Thursday, January 29, 2009

American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, United Arab Emirates (UAE)

By Malika Rushdan

It was an honor and a grand privilege to be chosen as a participant in the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, organized by Br. Khalid Ahmed, director of the Washington based American Congress of Muslim Youth. The program, funded by the UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, provided for 21 American Muslim women to travel to the UAE for an in depth Islamic studies program and cultural exchange for a period of 5 weeks. We were provided accommodations at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture (ZHIC), I beautiful campus in the Emirate of Al-Ain.
Before embarking on our journey to the UAE, participants traveled to Washington, DC where we were afforded the opportunity to meet and greet with our hosts and each other before making the 14 hour journey to the Emirates. A representative of the ZHIC, Br. Saeed Salim traveled to the US to accompany us during our travels and ensure that our needs were attended to. While in DC, we were received by the Congressional Muslim Staff Association on Capitol Hill, who congratulated us on being chosen as leaders and introduced us to their work on the Hill. Congressman Andre Carson graciously attended the reception and welcomed us as guest. Congressman Carson is an American Muslim convert representing Indiana-D.
Upon arriving in Abu Dhabi, we were escorted to a reception area where we were greeted by the Director General of the ZHIC; Br. Khalid Al Marzouqi and the glitz of cameras documenting our arrival. From the very moment we stepped foot on Emirati land we were treated as royal guest. Our host had arranged for refreshments in a relaxing atmosphere within the airport after our long journey, as they took care of our visas and baggage claim without the hassle of customs.
After a little over an hour drive, we arrived at the Zayed House for Islamic Culture in Al Ain, UAE our home for the next 5 weeks. Our accommodations were more than we had hoped for, on a beautiful campus with private villas well equipped with all the comforts of home. Classes began early the next day with a full schedule including; Fiqh, Aqeeda, Adab, Hadith, Seerah, Arabic Language and Tajweed. We were in classes 5 days per week taught by professional, diverse teachers including visiting scholars. Though the classes were fast paced, we welcomed the challenge and opportunity to study our Deen in an Islamic environment, without the distraction of our day to day lives.
Twice weekly we were treated to field trips, visiting government agencies and cultural sites throughout the UAE; in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Al Ain. At each visit we were greeted with formal receptions exhibiting the generosity of the Emirati people; Arabic coffee, sweets, fresh juice blends and gifts were presented at each reception. We were truly spoiled by our host which included the;
The Princess Haya Bint Al Hussain Cultural & Islamic Center; Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department
The Ministry of Foreign Trade
The Ministry of Foreign Relations (USA Division)
The Gov. of U.A.E. General Women's Union
Dubai Courts; Shariah Judge
U.A.E. Islamic Endowment Fund
The US Ambassador to the U.A.E. who presented us with our Graduation Certificates
A privileged meeting was at the home of Sheikh Ali Al Hashimi, Advisor in Religious and Judicial affairs to the President of UAE. We were afforded a personal Khutbah with Sheikh Hashimi advising us on religious tolerance and establishing a culture of Islam in America which takes into consideration our own individual traditions as long as they do not contradict Islamic teachings. He spoke about finding the middle ground and not going to extreme in our practice of Islam. I was impressed with his view that converts to Islam play an important role in reviving the true spirit of Islam.
Sister Rowda M. Al Otaiba of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; American Section welcomed us into her home where we shared an amazing dinner with her family. Sr. Rowda’s mother showered us with handmade gifts of Attar and Bakhoor, her father presented us with the book; Don’t Be Sad. It was a lovely evening where Sisterhood overcame language and cultural differences.
An additional high positioned female was the UAE Minister of Foreign Trade; Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi who we had the opportunity to meet with at her office in Abu Dhabi. Sr. Lubna is an amazing woman who is establishing the UAE as a major economic player. She has proven herself to be an asset to the UAE government with her major dealings with prime global companies.
In fact, Emirati women play major roles in all aspects of society in the UAE, from a newly appointed female judge, 2 district attorneys, several Ministers and numerous business women, Emirati women are respected and valued for their contributions. The founder of the UAE; Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan ensured women’s rights and education by establishing several universities dedicated to the empowerment of women and numerous foundations which ensure the fair and equal treatment of women. For a country which is only 37 years old, it is greatly advanced in women’s rights. Women in the UAE are assured equal pay as men while women in the West are still fighting to receive. Emirati women have been able to strike a healthy balance between having a career and raising a family due to Islamic family values being well intact.
I must say, Emirati women are very fashionable putting together sleek and eloquent styles. Modest attire in the UAE is high fashion black abayas with matching Shaylas which are extremely feminine and beautiful. The female staff of the ZHIC hired a tailor who came with various samples and styles, having custom abayas made for each of us. They have taken the traditional plain black abaya to a whole new level, pairing them off with custom bags and accessories, Emirati women take pride in Islamic dress.
A highlight of our trip of course was the safari in the desert. Four wheeling in SUV’s over the desert dunes beats any roller coaster at 6 Flags. However, the camel ride really made you reflect what it must have been like for the earlier followers of Islam. The slow clumsy stride of the camel must have been a difficult journey for the dedicated followers of Islam when making Hajj or Hijrah. I was humbled by the vast openness of the desert.
The culminating moment of our trip was the lavish graduation ceremony where the US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Richard Olsen presented us with our certificates and beautiful ZHIC trophies. It was a bitter sweet ending, saying goodbye to all our Sisters and staff of the ZHIC. The experience will stay with me forever. I feel very humbled and blessed to have been a part of the American Muslim Women’s Leadership Training, while I owe great appreciation to Br. Khalid Ahmed for choosing me, it is Allah who made this opportunity possible at a time in my life when I needed some spiritual awakening.

1 comment:

PIEDAD said...

Malika runs a Women's Muslim shelter and she works for Islamic Relief. She is a dynamic woman and a super SOUK shopper. That's why she had a cast on her arm for Graduation. Love that girl