Ahlan wa sahlan! My name is Habeeb Quadri, I’m a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and learning Arabic at Loyola. Over the last winter break, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the beautiful country of Iraq. While Iraq does indeed have a long history of political instability, the remnants of which still linger in the country to this day, I personally experienced much warmth and kindness from the people there. A majority Shi’ite country, despite being Sunni myself and much “Americanized” as my mother says, Shi’a people welcomed us with open arms and were very hospitable towards us. Complete strangers would ask to take photos, excited to see travelers come to a land that does not often see visitors.
Upon entering the country, we had to go through military checkpoints every few blocks, a recurring theme of tight security in Iraq. We were patted down before entering almost all important areas. At first this made me uneasy, but they treated us with more kindness knowing we came from so far away.
A spiritually focused trip, we spent much time visiting the many important religious sites in Iraq. Our first location was in Najaf, visiting the beautiful mazaar (shrine) of HaDrat Ali (RA), the fourth caliph of Islam and close companion and cousin of prophet Muhammad (SAW). The ceilings adorned with chandeliers and the walls plastered in a beautiful array of mosaic glass were truly a sight to behold.
When people go to visit the mazaars, they offer duaa (prayers) for themselves and their families and those who have passed away. They pay their respects, and offer salaams (greetings) to the resting ones. Sometimes money is placed within the holes of the structure, which is then used for distribution to those in need.
What I enjoyed most of the trip was the sense of ummah (community) I felt there, and the people I met who had broadened my world view. We spent most of the three-week trip staying in Baghdad, at the mausoleum of Abdul Qadir Gilani, a founder of the Qadriyyah Tariqah (school of thought) of Islamic Sufism. Certain people stayed there, and we would all wake up at sunrise for Fajr (morning) prayer, after the prayer was complete we greeted each other and ate breakfast. My experience staying in a place so filled with religious presence, gave me an appreciation for the people that live there, and a reminder of how I can further improve myself and my faith in connection to all creations.
English isn’t very widespread in Iraq, many people I met I communicated with almost entirely in google translate. Iraq came as a personal reminder to be more active in my pursuit of knowledge and how I can become closer with my own community. This is one of the main reasons for my taking Arabic here at Loyola. I hope to use Arabic to enhance my traveling and continue to explore more beautiful cultures.