I received my travel enrichment grant to compare the Islamic culture in France and Morocco. After high school I lived in Paris for a year and worked as an au pair, and I noticed that there was a prominent Islamic population in the city. I first met my good friend Mehdi, who is from Morocco, in Paris. He, like many other Moroccans and people from the Maghreb, was studying in France with the desire to get a job there in the future.
I was fascinated by his culture and religion because I had never known a practicing Muslim before. I always had a lot of questions for him about his religion, the holidays they celebrate, their beliefs, and their practices. I began to wonder how emigrants from Morocco felt living in French society and about the opinions of Moroccans on emigration. They way of life and the practices are so different in France, and I imagined that Muslims living in France would have to make a lot of adjustments to their daily lives.
This semester in France I traveled to Paris twice to visit the Islamic exhibit of the Louvre, the Institute of the Arab World, and the Mosque of Paris. At the Louvre, there was an Islamic art exhibit where I was able to see many ancient and traditional pieces of art, pottery, tiles, sculptures, and rugs. At the Institute of the Arab World there was also a large collection of art and a large exhibition on Arabic culture in different countries. Finally, at the Mosque of Paris, I visited the tearoom, where I was served traditional hot mint tea, and then walked around the prayer rooms and gardens.
To gain a greater understanding of life in Morocco, I took a student group trip to three cities. The first day we got a tour of Chefchouen from a local man. We walked around the streets, got lunch at a traditional restaurant, and then had free time to walk around the souk. It is known as the city of the blue door; the streets are breathtaking and the vibrant blues of all of the city walls are beautiful. In the evening, we saw a traditional music performance with dancers singing and playing instruments. The second day, we went to Tangiers and had a short camel ride, enjoyed the view of the ocean, then went to the Cave of Hercules. Finally, we went to Assilah and got a tour of the closed market. The little city is on the water and the walls of the market are covered in paintings.
In all of the places that we visited, the locals were friendly and welcoming. Our guide explained to us that since the cities were so poor, it was important to pay attention to our surroundings, but also to be kind and respectful of the shop owners and barter fairly with them if we wanted to purchase anything. I met a few very friendly shopkeepers who were happy to speak to me in French, invite me into their shops and show me around.
The last part of my research project was interviewing some young Moroccans about their experiences moving from Morocco to France. I asked them about the practice of Islam in France, how they managed the adjustment from Moroccan culture to French culture, what their opinions on emigration to France were, how living abroad changed their values, and what challenges they faced living in France. I learned that the biggest difference they noticed is the celebration of Islamic holidays, fasting, and praying. They said that it is difficult in France to fast for Ramadan especially, because the work schedule in France isn’t adapted like it is in Morocco. I also learned that instead of going to the mosque, they pray more at home. Overall, the young people that I spoke with all adjusted easily to life in France. They told me that since Morocco is heavily influenced by French and European culture, that they didn’t experience a lot of culture shock when they first arrived abroad.
Through my travels and research I learned a lot about Moroccan culture. Visiting the cities in Morocco helped me understand the way people live there. With the prayers put out on the loudspeakers in the cities, the souks filled with locals of all ages, and the mix of French, Spanish, and Arabic all around me, my eyes were opened to a new world. The foreign culture fascinates me, and knowing more about the emigrants in France that are sometimes so misconceived has given me a fresh view and a new understanding of expats living abroad.