of their lungs while you continue to venture through the canyon. Your feet splash water in front of you with each step. Upon reaching the waterfall you sit directly under it and let the sound of rushing water soothe your soul. You can not resist the urge to go behind the waterfall,  so you climb a few rocks and go behind it. At the end of the day, you float down the canyon on your back as the water carries you wherever it pleases.

You study in the Amman Citadel in ancient Roman ruins overlooking East Amman. You find a spot with enough shade to shield you from the sun, unpacking your water bottle and some snacks, you pull out a book and begin to read. Literally, the best study spot in the world to be reading history.

You are at a Circassian family party under the cool night sky. You just had your fill of delicious foods, coffee, and dessert. Just when you think the party is over, dancing breaks out. The men strut around the dance floor with some impressive foot work as the women seem to gracefully float around them, flowing to the rhythm of the music.

All these are just a few of the many memories I have made in Jordan so far. I have been living in Amman for a couple months now studying and exploring. I am absolutely falling in love with this area and the people. The Middle East continues to steal my heart. I can not believe the goodness of the Lord that I have the opportunity, after being in the Middle East this summer, to be here a whole semester. I really pray the Lord opens another door in the future for my to come back and work here for some time. I know a lot of family and friends were nervous about my studying in Jordan, but honestly this has been a highlight of my time in college. I would recommend for everyone who could to study abroad. I wish you all could come experience Jordan and break some stereotypes that the media and the West has placed on the Middle East and Muslims. I have experienced so much genuine hospitality since being here. Taken there are a lot of differences, but this is an easy place to adapt to. I truly believe in searching out the beauty and truth for myself first hand. I know there is a lot going on in the Middle East, but I believe that God wants to continue to release streams of life and healing even in desert places. Coming to Jordan I see this beauty through the people in Jordan and the students I am living in community with.

Experiencing Eid

Written by current MESP student Shannon Pedersen (Messiah College, Pennsylvania)


 

Over the Muslim holiday of Eid, I was invited to spend the weekend with the family of one of my local Jordanian friends. Going on a Jordanian homestay was most definitely not what I expected. As I travelled out I learned that the entire family was Christian (Catholic), so it wouldn’t be a typical Eid holiday celebration.

 

Driving through Jordan was absolutely beautiful. It was hilly and with a lot more vegetation (another welcome surprise). When we got to the Rahini home, we were welcomed with “Merhaba” and Arabic coffee. We were also very well fed. My friend who was hosting us was Basheer. His parents spoke and understood very little English, so that was a real challenge. Thankfully Basheer and his siblings all spoke English fairly well, so they translated a lot. As a vegetarian, not being able to eat meat was initially a problem, because I think the mom found it offensive, but when she served us fruit as a snack and breakfast and lunch the following day, she learned that I really do love her and her food and meant no offense.

 

The first evening, the whole family came to visit. We quickly connected over card games and got to practice some basic vocabulary and numbers. I even met this young woman, Rita, who is 17 years old and absolutely marvelous. She talked to me about a camp in Maine that she participated in, Seeds of Peace. I now plan on at least applying to work there as a counselor (I highly suggest other students interested in Peace and Conflict look at it as well).

 

My favorite part about this weekend was learning about general Jordanian family culture. Here, the family unit is so much more pronounced. Everyone lives within 5 minutes of each other. Even Basheer and his brother live close to one another in the bustling city of Amman. I also love how everyone greets each other as if they haven’t seen them in months or years. Our greetings in the United States are so casual, and the way I greet my friends’ families is more akin to how Jordanian family members greet each other. Nevertheless, I always felt so welcome and loved. I truly do love them in return.

 

Another aspect of their family was their gardens. At the Rahini household, they grow olives, plums, pomegranates, mint, thyme, and cactus. The plums they picked off the vine were by far the most amazing ones I have ever tasted. I also loved the fresh olive oil, and I hope to bring some home with me as well.

 

To pass the time, we played card games, did homework, and watched the extensive video footage of Basheer’s and Ramina’s wedding. They had over 1,000 people attend the ceremony (the receiving line lasted for hours) and the reception had about 300 people. I love the way they dance, as it is very fluid, gentle, and energy-conserving. Also, I was surprised to see how liberal the dresses were. Perhaps I will be able to attend a Muslim wedding sometime while being here.

Facing Suffering

Written by current MESP student John Papatheofanis (Wheaton College, Illinois)


 

After reflecting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what I learned and observed on our ten-day trip I have come away with several reoccurring thoughts. I often think of suffering in terms of numbers and not in terms of emotional human life. It’s for that reason that I need to spend time with those suffering and how simply reading about a conflict doesn’t emotionally affect me. This is why I appreciated the time I spent in Israel/Palestine.

 

I specifically remember sitting on the bus from Jerusalem to a check point back into the West Bank. While sitting on this bus, several Palestinian men sat down next to and around me. They were coming back from work and were entirely exhausted. Not only in the way a person is from a long day of work, but from a difficult existence. I could see in their eyes an exhaustion that could only result from subjugation and domination. The lines in their faces reminded me of the unimaginable stress someone in their position accumulates over the lifetime, and the knowledge that they’ll have to go through the same, drawn out process of getting into Jerusalem again tomorrow.

 

That bus ride helped the emotion and weight of the situation sink in for me. I felt bad because it happened the day before we left for Jordan, and that each one of my classmates had been struggling with the weight of the conflict for over a week. I had seen videos of children being killed, walked along the barrier, and heard stories from my host families of relativers who had been shot down like dogs. But for some reason simply sitting with those who had been struggling for decades hit me in the face with the realization and empathy I had been seeking the entire trip. I wish it had happened sooner, but I am glad I have finally begun the process of considering this conflict as one that deeply effects millions of innocent people, people exhausted like the men I shared the bus with.