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Journey to Makkah

As large and prominent as the Muslim world is, significant Islamic events can sometimes be overlooked by some Westerners. Fortunately, without having to look too hard, anyone can find news on what’s current in Islam. Lane Turner’s recent collection of photographs on this year’s Hajj and Eid-al-Adha events depicts Muslims from around the world observing and honouring one of the most important times in the Muslim lunar calendar.

Every year millions of Muslims make the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Makkah in Saudi Arabia. This November was no different, with hours of praying and walking around the Kaaba of the Grand Mosque followed by other rituals, like Jamarat and the Eid-Al-Adha feast. Living in places as varied as Thailand, Palestine, Indonesia, Yemen, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Russia, Bangladesh, Romania, Iraq, Libya, China, India, Nigeria, Kashmir, Iran and Afghanistan, both men and women came together to prepare for and celebrate Eid-al-Adha during October and  November.

Starting on the 26th of January 2012, the “Haj: Journey to the Heart of Islam” exhibit will be open to the public at the British Museum. According to Roger Harrison’s article, it will run until the 15th of April and will explore the Hajj in both historical and modern times. The exhibit consists of three main parts that help to give visitors an in depth understanding of Hajj and Islam.

One section focuses on the journey to Makkah from various directions: Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. It covers many of the struggles pilgrims faced on their way to Makkah in the past and people that were essential to getting large groups of pilgrims to their destination, like Harun Rashid and Thomas Cook. The second section looks at Hajj in modern times, addressing all of the rituals a pilgrim goes through and covering the effort it takes to manage millions of Muslims arriving at Makkah annually. The final section concentrates on Makkah itself and why it is so significant to Islam. It depicts Makkah in the past and present through artefacts, a film on the rituals involved with the Hajj and the works of artists.

Hopefully all the attention on Hajj will inspire people to look at the significance of Islam in our world and foster cultural understanding.

Breaking bread for peace

Pakistani American, Samina Sundas, knows the fears people have all over the world of the unknown. In her own life she has experienced hardships as Americans stopped going to her daycare business after 9/11, as she discusses in a Voice of America article. She believes that the fear those people have is the result of a lack of understanding between cultures that are much more similar than many realize.

Eight years ago Sundas started the organization American Muslim Voice in an attempt for people of all religions and cultures to learn about each other and eliminate that fear we have of the unknown. She bases her organization on the idea that we cannot “just remain me, mine and I. It is us. It is we. It is ours”. She brings people together as one community based on friendship and respect and often holds dinners at her house for people to come together and talk about their lives and cultural backgrounds.

Her journey has not been easy as people of all religions are hesitant to come together as one community. Yet those who have attended her events and dinner gatherings realize that she is a voice of  “understanding and reconciliation”.

Samina Sundas and her organization is proof that, with face-to-face meeting and interaction, all people can live together in peace and friendship. She is a beam of light in the never ending struggle for understanding and harmony.

Pakistan Expedition alumni – one year on…

I am Elliott Murray, one of the chosen few who was given the incredible opportunity to visit Pakistan late last year. This year, I traveled over 3 months, across 3 countries in Asia, Thailand – Cambodia and India. I should point out that this is the first solo traveling project I have ever done, it would be very fair to say that the Pakistan expedition was a great starting point that gave me the confidence and thirst to explore more of the world.

In Thailand I spent one week volunteering at a self sustainable environmental community, consisting of 12 or so people from around the world. A lifestyle I had never been close to, and being fed on a daily diet of deep fried and oven baked dinners back home, was indeed a shock. Still, an interesting experience that taught me about how an alternative group of people live their life. We then did one week solo travel of Thailand. Pakistan taught me that their is no generalisation that can be made about a whole country, or community, that is always true, and that to learn about these things intimately, one must explore for oneself.

We then flew to Cambodia where we had arranged some time working at an orphanage for disadvantaged children in a small, remote village. We taught English, and knew that even our limited expertise of teaching was doing a great amount of good amongst this small community. Before Pakistan I was cynical in that I always believed if we where to ever make a social change for good, it must be achieved en masse. I then learned how small intimate projects change a selected group’s minds for tomorrow, who may indeed themselves take it upon themselves to re-teach what has been taught, to 20 more, and hence the cycle continues.

Finally I arrived in India, where I traveled independently. What I loved most was exploring other people’s cultures – drinking tea (or chi) with the locals, speaking with them and telling them of all the places I’ve seen in their country, and just understanding what their culture consists of. Whilst traveling I did see many tourists who would keep to themselves, and not be as talkative with the locals, and stay rather in their own bubble (taking private taxi’s opposed to local buses, staying in hotels with a price that could only be for foreigners etc etc..) which is fine, and maybe I would too have been comfortable traveling that way a few years ago, but since Pakistan I yearn to explore countries intimately, and find out what it’s real side is like.

Visiting Pakistan taught me to realise a country is always more than a 10 word headline, and that before passing judgment with a personal opinion, you must embrace it personally. It was without a doubt a huge part of my life, that has shaped the way I look at our world.

Planting seeds…

When I run a project, I never really know what’s going to happen. Like a lot of people I imagine, I promise a whole load of things to funders without really knowing what the outcomes of the project or expedition will be.

With the final episode of the Pakistan episode launched last week, it’s time to celebrate the achievements of the young people as they start on their journeys and to thank all the funders, supporters and collaborators who made this possible.

Special thanks to the financial backers of the project, who put their faith in us to deliver something. I hope that they have watched the video below and are proud of what they have allowed to happen.

Now the long journey to find the funding for the next one…

New Pakistan resources launched

Digital Explorer has recently launched a series of resources aimed at assemblies and tutor/form time. The resources are part of the Journey to Pakistan 2010 Expedition and are being released on a weekly basis along with a new video from the expedition.

The first episode (above) focuses on the ideas of Pakistan that the student team who were on the expedition before they left, with the second episode looking at the impact of the media on our perception of other countries. All the resources, will appear on the Offscreen Expeditions Teachers page.

In addition to the classroom resources and videos, teachers and pupils can read the students’ blog, make comments and vote in weekly polls.

Changing young lives

Mohammed at BBC Arabic

Great email from a student from the Emirates who came on our Offscreen Expedition in 2008… Makes it all worthwhile!

The Offscreen Expedition was a big turning point in my life. Since then, so much has changed. Before, I was a careless and reckless young guy with no real interest in what was happening in my life. Just before I was due to leave for the UK, I considered dropping out, but for no particular reason other than I didn’t think it would be exciting. But from the first moment in London I knew that I had been wrong. When I saw the rest of the group waiting at Heathrow Airport, my fears and reservations turned to excitement and anticipation.

It was my first time away from home. I used to lose my temper quickly, and to be mad the entire time. I addition, I used to think that I am right all time, but with a team of Stiffin, Jimmy, Aya, Robert, and all the guys changed in my life. It was not a tour or a vacation; it was a journey that I have to learn from it as much as I can because it will not happen again. Jimmy was a kind of a tuff leader; like a Commander in the army, but I learned how to manage my time from him. Also, he gave me an Inspiration how to respect people time. Stiffen was a much different; a unique man with all of these art talents. I got to understand from him who I can deal with the different kinds of people even I do not like them, and how I can get the people to my side. All the other guys I got something special from them even the other students.

Here I am now, in the United States; a student who represent myself, my family, my country, and also my Offscreen Expedition. When I got the chance to talk about something special in my life I always talk about my Offscreen Expedition, and how my life changed since I had it. On the other hand, the expedition was a start for I where I am now, and a start for studying abroad. I owe the Expedition all my life and I will not forget ever those days.

Mohammed
Terre Haute, USA
Feb, 26, 2010