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Interfaith Dialogue

Foreign Fulbright

Participating in an Open House at the Islamic Center of Manhattan, Kansas

January 4, 2016
Hamza Rehman

Hamza Rehman, 2013-2014, Pakistan (left) engaging with a diverse, interfaith crowd at his local mosque’s open house in Manhattan, Kansas. The mosque event sought to dispel common myths and stereotypes about Muslims in the United States.

Pakistan is a country rich in cultures: Pathan, Punjabi, Baluchi and Sindhi, amongst others. As a Fulbright Student at Kansas State University, I aimed to convey some of Pakistan’s diversity and ethos in my fiction and non-fiction courses as a part of the Master of Arts in English Literature and Creative Writing program. To the United States at large—through conversation and interactions, I brought to life Pakistan’s historic Indus Valley Civilisation and its vales, mangrove forests, the Baltoro Glacier, the snowed-in Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush. To my Kansas State (“K-State”) peers in fiction workshop, I highlighted Pakistan’s diversity in my writing and engaged its many tongues and motley racial make-up: from blue-eyed, dark-blondes to tan-skinned, black haired characters.

Given Pakistan’s own ethnic and lingual heterogeneity, I was surprised when a K-State PhD candidate in Psychology solicited my help for a peculiar reason: because I was Pakistani, he wanted to use my voice in an “accents study” for his dissertation as an example of the “Arab accent.” Although I lauded his project and agreed to volunteer, his geography seemed off to me. After considerable explanation from my side, he reluctantly came to appreciate why I didn’t sound Arab: South Asia isn’t a part of the Middle East! He had said, “But it’s the same thing, right?” I responded, “No. Here’s a map. For an Arab accent, I’d begin with the Arab world, and even there, Arabic varies from country to country, and even city.” He narrowed his eyes incredulously, realizing “Muslim” didn’t always imply “Arab.” In that moment, the world became bigger for him, became less “U.S. and the rest.”

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