One World, One Game

oneworldonegame palestine

I’m not much of a sports fan, but when the World Cup comes around every four years that changes. When Jordan gets close to finally making it to the World Cup I also go a bit crazy. I was very hopeful that we even had a chance of beating Uruguay a few months back.

Growing up in Jordan, I remember feeling the energy change around me during the World Cup. For a few weeks it seemed like everyone united around their love of football. Watching the tournament filled us with excitement. My male cousins would watch the games then spend hours playing “ma3 al jeeran” (with the neighbors) and talk about how they would grow up to become famous footballers and bring Jordan to the World Cup one day. I didn’t share their dream. For one I couldn’t kick a ball without tripping over it and second, I am a girl. In the Arab world, it isn’t too often that girls grew up to become football players.

As part of a brilliant marketing campaign, Coca-Cola put out a video called “One World, One Game – Ramallah, Palestine Football.” The video shows two Palestinian girls, Dalal and Ahlam, who describe their love of football. Dalal, 15, is a proud Palestinian whose life, she says, revolves around football. Ahlam is 14 years old and dreams of playing football when she grows up instead of following in her mother’s footsteps of having a family at a young age.

In the video, their coach, Captain Yousef, explains that society generally limits the girls’ ability to go out, socialize, and play football. He explains that Ahlam and Dalal want to challenge this tradition with passion, and introduce their generation to the idea that girls can play football, in hopes of one day getting to the point where it becomes a normal activity for girls in their community and throughout Palestine.

Dalal and Ahlam received invitations from Coca-Cola to attend the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The girls walked onto the pitch with other players featured in “One World, One Game” videos as flag bearers before the Germany v Portugal game on June 16th.

Ultimately the videos are a marketing campaign by Coca-Cola, but I love the positive message it spreads. This video and the others under the campaign display football as a vehicle for coming together and overcoming adversity.

Football is not only one of the world’s most beloved pastimes. It can be powerful in promoting social change and greater equality for women around the world. Girls like Dalal and Ahlam can change their society’s perception of women and girls. Doing this in Palestine, a part of the Arab World where opportunity is generally a rare thing to come by, is even more powerful.

Until next time…


“Islamic” Injustice


One of the news stories making the rounds lately has been the Meriam Ibrahim case. It’s a heartbreaking story: A woman born to a Muslim father and Christian mother was raised as a Christian after her father abandoned their family when she was a child. She married a Christian man and was found guilty of apostasy and adultery, since marriage between a Muslim woman and a Christian man is not recognized. Ibrahim was in her final trimester with her second child when she was thrown in jail. She recently gave birth and has two years with her children until her sentence is carried out.

There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to begin. So instead I’ll direct you to a great article written by Prince Hassan bin Talal, here.

Aside from reiterating that Ibrahim’s sentence and imprisonment is a tragedy, he makes several important points. The first is that Ibrahim’s ruling was determined by a lower court, which has no legal standing in federal matters. Furthermore, its ruling and attempt to have Ibrahim renounce her Christian faith is against the Sudanese constitution, which explicitly states that, “no person shall be coerced to accept a faith that he or she does not believe in.” This ultimately means the case has no legal standing in higher court. Even beyond the Sudanese constitution, her sentence flies in the face of teachings that protect freedom of religion and explain that people should not be forced to accept a particular religion.

Perhaps the most important point he makes is that the rigidity and extremism visible in some parts of the Arab world are not a characteristic of Islam, but rather a reaction to rapid changes in the Arab world that have left areas more rigid in matters of religion in the face of rapid changes in the world around them. Rigidness and extremism will only cause more Muslims to want to leave the faith. As Prince Hassan wrote, “rational people have an important role to play in recognizing that the tradition of Islam was not built on uniformity – rather it was built on recognizing the universality within all beings.”

I have no doubt that extremists and conservative scholars will dismiss these logical arguments on the basis that Ibrahim’s so-called apostasy is the ultimate fault here. Of course, this is overlooking any fault of the government’s for ignoring its own stance on freedom of religion, or any fault of her father’s for abandoning his young daughter. Is it really apostasy if a six-year old girl is raised with her mother’s traditions after her father disappears? Her “apostasy” at such a young age was clearly no conscious decision of her own. Why criminalize her now?

Hopefully international outcry and appeals by world leaders will lead to a happy ending for Ibrahim and her family.

Until next time…


Bring Back Our Girls


The past few weeks the media and the twittersphere have been filled with the news of over 300 abducted Nigerian schoolgirls. The hashtags #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters have been trending daily.

As more time passes, the fate of these girls becomes more and more dire – they are being taken farther away (possibly outside the country), they are being split into small groups, their captors are constantly moving, and their leader has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages. In fact, this may already have begun.

While the general discourse out there is general condemnation and deliberations on how to rescue the girls, events like this also bring out their fair share of anti-Muslim sentiment. One of the most common arguments I’ve seen is that moderate Islam is an oxymoron, and that is bolstered by silence from the community. While I have seen Arabic-language denunciations of the kidnappings, there is limited English language coverage of moderate voices in Islam. The more extremist and sensationalist voices are unfortunately the ones that are heard the loudest.

That said, even elements of al-Qaeda have rejected Boko Haram’s tactics. When a group takes actions that are more deplorable and extremist than even the most deplorable and extremist group of people in the world can condone, their actions are obviously beyond anything anyone but Boko Haram’s own members can support.

I am a moderate Muslim speaking out against this unspeakable act. Other bloggers, activists, journalists, leaders – those who are lucky enough to have a voice in the community, please join me in condemning Boko Haram’s perversion of Islam. Let us show everyone across the world that the majority of Muslims are united in their opposition against extremism masquerading as Islam.

I wish there were more we could do, but for now continuing to spread awareness is a critical step towards mobilizing the international community to bring these girls home.

Please tweet #BringBackOurGirls #BokoHaramIsNotIslam #ModerateMuslimsSpeakUp

Until next time…


Licensed to Fly

Al Hindi

One of the newest stories coming out of Saudi Arabia is about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal issuing the first flying license to a female pilot. Hanadi Al Hindi made headlines in 2004 and 2005 when she became the first female Saudi commercial airline pilot after graduating from the Middle East Academy for Commercial Aviation in Amman, Jordan. Now after several years, she is able to fly in her home country.

As a licensed pilot, Al Hindi flies the prince around the world on his personal jet. She flies small and wide-bodied luxury planes under a 10-year contract for the Kingdom Holding Company, which is owned by the prince. But without a certification from Saudi Arabia, she had been unable to fly in her home country. With the help of Prince Talal, the General Authority of Civil Aviation granted her a license to fly in Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi women are capable of taking on any job previously held exclusively by men in Saudi Arabia,” Al Hindi said. When she’s not flying her jet-setting boss, she works on a private initiative to help Saudi students in the US who wish to pursue a career in aviation.

This news follows a few victories for women in Saudi Arabia – last year the Ministry of Justice licensed the first four women attorneys in the country and in March a woman was appointed as chief executive of an investment bank for the first time.

All in all, this is a step in the right direction – not only does Al Hindi’s certification demonstrate to conservative voices in the kingdom that women are clearly capable of operating vehicles on land and in the air, but it also shows that they are capable of holding high-profile jobs.

While these baby steps are great, they cannot overshadow that the vast majority of women are not given the right to move around freely on their own. Ironically, the ruling family still maintains a ban on women driving in the Kingdom, and while more progress has been made on the business front, women still face challenges in a male-dominated workforce and are often relegated to specific jobs. Let’s not forget about this ongoing struggle, which I’ve previously written about here.

Until next time…


Kick-Ass Woman of the Week: King Deco


This week’s kick-ass woman of the week is someone who has been featured on my blog in the past, but I had to feature her again. Dana Salah, aka King Deco, is a Jordanian singer, producer, and songwriter. She recently released a new video for her single, “One,” and her new EP, “Tigris,” is out now. If you haven’t heard her music yet, start with the video – I’ve had “One” on repeat the past few days and I just love it! Her voice, the chorus, and the music are all absolutely mesmerizing.

She does a masterful job combining Arab-influenced lyrics and style with a thoroughly modern feel. I love how artistic she is and how she uses influences from her upbringing and combines them with modern sounds. Her favorite Arab singer is Fairuz, and Dana definitely embodies some of that ethereal quality in her singing. Dana’s is a beautiful face of the new Arab generation – one that is creative, ambitious, and resourceful.

Last time I talked about Dana on Woman Unveiled, she gave us an exclusive interview. My favorite part was her advice to young Arab girls: “We have some great traditions and qualities, being ambitious doesn’t mean letting go of any of them. Go for it. Just because people around us want what is best for us, it doesn’t always mean they know what that is. Trust your instincts. Creativity is a gift from God, using it is our gift back. Work extremely hard and do it for the right reasons. The rest will work itself out.”

Great advice that I think even older folks can use from time to time!

Dana also kindly gave us another mini-interview about her latest efforts:

I read that you spent the last year in the studio… can you tell us what a typical day was like for you?

I spent the last six months in the studio writing and recording potential songs for upcoming EPs and projects. The six months before that were spent slowly coming into myself as an artist and creating a sound I believed in.

What was your biggest influence in creating this EP?

My personal experiences were the biggest influence in making ‘Tigris’ and ‘Euphrates’. It started there and then I just found movies, characters and songs that fell into that.

Your video style is so unique, can you tell us how you and your team came up with the idea?

Nick Wiesner (director), Martine Choo (my cowriter) and I sat down with the record for a couple of weeks before we decided what visual would represent the song best. We wanted to put together a dreamlike representation of my transition from Dana to Deco. There were some main themes that we listed to drive the point across: self battle, growth and transformation, and one-ness with nature, yourself and the people around you…

Any performances coming up (maybe in the Middle East)?

A dream of mine is to come back and perform in the Middle East. Right now though I have a show coming up at the Knitting Factory on  June 7th.

Read my exclusive interview with Dana here.

Her EP is now out, you can find it on iTunes here. Check out King Deco’s site here and stay up to date with her on her Twitter and Facebook.

Until next time…


The Dreams of Syrian Refugees


I came across this video the other day by Australia for UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency). It featured one of my favorite authors of all time, Khaled Hosseini, and followed him during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq. Hosseini is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and was a refugee himself. Aside from being a best-selling author, he also raises money and awareness for refugee families in Afghanistan through his organization, The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

I have always eagerly awaited Khaled Hosseini’s new releases ever since finishing The Kite Runner years ago. His writing is so powerful and relatable because he brings an unmistakable humanity to his characters. Rather than lumping together those marginalized by war and suffering, as the media is understandably apt to do when trying to provide broad coverage of an issue, he draws out the story of a few individuals that make us remember these are people like any of us, who have hopes and dreams and wish to better their lives. By visiting the refugee camp, he seems to be doing just that, bringing a voice to people who refuse to be defined by their situation.

During his visit to the Syrian refugee camp, Khaled Hosseini met two young, inspiring women, Payman and Nayleen. Payman is only 16 and is a writer at heart, but Hosseini explains that she can’t go school and follow her dream, which is a massive blow to her hope and self-esteem. Nayleen has a beauty salon in a tent, which she says is a way for her to help her family and gives her purpose. Both women appear strong in the face of their situation, and both continue to do what they love despite their circumstances.

As Hosseini walks around the camp, he observes the “suspended existence” these people seem to be in. They can’t go to school, work, or pursue their goals. Their lives have been reset at zero, as if their former lives and accomplishments never existed. They now deal with the psychological impacts of feeling helpless and like they are just burdens. He explains these people are an embodiment of the Syrian civil war and the loss that’s been done, as their dreams have been taken from them. However, he ends on a hopeful note. These people are still going on with their lives despite the losses they’ve suffered, and they continue to be driven by the very human need to pursue happiness where they can.

I hope there will be an end to this war soon, so these people can get back to rebuilding their lives and following their dreams. I hope one day I can read stories written by Payman. I hope that Payman and Nayleen and all the victims of the war won’t become a lost generation defined by needless suffering and the bitterness of fading dreams.

Until next time…


Maysoon Zayid: Kick-Ass Woman of the Week


Making a name for yourself in the entertainment world is hard enough for anybody with a dream of making it big. Add in being Palestinian, a Muslim, a woman, and cerebral palsy, and you can pretty much forget it. Today’s Kick-Ass Woman of the Week, Maysoon Zayid, refused.

Meet Maysoon Zayid – Palestinian, Muslim, female, disabled, living in New Jersey (!), and trail-blazing comedian. She is the first person to perform stand-up comedy in Palestine and Jordan and is one of the first Muslim women comedians in the US to perform around the world. Zayid uses her comedy to combat stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims and bring attention to living with a disability.

Zayid has managed to overcome a disability that was predicted to define her life. People with CP have damage to the motor control centers of their brain, which in Zayid’s case causes her to shake constantly. That didn’t stop her – she has tap-danced on Broadway, made appearances in the movies and on TV, and performed stand-up in some of New York’s top clubs and all over the world. In her TED talk, which you have to watch, she says, “people with disabilities are the largest minority in the world and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment.”

Even beyond her noteworthy career in comedy, she also runs Maysoon’s Kids, a charity for disabled Palestinian children in the West Bank. The charity provides art and wellness programs, scholarships, and other initiatives to better the lives of these children and decrease the gap between disabled and non-disabled children. Check out her charity here: Seriously, how can one person be an inspiration on SO many levels?

“The doctor said I wouldn’t walk, but I’m here in front of you. If we had more positive images it might foster less hate on the internet… If I can can, you can can.”

Until next time…