The following is a post by one of the students that had the opportunity to travel to Egypt with PMEI’s Arabic Language Program in Cairo.
Coming to Egypt I thought I had a basic understanding of Islam, then I met four amazing individuals: Sheikh Hamdallah, Isma‘il, Eman, and Aleiha. My initial thoughts of the major religion came from two close Muslim friends and a formal world religions course; both of which just touched on the structure and customs of Islam not the essences of being a Muslim. I feel that meeting these four individuals opened a window that allowed me to see the beauty if Islam and not just the objectionable facts.
Sheikh Hamdallah taught me that Islam is a way of life not just a system of beliefs. He taught the beauty of prayer; the special direct relationship Muslims share with Allah. He lectued about the absolute equality of human beings that was reiterated by the other three individuals I had met.
Isma‘il especially argued for everyone’s equality; I had met him while lost and seeking directions. While on our way to the pyramids he explained that to him Islam means, “Love, acceptance, forgiveness, and respect.” As a Muslim he felt obligated to give them respect and accept them regardless of appearance, beliefs, and race. For him everyone was truly equal and had the right to their beliefs. Isma‘il believes love is the true heart of Islam and to me that is a beautiful thing.
Eman is our teacher at ILI and she also talked about the acceptance and choices of Muslim women. She talked about her choice to be veiled. She had gone to a very European high school and her family encouraged her to make her own choice about whether or not she would be veiled. When she was seventeen she chose to wear the veil and surprised her family. She too believed Islam meant love and acceptance.
While in a cafe I got to know a young Muslim woman named Aleiha. Her testimony followed the pattern of the previous three interviewees. She believed in the love and acceptance of Islam. She told us how she was very much involved in social rights here in Cairo. Her only brother had been born with a physical disability and her dream was to work in an NGO that helped individuals with mental/physical disabilities. Everyone was equal to her; she accepted a person’s differences and looked for their admirable qualities.
Coming to Egypt, I never thought of explaining a religion in terms of love. I was looking at facts, not people. Now, I know that religions can be beautiful. Egypt taught me the beauty of Islam.
– Whitney Biedenbac