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Since the Christchurch massacre, which took place in two New Zealand mosques, I frequently have checked-in on my Muslim friends both in the US and who are around the world.
My friend Mohammed Ibrahim Obaid, who I refer to as Moe in our interview, recently moved back to the middle east after attending the University of Tulsa and Northeastern State University.
In our conversation, he told me that his city was the safest city in the world. My natural impulse was to fact check my friend’s claim, and he was right.
The safest city in the world resides in the Middle Eastern nation of Qatar; it’s an oasis with a population of 1.8 million people and 2.7 million people in its proper. Interestingly enough, native Qatar people only make up 12 percent of the population. Hence, the Qatar people welcome in immigrants to their nation. They thoroughly believe that new comers make their nation stronger.
Doha, the capital, shimmers like a shiny pearl, is hugged tightly between the sandy deserts on the Arabian peninsula and the crystal clear waters of the Persian Gulf.
Its skyline rivals any western city. It’s a city of the future with a highly-educated population that’s resulted in the metropolis having virtually zero poverty and crime.
I now understand why my friend was delighted to return home.
Nehemiah: Why did you decide to study in the United States?
Moe: There are many factors behind that decision. But the primary reason is that I, at a younger age, felt the need to discover myself and identity.
I decided to go to the United States, many around me told me how challenging it is to live in the US, and it provided the furthest, most challenging place for me to seek what I’m looking for. The simplicity and comfort in the way I was raised and our society here in Qatar was not allowing me to grow in the way I wanted.
Everything was set; we have a system we follow and then just live by it. That wasn’t something I wanted for myself. I needed to be challenged.
Nehemiah: What challenges did they predict that you’d face, and did you experience those challenges?
Moe: The list is pretty long — to say the least. I will list some for you that have resonated with me.
That I might get killed because I’m a Middle Eastern man going to a country full of angry people that are trying to blame everyone from my region for events that happened when I was not even ten years of age.
My parents feared that I’d experience discrimination on all fronts; not being able to express my voice, practice my faith, sit in a park, take a walk, fly within the US, police brutality, harassment for my looks, getting called outside of my name and so much more that sits under the cloud of discrimination.
The biggest fear that they had was for my safety. When I decided on Oklahoma, everyone was against me going to the Midwest and kept calling me while I was there on a daily basis.
I still remember being told by my mother, two months prior to my departure to the US:
“Son, if you really want to go I can’t stop you, all I ask is for you to come back home with the education you seek and alive! And you must do everything to stay alive. Don’t stay out late; don’t spend time with suspicious people and stay on your campus as much as possible.”
My dad on my day of departure at the airport said:
“You’re going to a very Christian country, people there are different than you have seen through your travels. Go to church, so you know how to act in their homes and around them. Learn how to respect them so you will be respected and safe.”
Nehemiah: Did you experience Islamophobia?
Moe: I have faced many problems. I had a gun pulled on me within my first few months in Tulsa.
There was one time I was going to Quip Trip on 11th street across campus with a friend. Two white TU football players harassed me, and I ignored them, they called me all kinds of names and tried to fight me, but my friend stepped in, and we returned to campus unharmed.
On 9/11, I usually stayed home so I could avoid harassment because of who I am.
The most brutal and hurtful moment I remember was on Thanksgiving evening of 2015. We got back home from dinner at a friend’s house, and this white man came to my front door and started yelling at me. He punched me in the face.
Tulsa police officers arrived and took my report but never did anything. I even followed up with them, but they didn’t do anything.
I received stitches at the hospital later that day, and I have a scare on my face reminding me every day of the events of that night.
I found that guy downtown by the bus station and reported it, but the police never showed.
I believe I was kicked out of establishments and diners for being Arab, Muslim and frankly just for being too brown — not only kicked out but dragged out of some places and got hit, on some occasions.
I learned to get used to Islamophobia and started spending my time among friends so I could feel safer.
Nehemiah: Was this in Tulsa?
Moe: Not all, some were in Texas.
But the one in Tulsa that resonated with me is a bar off of 31st and memorial. I went there to wait for a friend who lived across to get ready, so we can go out, and I was struck by a white man who called me a “ni##%r” just as I was about to leave. It started a commotion. The bouncer grabbed me and threw me out of the business and threatened me.
Another was a diner in South Tulsa were the server said that they don’t serve my kind there and I had to leave.
That usually what happened, mainly occurring at white-owned businesses.
Nehemiah: I’m sorry to hear that, friend. Did you have any positive experience from strangers?
Moe: That is what makes me have a love for the US. My positive experiences revolve around having good neighbors, not all, but some, the bad ones tried their best to force me out and kept reporting me to the city for what seemed to be any and everything. I lived near 36th and Harvard. Having a group of professional friends, who were mostly black, helped me realize my worth and so did the other good people I met in college.
Nehemiah: Why do you think it’s so much safer in your country vs. living in the United States?
Moe: First, we don’t have lobbyist and corporations running the government. The government is here to serve the people. So every law they put in effect is for the majority of the citizens.
Second, we value education above all. We educate our people and give them every opportunity to learn more and become something special. We provide free healthcare, free education, free water, and electricity for citizens, we support small business to grow further, we are visionaries that want to lead not slack behind. The government believes that its citizens are its greatest assets!
Third, we don’t allow guns! You can’t go and buy a gun, it’s forbidden and punishable by law to have firearms. Only specific officers are allowed to have them, and they are not allowed to use them unless a terrorist is on the loose.
The police are trained to use words and comfort to deal with conflict and never use violence. I once was so mad that I grabbed an officer here by his collar for offending my family and he said something within the context of:
“I need you to not touch me. It is against the law, and I don’t want to arrest you. I understand you’re upset, and I will help you.”
Fourth, there are no poor citizens or residents in Qatar, because all of life basic needs are provided. You just have to use the system to be elite.
I’m blessed to be living in a country where I can go to the store without locking my car door with my belongings in it; where — I can go to bed without locking my front door.
Nehemiah: If you could talk to people who may harbor biases against people who are or may look middle eastern, what would you say?
Moe: We are human as much as you are! Not better nor worse. We come from a different background and have a different culture. Educate them about yours [culture and religion], and we will do the same.
Approach us with love, and we will love you back. We will respect you, and by doing, so we are hoping to gain your respect back.
When a middle eastern approach you, you need to know that they did their research; they studied your culture, traditions, lifestyle, and at least learned the most basic things about who you might be.
So give them the same respect and learn about them.
Many middle eastern folks have traveled the world and understand that they are different from others, but at their core, they are the kindest people you will see around.
The middle eastern culture is very much influenced by Islam, and true Islam is about peace and love. It is about community and brotherhood. It is about growing together in a kindred environment.
I am an example of that.
I learned and kept an open mind throughout my journey in the US. I thought I knew a lot, but I was surprised that my knowledge was so little until I was around the people and within their cities, and inside their homes having dinner and sharing in laughter with them.
Nehemiah: Anything else, Moe?
Moe: To sum it up, not all white folks were horrible to me.
But I truly felt loved and appreciated when I started getting involved and being around Tulsa’s African-American community.
I was able to express myself, and I was loved and appreciated for being who I am, and challenged to grow further.
The Black community in Tulsa helped me to realize that I’m not alone and that I have brothers and sisters who are dealing with hardship just like me and still trying to make the best out of it while living cautiously.