That is indeed a good question. I have long ago noticed that I get along well with muslim people in any country I have travelled to so far. In other words, I have no problem with their religion, their rites, their restrictions on food and clothing, or even their attempt to bring me to Islam.
Do I feel special for this reason? Not at all. However, with all the islamophobia raging all around me, I feel like I should feel, ehm, different. Is that because of my personality, or did I just get used to muslims after all that time living in the muslim countries?
I have found out, that neither of the two is the right answer.
The answer seems to be coming, surprisingly, not when I am with the Arabs and muslims, but when I am far away from them, back in my little hometown Tisovec, in central European tiny country of Slovakia.
Thanks to good weather we have gone out with a friend of mine, for a couple of walks around our town. So rarely does actually one encounters his friends, classmates and people he knows. Unfortunately many have left the town to find their future elsewhere, be in in bigger towns, the Capital, or even outside the country. This is actually something I have always disliked – towns without people where streets stay empty even during the daytime. So sad, and so contrary to what I am used to in the Arab countries where streets are never, ever empty of people. This is one of the aspects which I love, afterall, the most about the atmosphere of muslim countries.
We were lucky to visit the old house of my friend´s grandparents which has been turned into a cottage of some sort – mainly for staying when my friend´s parents work in the garden and take care of their rabbits and chicken. An unexpected visit, which turned into a very pleasant hour talking about the joy of working with animals, relaxing at a wooden table surrounded by mountains and fresh air, with a little brook flowing nearby. A neighbor shouted hello at us, interested to know what my life has been in the last decade.
There is something about my hometown, or rather, its people, that I have adopted in myself, and that has opened the door to the muslims of the Arab countries I have visited, worked or lived in. We are simple, rural people, connected to the little fields our families have owned for centuries. Life was, and has remained tough in this part of the country, which ties us together and makes us responsible for our parents, sieblings, grandparents. When we meet, we love to chat and share and take joy from simple and ordinary things.
I know that these characteristics may apply to any country and its rural, under-developed areas. We certainly drink much more hard alcohol than people in Arab countries altogether. But we are hospitable, cheerful people who prefer human relationships over material satisfaction and luxurious way of living. The real luxury is the clean air, singing birds and bio-quality vegetables from our garden. Simple, little things.
I have noticed that the Arab communities, whether in southern Lebanon, Egypt or Morocco are actually very, very similar. Family around the table, friends meeting for (non-alcoholic, of course) drink, love for the homeland and immortal sense of humor is what simple people love.
I have moved from Slovakia to Czech republic, from Czech republic to France, then to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and finally to Morocco. The more people I meet and more time I spend abroad, the more Tisovec-like people seem to me. We are, first of all, humans, and relationships cannot be replaced with goods and money. Finding a friend in Morocco, meeting with a family for Friday couscous is not a foreign concept to me thanks to my childhood experience and upbringing. In such meetings, whether in Morocco or Tisovec, I fail to see differences of culture, mentality or religion. After 12 years across the Middle East and North Africa, I have actually found home in every place I got a chance to come close to the local population.
I guess barriers have to be built, they do not just happen. I prefer to use my energy to build relationships rather than the barriers.