Newly Understood Differences Between Azerbaijan & Qatar and an Unexpected Rant About Halifax and Nova Scotia

Azerbaijan was once a state of the Soviet Union and a Muslim majority country.

More than 90% of the population are Muslim.

Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan.

One of my favorite experiences of travel is feeling the vibe of the location.

The Muslim vibe in Baku was very different than that of the Muslim vibe in Doha.  I found myself embarrassed, but driven by curiosity asking locals if he or she was Muslim because my experience of Muslims while living in Qatar was very different.

In Qatar, Muslim men either dressed in traditional Islam clothing (both for cultural and religious purposes), had the devout worn spot on their forehead from praying or carried prayer beads in their hand. Qatari women, of course had to cover – because of culture and religion.

The Muslim vibe, the Muslim look in Baku was very different!

I did not see one man in Baku, that I can remember, wearing a thobe or headscarf of any kind, have the devout worn spot from praying on their forehead or carry prayer beads in their hands.  I saw one young server in a restaurant with prayer beads. But those were kept in his pocket which he pulled out once or twice and swung around his fingers.

Very, very few Azerbaijani women covered their hair and face.  Even fewer wore an abaya. Of those abayas, not one abaya was black, they were colorful.

Along with this difference of Muslim vibe, there was also the difference in the number of mosques populating an area and call to prayer.

In Qatar, mosques were everywhere. In every area of Qatar I visited, a minaret was standing tall within every residential block. There was even a mosque in the compound we lived in. Solitary mosques along highways in the desert would be there for prayer.

As well in Qatar, every day, five times a day – at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset and night – the muzzen’s loud call to prayer bellowed out for all to hear, announcing it was the scheduled time to pray.

In Baku, I didn’t see many mosques and was shocked that there was no daily calls to prayer!

An Azerbaijani taxi driver seemed to understand my confusion when I asked if he was Muslim.  With his limited English he said quite clearly that Azerbaijanis were devout Muslims but drank, celebrated and lived life!

I searched the internet for a further understanding of why Azerbaijani Muslims and Qatari Muslim’s daily life are so very different.

I discovered that Azerbaijan is a secular state that keeps religion out of politics and treats all citizens as equal regardless of religion. Qatar is a Muslim-majority nation-state and endorses Islam as the state’s religion. What this looks like is the degree Islam dictates everyday life for its citizens. To what degree Islam restrictions are placed on a citizen’s life depends on the country.  For example – Qatar is not as restrictive as Saudi Arabia. An expat woman living or visiting Qatar does not have to cover, but dress modestly. An expat woman living or visiting Saudi Arabia has to cover.

I lived in Qatar for four years and it was only by visiting Azerbaijan that I came to discover this difference of Muslim countries!  I don’t know if I should feel embarrassed or not?!!! Naive, yes. But moving to Qatar was the first time I’d ever moved away from my hometown of Halifax.

I’d also like to think I’m flexible in nature and go with the flow.  I went with the flow in Qatar without asking too many questions because respecting their culture didn’t bother me. I didn’t feel openly oppressed and another truth be told – I quite enjoyed living in the Qatar bubble. I enjoyed the break away from North America’s vibe of a Fox News world.  I appreciated the break from the angry energy, angry vibe in Halifax and Nova Scotia with its racism/human rights issues concerning Africville and Indian Residential Schools. I worked in Halifax’s public education system. This was one location where I gained personal experience of this angry energy. As a result of this, I came to believe Halifax had become too politically correct to make amends for Africville and Indian Residential Schools, hypersensitive to the point where I couldn’t even call a chair painted the color black, a black chair without fearing someone would take offense, implying what I said was racist.  It was too much.  These issues were intense, too hot to go near, with so much anger.

I was tired of judgement because I was a white woman, not black, working and trying to make positive change in an inner city school. What difference does skin color make when one person tries to help another?

I was tired of anger directed at me because I’m a white female, privileged and will never know what racism feels like.  Yes, it is true I have never had to experience systemic discrimination, but what did I do now to personally deserve anger just because of the color of my skin?  Aren’t we trying to move away from that?  Or do I deserve punishment because of the sins of my forefathers?  Aren’t you an educator?  What message are you sending to these kids?

That anger, this disagreeable energy seemed to be from those who hadn’t experienced the world to realize oppression is everywhere, on so many levels. Maybe these angry people should travel to the Middle East to witness the oppression of the Indian and Nepalese men who are building Qatar. These men work six days a week, 10 plus hours a day, in dangerous conditions under the blazing heat of the midday desert sun; workers who are without government funded programs to offer hope for a way to make a better life for themselves and their family.

Maybe seeing the world would help these angry people in Halifax and throughout Nova Scotia understand how fortunate they are to have government funded services to help those who suffer because of racism.  True, the system isn’t perfect…but it is a start! Thankfully, there are many wonderful activists who are articulate, peaceful and proactive who work tirelessly to keep the government moving forward for positive change.

Unfortunately, it has been my personal experience that the negative, angry people are the loudest, making the proactive people harder to hear.

Anger, I might add is also a form of oppression….

Wow!!!  What a tangent!!!  It is very clear I am harboring my own anger and resentments with how I was treated because of racism issues, that are now so very clear to see in this blog.

I knew I carried these toxic emotions though when I arrived in Qatar because they intensified when I witnessed the cruel working conditions of immigrant workers, seen their barely above poverty level living conditions and how they haven’t government support or funding for positive change in their lives. Charity is how expats made a difference and not once were we judged for wanting to help and the help we gave.

With our upcoming return to Nova Scotia, to Halifax, I want to let go of this anger and resentment, because that makes me part of the palpable negative energy I was so happy to be away from!

Moving forward, I will avoid those who perpetuate the resentment, anger and hate of what happened with Africville and in Indian Residential Schools and continue my support with those who are proactive to promote solutions, healing and peace.

My writing has taken a life of its own today.  This blog will be titled to reflect this!

S.

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