Two weeks ago, I ferried across the Mediterranean Sea from Tarifa, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. I spent the next four days traveling around the country and had the opportunity to meet and speak with a number of Moroccan university students and young professionals.

 

On my second day in Morocco, I visited an NGO headquarters in Salé, the first city established along the Atlantic coast. The volunteers I met were eager to answer questions about the issues that the NGO tackles, and even more eager to discuss their identity as young Moroccan Muslims.

 

The NGO volunteers were all around my age — young students in their early twenties. Unsurprisingly, this made identifying with and understanding them much easier.

 

Their NGO works to educate and provide resources for the residents of a local shantytown. In talking about the work that they do, the volunteers’ passion for the betterment of their country shone through.

 

Of Morocco's 33 million inhabitants, 99% are Muslim. (blogspot.com)

Of Morocco’s 33 million inhabitants, 99 percent are Muslim. (blogspot.com)

Once we began to discuss their identity as Muslims, the passion that charged their words astonished me. Their devotion to Islam was unlike any devotion I had encountered in my life.

 

Naturally, our conversation drifted toward a discussion of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Their smiles immediately faded; their tones intensified. This was something that resonated with and struck at the core of their Muslim identity.

 

Each Muslim volunteer expressed a deep fear for the future of Islam. As small groups of radicalized terrorists who happen to identify as Muslim grow and act, the young Moroccans have witnessed their religion and culture — or perhaps more appropriately, their lives — become a scapegoat and a target for hate across the world.

 

They implored myself and the other visiting Americans to understand that Islam is a religion of peace that openly accepts otherness. It is truly a tragedy that so many people, who in reality know very little about Islam, are so quick to associate its people with hate and violence.

 

After this conversation, I have developed new understandings of people and of values. Some of these understandings can inform multiple areas of life, including PR.

 

Prejudice isn’t just a crude, ignorant practice. It infects identities and people with hatred. To combat prejudice and demonstrate a respect for the dignity of human life, it is crucial to develop a comprehensive understanding of a culture before making any assumptions. True understanding can perhaps never be reached, but it all starts with a simple conversation.

 

Leave your comfort bubble, and begin to challenge and revise your convictions. Live the other.

 

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone of a different culture? Let’s talk here, or find me on Twitter @ryanlawlessness