MY INTERCULTURAL JOURNEY TO OKLAHOMA: SIETAR-USA CONFERENCE IN TULSA, 2016

I am writing this blog from Tulsa, Oklahom
a on the last hour of SIETAR-USA conference. I am writing because I was moved by the presentations, workshops and TED talks. I always thought about the USA before arriving here 10 months ago as a symbol for liberty, equality and justice. That’s how the media demonstrated it to the world. During my 10 months short stay, I learned how the people here struggled and are still struggling to find their American identity in the presence of the “White Supremacy” as described by Eddie Moore in his presentation this morning. When I say people, I mean all the people who carry the different colorful and magnificent backgrounds, who were born in or immigrated to the USA.

People make this earth colorful and fascinating. As a Muslim, I memorized a verse in the Quran which  I pondered on for a long time and I am still pondering the meanings and underlying indications that it beholds. This verse explains the reason why we exist in such diversity. It presents the ultimate test for human interaction and communication across continents, nations and cultures. The verse is in Surat Al-Hujurat No. 13 and it translates to English as: “O people we created you from the same male and female and rendered you distinct nations and tribes that you may recognize each other. The most honorable of you in the sight of God are those who are righteous (in other translation pious, which means in Arabic those who avoid wrong doing even if the line between right and wrong is thin)”.

And as usual we Muslims like to parallel the interpretation of any Quranic verse to the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad’s “Hadith” to triangulate and verify the meanings of the verses so that we can speak of them with certainty (there is a branch of research methods unique to the documentation of Hadith, where the ultimate goal is to exclude false reporting). The Hadith I like to accompany to this verse is well-known but still ignored by many Muslims in terms of application as the Muslim world is filled with dichotomies, segregation and racism just like with all human beings around the globe. Our beloved Mohammad Peace be upon him said: ” There is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab except in righteousness”. Both the verse and the Hadith indicates we are all equal, we come from the same parents, who are also equal to each other in rights, and our mission is to learn about each other, interact and appreciate these differences. It indicates we have equal rights to resources, and we have to share them. Those who are to be selected by the majority to rule must have the ethics and self-righteousness in the sight of God. This also indicates no one who does wrong escapes justice. If the system can’t identify them, God will and they will be judged, suffering the consequences now and in the day of judgment.

In my perception of equality, derived from the above understanding, I embraced all colors and races and dealt with everyone as having the right to say and articulate within righteousness. Righteousness must abide with universal ethics of dealings and being fair to others regardless of their social status, income, color, race, sex or age. It’s to do with honesty and trustworthiness. It’s the equal opportunity that we all deserve. The only boundary I see, is harm to others when I behave in an inconsiderate way. Then my freedom of word and action ends here. My first book to read from the Islamic library was Mohammad Qutb’s book on “The Ethics of a Muslim”. My first encounter to Interculturality was as I grew up witnessing my grandparents serve proudly the Pilgrimage in their long stay (Hajj to Makkah) year after year. I saw people remain in our home between three to Six months around the Hajj season. That was an intercultural conference where people exchanged thoughts, perceptions and traditions. In that conference people learn languages, ethics and fair trade. I ate different foods from all over the world and smelled all worldly scents. I witnessed the laughter of Makkah people who hosted that amazing conference six months every year and the tears they shed when their pilgrims departed and they knew they may not see them again, for the journey was long and expensive.

During The conference, I chose to communicate with the Islamic society of Tulsa. I wanted to attend the Jumma prayer which is done on every Friday of every week. The Jumma prayer gathered all the individuals and families to remind them about many issues on the social and political and sometimes spiritual discourse. The Imam (or Sheikh) will breach and speak to the hearts and minds. I wanted to know the Muslims of Tulsa, what does it feel like to be in their community.  I contacted the Imam and he spoke to me. He wished I spoke a week earlier, he could have arranged some opportunity to speak in public to the Muslims. I told him about SIETAR and what we do here.  I promised I will send him some information. I also learned from him that CAIR Oklahoma have a banquet dinner and I wanted to go but due to some misunderstanding of the location I could not. The essence of this is, I am communicating and connecting. I was able in my short stay at the mosque to enter the circle of teaching of the pronunciation of Quran. The women at that circle had no one to speak Arabic  and they thought I landed from Heaven.  I taught them half of the Arabic Alphabet pronunciation in 30 min, before the call for prayer was announced. They don’t know who I am, but they were happy I landed there.

Just like that journey my journey was to SIETAR-USA conference in Tulsa.  I see SIETAR as a hope that revives the human need to come together, meet and learn. SIETAR’s mission is in alignment with my faith. It’s in alignment with universal ethics. Dr. Alan Richter’s session on Ethics encompassed this need to get under the umbrella of ethics. The prophet Mohammad also said: “I was only sent to complement the best of ethics”. Ethics existed since mankind existed. Muslims have no need to convert others, neither Christians, Jews, Hindus or Buddhists. It’s a personal choice, but we need all and everyone to adhere to ethics.

I have to thank all those amazing souls I lived with for the last three days. I like to thank  Heather Robinson and Dianne Hofner Saphiere for the eye opening presentation on cultural competency. I like to thank Julia Gaspar-Bates and Lubna Ismael for the amazing session on the Muslim struggle in USA.  others who I had not had a chance to attend their sessions but heard the resonating effect, keynote speakers Brenda who moved me into tears through the story she told about American Indians tribes and what they are facing right now. I thank Sonia Khalil for her informative “Anti-Arabism” presentation. I thank Shelley Morrison, Charissa Kosova, Holly Emert, Rahimeh Ramezany, Emanuel Ngomsi, Jennifer Wiley, Keiko Ozeki, Monika de Waal, Julie Habelmann, Peter Stark, Nancy Urwin-Camara, and Genienne Navarro and lots of others for the exchange of idea and conversations we had around my path in Intercultural work. I most of all thank the ICF communities of practice who is led by Jeff Cone for leading me to SIETAR and my writing coach Muna Alyosuf who is a SIETAR EU member for encouraging me to attend this conference. Finally I thank all the team in SIETAR-USA and particularly Patricia Coleman the president for personally leaving their impression on each  one of us.

I want to conclude this blog by saying that I have just discovered I carry a great responsibility towards my nations and people across the world. I write this in plural because I feel I belong to a lot of nations across the globe; I am a global citizen. I feel enlightened and connected. I am energized to part of the good cause and mission of SIETAR. Let’s build a sustainable future together!